Feeding a fever


Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 7:37 p.m.

Feeling achy and feverish? Have a bowl of Mom's tom yum soup. Or maybe some warm milk with melted lamb fat.

Chicken soup may be the all-American cold and flu panacea, but around the world people turn to all manner of culinary curatives for the chills and sniffles.

Asian cultures, for example, long have used ginger to treat upper respiratory infections. Ginger's spicy, warming properties are considered helpful in fortifying the body against the discomfort of the flu.

Raghavan Iyer, author of the forthcoming "660 Curries," remembers that as a child in southern India, his mother always made him a creamy and comforting spicy rice and lentil porridge when he was ill.

Iyer says the dish appealed to his mother because when stir-fried in clarified butter, the peppercorns and ginger gave off a heady aroma that would clear your sinuses and warm your throat.

In Cuba, sopa de ajo, a garlicky soup of tomatoes and chicken broth is considered home-cooked medicine. And in Japan cold sufferers imbibe a sort of rice wine eggnog made by whisking honey and a beaten egg into piping hot sake.

The science behind many of these remedies isn't established, but that isn't necessarily a reason not to try them.

"The majority of these remedies are unlikely to receive the kind of scientific scrutiny that would test their effectiveness, but they typically have strong familial or cultural associations and people believe they work," says Jeanne Goldberg, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University. "So, as long as they do no harm, these comfort foods can't be beat."

Research has shown many of the ingredients used in these dishes - such as garlic, chilies and vitamin-rich produce - are healthy. And studies have shown chicken soup really can make you feel better.

So here's a sampling of home cooked folk remedies from around the world.

China: A head-clearing soup is made by steeping crushed fresh ginger with a small amount of sugar in boiling water for 30 minutes. It is recommended to drink this infusion several times a day.

Iran: Kateh, a simple and comforting dish made by cooking rice with butter and salt.

Korea: Green tea with lemon is popular, as is the ubiquitous Korean condiment kimchi (a pickled vegetable dish).

Mexico: A potent tea is made with honey, lemon and plenty of cinnamon. Other popular options include an infusion of garlic, lemon and honey.

Morocco: In this North African nation where there is much influence from European cuisine, a very garlicky omelet, similar to the Spanish frittata, is made with olive and plenty of black pepper.

Pakistan: Turmeric is boiled in milk with sugar. It is consumed hot and often taken with a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter).

Philippines: A chicken soup called tinola made with onion, garlic, fresh ginger, fish sauce, green papaya and chili leaves is believed to have great restorative powers.

Thailand: Tom yum soup, which is traditionally made with chicken stock, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and hot chilies, is a popular cold remedy.

United Arab Emirates: Sliced hot chili peppers, chopped garlic and onions cooked in olive oil.

Uzbekistan: In this former Soviet nation, a cup of hot milk is mixed with a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of melted lamb fat or butter.

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