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For At-Sunrice Academy founder Kwan Lui, food is truly the spice of life. With a palate influenced by travels across the world, Lui originally got her start in Singapore’s food industry with a line of popular spice products. In 1999, she opened the innovative culinary program focusing on both Asian and Western cooking, with a final graduate project based around seven “kingdoms” or concentrations like Health and Medicinal, Beauty and Sexuality, and Spiritual. At this year’s Singapore Food Festival, they opened their doors to the public so that attendees could go on a “SpiceOdyssey” presented by the graduating class.
Originally, At-Sunrice classes were located at the Fort Canning Park in downtown Singapore where students helped curate the national spice garden. The connection to the garden informed the academy’s curriculum — students learned the history, culinary use, economic ramifications, and health benefits of herbs and spices. Although the school is now in a new state-of-the-art facility in another part of town, students still explore the medicinal qualities of food, a distinctively Asian concept that sees Chinese herbal soups eaten as much for the flavor as for health, or jamu, the Malay plant-based homeopathic practice. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/jadis)
“Everything is well-being,” says Lui. While in the Western world, people have started asking where food is sourced from and how it’s grown in order to determine how healthy it is, Eastern food philosophy has always focused on what food does for the body. Even the aroma of food can heal, she says; for instance, smelling chocolate can release endorphins, and scents like grapefruit and basil can have a calming mental and physiological effect.
Balancing the yin, or “coolness,” and yang, or “heat,” of food as a way to treat ailments is an ancient part of Chinese medicine, and something that you’ll hear many Singaporeans talk about. But a wide array of herbs and spices have curative qualities that generations before us were aware of but which modern society has pretty much forgotten. In fact, Lui points out, controlling the trading of certain medicinal spices played a key role in colonialism over the last century. She gives the example of Columbus arriving in the Americas in search of a new trade route for the extremely valuable spice, pepper, used to treat a variety of symptoms in antiquity but still prescribed for congestion and cough in Asian cultures. (Photo courtesy of Veer/jabiru)
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