Asian American Mothers and Postpartum Food Traditions: Ma You Ji (Sesame Oil Chicken) Recipe

May 17, 2011

Sesame Oil Chicken. Photo by Damien Maloney.


We've been offering a series of postpartum recipes to promote the Bittersweet Issue's feature story "Motherhood Rooted," about postpartum practices among Asian and Pacific Islander women in the US. Most women who abide by traditional postpartum practices, whether they have roots in Asia, Latin America or indigenous cultures, follow a period of roughly four to six weeks after giving birth where they are homebound and cared for by family members.

While researching the story and talking with moms, I realized that almost every culture has a special diet after giving birth. Sometimes it's for healing purposes, sometimes the dishes are high in protein, and sometimes they are meant to help with lactation ... or sometimes, all of the above!

For photographing purposes, I made a traditional Chinese dish, Sesame Oil Chicken. It is called "ma you ji" in Mandarin and is more popular among Taiwanese folks. My own mother made this for me after I gave birth to my daughter last year.

In Chinese culture, keeping the body and womb warm is key. Sesame oil, rice wine and ginger are supposed to be "hot" foods that keep the body warm, though some say to only serve this two weeks after birth. Chicken, of course, has a lot of protein, which is also good for healing moms.

I adapted a Saveur recipe to make a smaller portion and without the salt and noodles.

Sesame Oil Chicken


1/6 cup black Asian sesame oil

2 half-inch pieces of ginger, peeled and smashed

Half a small organic chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces

1 cup of "mi jiu" or Chinese rice wine

1. Heat oil in a deep pot over high heat. Add ginger and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add chicken pieces and toss to coat in oil. Cook chicken about 7 minutes or until meat is lightly browned. Add wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer chicken to a bowl and pour oil/broth over chicken and serve.

For more traditional postpartum recipes, check out the recipe for Chicken Tinola and Korean Seaweed Soup. To read the feature story on Asian and Pacific Islander women in the US abiding by traditional postpartum practices, see "Motherhood Rooted" in The Bittersweet Issue.


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



This is a really interesting article. My mom used to make my sister eat only chicken and these greens called "pregnant greens" during her pregnancy. Her recipe is here: