By Robert Chu, L.Ac.
What do Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnimon Twig Decoction), Bai Hu Tang (White Tiger Decoction), Li Zhong Wan (Regulate the Middle Pill) and Hua Chong Wan (Dissolve Parasites Pill) have in common?
They are all taken with Zhou.
Zhou is known by many names. In Cantonese, we call it "Jook". In Mandarin,
it is referred to as "Zhou" or "Xi Fan". In English, it is typically
rendered as "rice porridge", "rice gruel", "rice soup" or "congee".
Zhou is typically prepared with rice, although other grains are or can be
used such as Wu Gu Mi (Five Grain Rice). Typically, one uses Sui Mi (broken
rice) or Jing Mi, also known as Geng Mi, (long grain rice) to prepare it.
Japanese and Taiwanese people use the shorter grain rice, which tends to be
stickier. The proportion from rice to water is usually 1 part rice to 6
parts water and it is slow simmered, cooking for a few hours. An alternate
means of preparation is to use fresh left over rice and add 4 parts water.
This is typically known as "Bai Zhou". When prepared with herbs, usually the
herbs a decocted first, and the extract is strained and added into the Zhou.
Do not add the dregs to the Zhou. Zhou is neutral and sweet and serves to
tonify the middle jiao.
Zhou has three major uses. The first is the most obvious, it is a food
staple. Zhou is common as a meal throughout Asia. In Hong Kong, at least
one of the five meals is typically Zhou, as it is light and easy to digest.
The most common type of Zhou eaten in restauramts is Pi Dan Shao Rou Zhou
(Roasted pork and 1000 year salted duck egg), often served with Dim Sum in
Cantonese restaurants. Hong Shu Xi Fan (Zhou with Sweet Potato) is also
quite common, often served in Taiwanese restaurants, as a bland staple food
alone, or with regular dishes. The tonifying function helps complement an
herbal formula such as Li Zhong Wan.
The second use of Zhou is for protecting the stomach. When taking harsh,
bitter, or cold herbs such as found is Hua Chong Wan or Bai Hu Tang, one
takes Zhou on the side or adds the Geng Mi to the decoction.
The third use of Zhou is to induce sweat. Zhang Zhong Jing in his Shang Han
Lun advises us to take Gui Zhi Tang with Zhou for inducing the diaphoretic
function. In this case, adding slivers of Sheng Jiang and Cong Bai to the
Zhou will help induce sweating.
It has been my experience that Zhou is an excellent diet food for it's
nutritive value and versatility. I know of 3 cases where Zhou has been used
1) As a child, I suffered from a stomach ache after attending a birthday
party, eating a lot of junk food and drinking a lot of cold soft drinks. My
mother made Zhou with extra Ginger.
2) Jennifer, 24 years old, aspiring actress. Jennifer had contracted Lime
disease and recently underwent surgery to remove her Gall Bladder due to
severe choleocystitis. One evening Jennifer suffered from severe muscle
spasms and pain in the stomach. She asked me to take her to the local
emergency room for treatment. I noted her tongue was pale, with a thick
white coat, and her pulse was tight/wiry. I suspected Wind/Cold/Damp. The
doctors seemed confused by her condition and sedated her with tranquilizers
and muscle relaxants and sent her home. On the way home, I asked her what
she ate, and she replied, "Something healthy - a salad." She slept through
the night and for breakfast I fed her Zhou with Chicken and extra ginger and
scallions. This induces a light sweat and nourished her cold middle jiao,
upon which she completely recovered that afternoon. The Zhou, was clearly
the best choice of food/medicine for her condition.
3) My late Grand Aunt, who passed away at 88, ate mostly a "Qing Dan"
(Light and Bland) diet. Following a Buddhist diet, she refrained from eating
meat on certain days. She never had dairy products or beef, but will eat
Chicken, seafood, and pork on certain days. Her daily diet consisted mainly
of lightly sautÈed vegetables, Tofu, and Zhou daily. I believe her diet has
contributed to her longevity, despite living through the end of the Qing
Dynasty, seeing the forming of the Republic of China, leaving during the
Cultural Revolution and living in Hong Kong and the U.S. She lived a
sedentary life style and smoked cigarettes daily. I have noted that many
books on Chinese Geriatrics recommend some form of Zhou.
As my father was a chef, and the art of cooking is a family tradition of
mine, I am happy to share have some variations of Zhou:
For Summerheat: Zhou with Bai He (Lily Bulb), Lu Dou (Mung Bean) and Bing
Tang (rock sugar). Decoct Zhou with all the ingredients and chill in the
refrigerator. Eat often during hot days. Can add Yi Yi Ren, Da Zao, Lian
Zi, Chi Xiao Dou if desired or for variation. The above Zhou is very good
for moistening the Lungs for athletes, and for moving the intestines in cases
of constipation due to summerheat.
Red eyes due to Wind Heat: Zhou with Sliced Chicken and Gou Qi Zi.
Onset of Wind Cold - Zhou with Garlic, Ginger, Scallion and Dan Dou Chi
Spleen Qi Deficiency - Zhou with Shan Yao, Hong Shu
Spleen Qi Deficiency with Blood/Wei Qi Deficiency - Zhou with small amount of
Dang Gui and Huang Qi; also for use for postpartum.
Constipation - Blanched, fresh peanuts to lubricate intestines
I hope that you will try Zhou as it is one of the four staples of Chinese
food. It is an easy to make, versatile and healthy food. Coupled with
Chinese herbs, they can produce amazing results from a wide variety of
If you would like to learn more on Zhou and try different recipes, please
Chinese Medicated Diet - Publishing House of Shanghai College of TCM, 1988
The Book of Jook by Bob Flaws - Blue Poppy Press
or contact the author at:
Robert Chu, L.Ac.