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Talking Herbs with Pamelia Chia, author of Wet Market to Table

Updated: Mar 20


Pamelia Chia interview herbs

We love a good wet-market (the Singapore equivalent of a street or covered food market) and coming home with fresh ingredients to use in the kitchen. Discovering new produce, talking to vendors, making connections is a meaningful part of our lives. And, using herbs - rich in powerful health promoting polyphenols - is a key part of our culinary experience.


Singaporean cook and author Pamelia Chia inspired us with her book Wet Market to Table and we were lucky to catch up with her to discuss cooking and, in particular, herbs!

 

Before we talk herbs, can you describe your style of cooking to us?


I don't identify as a chef, and so don't really think it's important for me to have a fixed style of cooking. As a cook, I think it is important to adopt a playful and inquisitive approach to food, and to be open to new ideas and experimentation in the kitchen. I tend towards cooking food that is simple, comforting, and delicious above all.

Many styles of cooking in SE Asia feature local herbs, some are common to cuisines around the world. What herbs do you use most frequently and why?


As I live rurally in Australia, I don't often have access to many types of Asian herbs. I use coriander and spring onion most frequently, mainly because I find that, with Asian cooking, these are the most versatile and accessible. In our home garden, we also have mint leaves that I snip rather frequently, especially when cooking Indian food.

What herbs do you (or have you used) use that are unusual, that might not be familiar to our readers or found in the day to day market experience? How have you used them?


I like using Thai basil whenever I can find it. While Italian basil tends to be used fresh (added at the very last minute as a garnish), I find that Thai basil works really well when heated. You can use it in a myriad of different ways - adding some to a pot of mussels while they steam, stir-frying it with prawns and a dash of five spice, or infusing it into a soy-braised dish.

Many Chinese or SE Asian recipes use herbs that have medicinal properties. Do you make any dishes that include them, what health issues do they address?


Many Asian cuisines exemplify the idea of food as medicine. I grew up in a household where that notion was very embedded into our everyday dishes. We never talked about specifically targeting diseases or health issues, but food was always thought of as a way to bring the body back into a state of equilibrium. My mom always made lots of cooling tea that she would line the fridge door with, or my aunts would urge me to drink more of a particular soup on an especially hot day.


I especially appreciated this sensibility when I moved to Melbourne and had to adjust to a new climate; understanding how food plays a huge role in determining my body's overall 'health' really spurred me onto learning my mom's repertoire of dishes.

When I think about these herbal dishes with medicinal qualities, I don't really think of herbs in the fresh herb sense, but rather the dried herbs from Chinese medicinal halls.

What is your number one tip for using herbs?


If we are talking about fresh herbs, it would be to understand what's the best application for it. In my mind, there are two broad categories. The first are the delicate herbs - coriander, mint, parsley. These are best reserved for garnish as their flavour dissipates when heated. The other are hardier herbs that can be fried or infused into food - kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, spring onions.

 

Update: Since we spoke to Pamelia (October 2022) she has since moved to Europe and continues with her culinary adventures. To learn more about Pamelia and her upcoming book Plantasia, visit her website https://pameliachia.com/


Stay Herby,


Alastair


  • A healthy diet addresses one of the pillars of health. What else can you focus on to maximise your health and longevity?

 

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Related Studies


Mackonochie M, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Mills S, Rolfe V. A Scoping Review of the Clinical Evidence for the Health Benefits of Culinary Doses of Herbs and Spices for the Prevention and Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2023 Nov 22;15(23):4867. doi: 10.3390/nu15234867. PMID: 38068725; PMCID: PMC10708057.


Thamkaew G, Sjöholm I, Galindo FG. A review of drying methods for improving the quality of dried herbs. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021;61(11):1763-1786. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1765309. Epub 2020 May 19. PMID: 32423234.


Jiang TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mar 1;102(2):395-411. doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418. Epub 2019 Jan 16. PMID: 30651162.


Vázquez-Fresno R, Rosana ARR, Sajed T, Onookome-Okome T, Wishart NA, Wishart DS. Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies - A Systematic Review. Genes Nutr. 2019 May 22;14:18. doi: 10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8. PMID: 31143299; PMCID: PMC6532192.

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