Before I left Australia for Taiwan, one of my colleagues shared advice for living overseas as an expat. “Find an Adventist-run hospital, and stock up on whole grains and breads. They usually have excellent cafes or restaurants.”
I delivered Baby Taiwanxifu at the Taipei Adventist Hospital. Like most maternity hospitals in Taiwan, postpartum confinement food (zuo yuezi can) is an important feature of the hospital experience. But Taipei Adventist Hospital is unusual in one key respect: all meals are vegetarian.
When we considered delivering at Taipei Adventist, people ‘warned’ us about their vegetarian policy. To some people, a vegetarian diet might be a hardship but I actually enjoyed the nutritious meals at Taipei Adventist. All meals in the hospital are prepared in accordance with the NEWSTART Eight Healthy Principles: nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest and trust in the divine power. And their cafe and cafeteria, which are open to the public, are popular with nearby office workers as well.
The menu has ten different set meals that rotate (they provide a calendar of meals in the hospital information folder). The total calorie count for each days’ meals amounts to between 2000 and 2500 calories. Unlike many confinement meals, they do not include any rice wine or other alcohol. And in an effort to be environmental, they provide reusable chopsticks and a spoon with the first meal to be used throughout the hospital stay. (I nearly tossed mine away.)
Most breakfasts started with a rice-based congee and a few vegetable and vegetarian-protein. Sometimes the rice was combined with millet, and once they served sweet potato rice.
Morning tea and afternoon tea consisted of soupy type snacks, usually sweet. Red bean, prized for its blood enhancing and laxative effects, was a frequent ingredient along with other beans such as black beans. Sometimes the soups were made with millet or purple sticky rice. My favorite snack was a congee made from longan and millet.
Lunch and dinner were similar: brown rice with vegetables and vegetarian protein, with soup on the side. Soups were often black because they were made with Chinese herbs designed to assist with post childbirth recovery ( specifically to help the uterus contract). The savory soups often seemed bland because salt is not usually added to zuo yuezi food. The reason for this is to enable the body to cleanse and remove excess fluids. The meals also came with generous servings of fruit.
One of my favorite things about Taipei Adventist Hospital’s meals was their bread. No super sweet, fluffy white bread here! Instead the bread, made from whole meal wheat without the addition of preservatives or excess sugar, was dense and wholesome. My favorite was their carrot and sultana loaf, although they make a Japanese influenced red bean bun that I also devoured with gusto.
After eating so many whole grains and vegetables for several days, I definitely felt healthier. And it did help to combat constipation, which can be one of the less sexy aspects of postpartum care.