One of the more unusual strictures in the Chinese postpartum confinement tradition (zuo yuezi) is not to drink water. That’s right, no H2O for at least thirty days. Or at least, no ordinary water.
This does not mean no fluids. But what it does mean is lots of fluids in a cooked form, such as specially prepared medicinal soups, congees and rice wine. Yep, you read right, rice wine.
The requirement to only drink liquids that have been cooked would have made hygienic sense in many Chinese villages. Even today, people do not drink tap water without first boiling it in Taiwan, China and many other places in Asia. And soups are very nutritious and easy to digest, so that makes sense for recovering after childbirth (even in the height of summer).
Rice wine is a traditional staple in Chinese tonics and soups, and is believed to have restorative health qualities. It is used liberally in zuo yuezi foods such as sesame oil chicken (ma you ji). According to my friend and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner Claire Shen, rice wine can also help reduce the effects of swelling caused by fluid retention during pregnancy – edema. And it helps to warm the body.
But although new mothers are encouraged to drink rice wine, they should avoid alcohol – especially while breastfeeding. One solution is to drink boiled rice wine, i.e. wine that has been distilled to remove alcohol. Many people buy crates of rice wine and boil it up at home during zuo yuezi. But Mr Taiwanxifu bought this bottle of rice wine water for me to drink in hospital. At NT$300 on special for 1.5l it is more expensive than slurping down the real wine. And it tastes … well, like water. Only slightly sweeter and surrounded by a whiff of alcohol.