Salted kumquat

Jason and I spent a wonderful and surreal holidays in China and Hong Kong this year. Unfortunately, we were hampered by terrible colds and hacking coughs for the first week.

Lucky for us, we were surrounded by no shortage of helpful family and strangers giving us medical advice, both western and eastern.

It began in Vancouver where we had our connecting flight to Asia and where my voice had already diminished to a croak. My aunts insisted that I suck on a salted kumquat. Two, if I could really handle it.

Salted kumquatsMy Auntie Maria marched out with an old mayonnaise jar, only to be chastised by my Auntie Cecilia that she should serve it in a nicer way. So she plunked a wrinkled, salted kumquat into a wine glass for me.

As a Cantonese remedy for sore throats, the fruit had been buried in the jar and left to dehydrate so its juices eventually leach out.

I popped it into my mouth and gagged. It was so salty and sour and not pleasant at all.

“Suck on it til you can’t stand it anymore,” prompted my aunts. Then, they said, I could also throw it into tea or hot water for a more palatable way to ingest it.

But I didn’t seem to notice much of a difference, so I turned to Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa (枇杷膏), the thick, dark, cough syrup of my childhood.

Made from loquats, licorice root and honey, the all-natural herbal medicine is awesome for coughs and phlegmy sore throats but it’s also non-drowsy and delicious. I could eat the stuff every day. It’s widely available in Canada and across Asia.

As well, Jason and I were popping conventional daytime cold medication, Buckley’s nighttime cough, cold & flu pills and Advils (not all at the same time), and sucking on Hall’s cough drops and lemon-flavoured Fisherman’s Friends.

nin_jiom-1But the 14-hour flight probably only exacerbated our condition and by the time we got to Shenzhen, China, we were suitably scaring the locals with our extended coughing bouts.

That’s when my mother suggested Chinese medicinal herbal tea (夫茶), brewed by special shops in big vats and then bottled (or served hot if you want to stand around and suck it back).

Herbal tea is a bit of a misnomer because it doesn’t taste anything like tea. It’s really bitter and usually sold with bits of dried prunes or preserved orange peel to cut the harsh taste.

We got a couple of bottles, but I think all it did was make me go to the bathroom more.

My mom asked everyone we ran into in China for their best advice to speed up our recovery. My favourite answer that one of her friends swore by: “Orange juice and Advil.”

I ran out of cough drops and tried the Chinese-made Golden Throat Lozenges. They were suitably mediciney-tasting with a bit of menthol aroma and they didn’t kill me, so I’ll give them a thumbs up.

By the fourth day, Jason had developed a fever and chills. As a precaution, we called a doctor to come see him at our hotel in Guilin.

An ambulance came screaming up to the hotel and three doctors, looking no older than 16, jumped out in white coats. After we convinced them that Jason didn’t need an IV at the hospital — an apparently popular procedure in China — they checked his temperature et al. and prescribed antibiotics.

The total cost of the house call and medication: $40 CAD.

It took two days for the meds to kick in, but they did help. My cold/cough eventually ran its course too.

Luckily, our taste buds didn’t seem to be affected during all of this, and we had some wonderful eating adventures. Stay tuned.