Summer heat stimulates interest in ‘yakuzen’ Chinese herbal meals

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo

Interest in meals based on Chinese herbal medicine started taking off this summer as “yakuzen” became the latest fad in vegetable-based cuisines.

“Yakuzen meals use seasonal vegetables in principle,” said Hisako Kikuchi, who manages a cafe in Tokyo. “Summer vegetables are effective in protecting people from summer weariness by bringing down their body temperature.”

The cafe, originally the employee cafeteria of Rohto Pharmaceutical Co. in Osaka, serves two daily special combos for lunch, such as a set of fried sand borers (a type of shellfish), which are believed to ease “frustrating sentiments,” and boiled pork meat balls combined with bitter gourd, a dish that’s considered good for maintaining one’s health.

The yakuzen meals served at the cafeteria became so popular that the eye medicine company decided to open the Shunkoku Shunsai Cafe five years ago. Non-employees now account for some 80 percent of its clientele.

A 47-year-old woman who works at a different company said she eats lunch there almost every workday because she lives alone and is too busy to cook healthy food for herself.

“Customers who ask about effects of the ingredients are increasing nowadays,” said Saori Mizoma, a waitress who works at the cafe.

The yakuzen boom is also evident on the Internet.

All About Inc., which was established by a group of firms including Dai Nippon Printing Co. and Recruit Holdings Co., began providing recipes for yakuzen dishes in May on its All About website, which is devoted to providing information useful in daily life.

Page accesses in the recipe section have risen sharply since an expert on traditional Chinese medicine posted around 10 yakuzen recipes there, including one for a soup that uses “togan” (white gourd) and pork. The soup is considered effective in preventing heat exhaustion.

The expert, Yasuko Takimoto, has hosted classes in Tokyo and Yokohama over the past several years on cooking yakuzen at home.

“Applications for attendance have been sharply increasing since last year mainly from women in their 30s and 40s,” she said.

One of Takimoto’s fans is a 46-year-old Tokyo housewife who started taking the class a year ago.

“Meals I cook after lessons have improved the health of my son, a university student, and made my husband become irritated less frequently than before,” she said.