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No Milk-Toast for These Patients: How About Chinese Tofu?

February 20, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Winter melon soup, ginger-laced beef, stuffed tofu cakes - all these Chinese delicacies and more were available for the asking Thursday. But you had to be hospitalized to get them.

New York Downtown Hospital brought in chefs from two popular Chinese restaurants as part of a program to spruce up its cuisine.

For about two years, the hospital has offered simple Chinese food each day to its patients, 40 percent of whom are from neighboring Chinatown. Another Chinese chef advised the staff for three months last year.

Can hospital food compete with restaurant fare?

″Not really,″ conceded Richard Chan, owner of the Silver Palace and 98 Mott. ″There are compromises. But we try our best.″

Chan and two chefs from his restaurants helped whip up a lunch, complete with chopsticks, which featured:

-Soup with chicken, mushrooms, peas, and translucent winter melon.

-Steamed choi sum, a leafy, green vegetable, served with beef cooked in ginger and garlic, and fancifully cut carrots.

-Tofu cakes stuffed with fish, pork, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and topped with hot oil and chopped scallions.

-Steamed rice.

-Creamy, almond-flavored tofu, garnished with chopped peach and pineapple, and honey-dipped walnuts on the side.

Proclaimed patient Choi Fung Lam: ″Good taste 3/8″

Hospital Nutrition Director Lorraine Babameto conceded that when hospital menus are adapted for special diets, ″some things are just not tasty enough.″ But she said sick people don’t want ″very spicy, flamboyant type dishes.″

Babameto has learned that her Chinese patients, many of them elderly, want ″comfort foods, or foods that represent healing.″

These include ″simple broth with noodles; a lot of tofu; and congee, a rice soup, very bland.″

Babameto said Chinese fare, cooked in vegetable oil with ingredients from Chinatown markets, has about the same nutritional value as other hospital food.

The visiting chefs are just the beginning. Next spring, the hospital may start getting take-out service from downtown restaurants.

And some day, Babameto fantasizes, maybe there’ll even be dim sum.

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