Traditional and Modern #ChineseNewYear Treats #年夜饭


Dumplings and Photo by friend Yang Lijun

A quick exchange with my friend Anna on Twitter reminded me that a food blog was due, especially when everyone of Chinese/East Asian origin, as well as many other nationalities are consuming loads and loads of good food in the past week which will continue for at least another week, leading towards the final countdown of Da Nian (Big Celebration) on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year.

In the West Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations usually come and go in a flash. At best, families and friends get together for a party or two, and a feast in the house or at a chosen restaurant. In big cities like London and Birmingham, festivities are held in China Towns with lion dances and sometimes street foods. In China and many other Asian countries, it’s a vastly different story. Millions of people make their way homebound, wherever that may be, or heading overseas for holidays.

Believe it or not, in the 30 years I’ve lived in the UK, I have only been back to China once for this auspicious occasion. It is partly my choice (not wanting to join the massive human migration within China), and partly the necessary and often unspoken sacrifice we all have to make as immigrants.

Anyway, I try and make the best of this special occasion whenever I can. I probably have had more than a fair share of throwing CNY parties, in Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham, in my tiny bedsits, in share student accommodations, and at home. I hosted two small gatherings last weekend – see pictures below. In terms of quality and quantity of foods they may not compete with what people back home are feasting, but as far as I am concerned, the diners were happy and satisfied, and that was the point of a get together and it was enough for me.

I’m sharing a few CNY signature dishes I especially crave at this time of the year, and treats that people all over China would enjoy as they toast ‘ganbei’ with family and friends.

Sweet Sticky Rice Dumpling – Tang Yuan (湯圓)

This is one of my all time favourite foods. I remember that as a child, I eagerly awaited for the Spring Festival (CNY commonly referred in China). Even when food was scarce, and many Chinese people were starving, we had to have Tang Yuan, with or without fillings. As China got richer, the varieties become more spectacular.

In Sichuan, we’ve perfected our Tang Yuan over its long history. We filled the glutinous rice ball with delicious sesame, peanuts, sweet bean past, dates, scented osmanthus flowers and tangerine peels. If you ever visit Chengdu, you must try Lai Tang Yuan.

In Northern China, Tang Yuan is often called Yuan Xiao (元宵), and they tend to make it savory, with minced meat and seasonal vegetables.

Living in the UK, I used to make my own fillings, using peanut butter, chocolate sauce, various jam and roasted nuts. Nowadays, I’m more reliant on my local Chinese supermarket for ready-made Tang Yuan, with different fillings mentioned above. All I have to do was to boil them for a few minutes and there it is! If I can be bothered, as I often do, I’d add an egg, a few spoonful of sweet fermented rice (甜酒釀 ‘tian jiu niang’  or 醪糟 ‘lao zao’), and sprinkle a few goji berries. They are divine!

Chinese Dumplings (饺子)

Chines dumplings go back a very long time, with nearly 2000 year history, and loved by all Chinese people. I have shared my very own special spicy recipe on various social media, as they are a regular in our diet. If you have not seen any of them, click Making Chinese Dumplings for a video instructions which John made a number of years ago. I’ve also collected a number of yummy photos from friends this week for your visual consumption ;-).

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Spring Roll (春卷 )

I am sure that many of you would have tasted this Chinese speciality in Chinese restaurants. Spring rolls are wrapped with either vegetables or meat, either sweet or savory. Having filled in spring roll with a flour pastry, you can either shallow or deep fry them, until golden. Naturally, its name came from Chinese New Year Celebration.

Spring Rolls

Glutinous Rice Cake 年糕 (Nian Gao)

In Chinese, Nian Gao sounds like “getting higher year after year”, which is seen as very lucky. Main ingredients of Nian Gao are sticky rice, sugar, Chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves. Again, there are regional variations in the recipes, and the most distinctive ones are Northern, Jiangnan (South of Yangtze River), Fujian, Taiwan and Cantonese. Even Japan and Korea have their own style Nian Gao.

Nian Gao 年糕

Fish (鱼)

In Chinese, fish (Yu) sounds like ‘save more’, and due to the Chinese nature of saving for the rainy days and especially towards the end of the year, so they can make more money the next year. Because of this, a fish dish is a must on any CNY banquet, no matter how it’s cooked.

There is a Chinese saying: 年年有余 (nien nien you yu) – May you always get more than you ever wish for!

The CNY treats do not stop here. As China’s economy soars year after year, and living standards continue to improve for the masses, more and more festive dishes are added to the banquet tables. Whatever you fancy, you can have them!

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Apart from the continuous feasting, another tradition of CNY ‘hong bao’ (red packets, used to be small lucky money for children, now everyone with a smart phone and Chinese Bank Account) has had a major facelift with the help of 21st century technology. Tens of millions of people are handing out, and receiving billions of RMBs on the net, in their WeChat groups of family, friends, classmates, colleagues etc. Personally I am not a big fan of this modern phenomenon – I am a little sad to see how this kind of money-grabbing (literally) obsession makes many people losing sight of some of the proudest traditional values and cultural heritage we have.

If you want to see more of the kind of foods people enjoy, do pop over to YouTube where I’ve shared a number of videos of fabulous Sichuan cuisine including the HotPot, as well as Dim Sums further afield from Southern China: Celebrating Chinese New Year in Chengdu, Hong Kong and Guangzhou


May you have plenty of fish!


A thousand good wishes of Happiness to you!

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#2018: Chinese Earth #Dog Sends Away Fire Rooster #春节快乐 #狗年幸运

IMG_E6207Many of you are familiar with the twelve zodiac signs in a yearly cycle and there are a number of animals in the Western horoscope, beginning with the Ram, a.k.a Aries.

In Chinese astrology, there are twelve animal signs, beginning with Rat, followed by Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Money, Rooster, Dog and Pig, repeating this cycle every twelve years. Unlike Western astrology which has four elements, the Chinese have five, representing the five visible planets: Water ruled by Mercury; Metal (Gold) by Venus; Fire by Mars, Wood by Jupiter and Earth by Saturn. The Sun and the Moon are considered to be primal forces of Yin and Yang. Given that the 12 animal signs are governed by five different elements, the Chinese lunar calendar is based on a 60-year cycle.

On Friday, 16th February 2018, we welcome the Year of Dog. The Chinese character is 狗, pronouncing as ‘Gou’, like ‘Go’.

Do you ever wonder what it means to be born under a particular sign?

There are a number of legends regarding the origin of Chinese animal signs, and one of them goes like this: Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor ordered the animals to participate in a race and 12 winners would be picked.

It was said that the cat and the rat were good pals back then. When they heard the news of the contest, the cat said to the rat: ‘We should arrive early to sign up, but I usually get up late.’ ‘No problem,’ The rat assured his mate that he would wake him up to go together . However, the rat was so excited that he forgot his promise and went alone.

On the way, the rat bumped into the goat, horse, ox and other animals, all faster than him. So he convinced the ox to carry him on his back , on the condition that the rat sang on the way.

The ox was the first to arrive, but the rat sneaked in front of him hence occupied the first lucky spot. By the time the cat arrived, the selection was over. Apparently this is why the cat hates the rat and will always try to chase and kill him.

In a slightly different version, it was said that the cat and the rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. They decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox. The ox, being naïve and good-natured, agreed to carry them. During the crossing, the crafty rat decided that he had to do something in order to win, so he pushed the cat into the river. As a result, the cat had never forgiven the rat, and that friendship was therefore history.

I am an Ox, the kind of person who would be happy to carry others and come second place despite getting there first :). Oxen people are also supposed to be hardworking, reliable yet somewhat stubborn, excelling in endurance and discipline, happy with the familiar and not too keen on change. Well, I am not sure how accurate these generalisations are. Personally I like adventures and I embrace change – After all, I uprooted myself from the Middle Kingdom in the East, settling in a foreign country in the West. What would you call that if not change?


Anyway, let us focus on the Dog instead.

The Dog Personality: Helpful, Honest, Loyal and Smart with a Strong Sense of Responsibility

People born in the year of the Dog are considered to be very honest and direct, who dislike any kind of psychological games or ‘beating about the bush’. Dog people like to know the facts of a situation and in return, will respect others by being straight with them. In the Chinese cycle, this is the sign that is most concerned with justice for all, demonstrating that it is not only done but also it be seen to be done. Dogs are also active philanthropists always trying to ensure a sense of fair play and equality.

According to Chinese astrologers, in the world of the Dog, there is right and wrong and no shades of grey in between. So if they are on your side, they will support you in any way possible, and if they are against you, they will treat you with the distain they believe that you deserve. Their lively mind and even livelier tongue will be used efficiently to support their good causes and criticise people/issues they disagree with. Dog people are loyal to a fault and they command a healthy respect for their principled approach to life.


I know a Dog or two, and I think that they display a lot of the fine qualities mentioned above and more. I have never met a person who is more helpful and loyal, with a strong sense of integrity and fair play.

If you are a dog and know people who are, take a look at the pictures to find out in more detail their associated qualities with different elements. Apparently, 2018 is the Year of the Earth Dog. It is advised that Dog people should take caution in their own birth year.


Some of the famous people born in the Year of Dog: David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Isaac Newton, Leonard Cohen, Michael Jackson, Mother Teresa, Steven Spielberg, Winston Churchill, Prince William and his wife, Her Royal Highness Kate Middleton.

On a cheerful and practical note: How are you celebrating the Year of Dog? Although in the UK, not many people make a big fuss about Chinese New Year, I am organising a get-together with my family and a small circle of friends, in order to indulge in one of my hobbies: cooking and entertaining. That’s two actually ;).

I am no astrologer or fortune teller, Chinese or otherwise, however I do believe in educating people and sharing knowledge where possible. So if you find this post informative and interesting, do pass it on. Thank you!

Below are some of the beloved pet dogs provided by friends and family.

I wish you all a great Year of Dog, blessed with everything you wish for!


Have a Great Year of Dog!


Happiness in Every Way and Every Day!

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#GuestBlog: MIND Poetry Anthology ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’

26856266_10208467209356808_1160459273_nAuthor Bio: Isabelle Kenyon is a Surrey based poet and a graduate in Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance from the University of York. She is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’. You can read more about Isabelle and see her work at


Thank you to Junying Kirk for letting me guest blog today! I wanted to spread the word about the MIND Poetry Anthology which I have compiled and edited. ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’ will be out in early February, expected date of release to be Thursday the 8th, on Amazon. The Anthology consists of poems from 116 poets (if I include myself!) and the book details a whole range of mental health experiences. The profits of the book will go to UK charity, MIND.

The book came about through my desire to do a collaborative project with other poets and my desire to raise money for a charity desperately seeking donations to cope with the rising need for its work. I received over 600 poems and have narrowed this down to 180.

As an editor, I have not been afraid to shy away from the ugly or the abstract, but I believe that the anthology as a whole is a journey – with each section the perspective changes. I hope that the end of the book reflects the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for mental health and that the outcome of these last sections express positivity and hope.


Here is the link for Isabelle Kenyon’s Amazon publication, a book of poetry: This Is Not A Spectacle

Junying’s Note: Many thanks to Isabelle for this intriguing guest post, my very first in 2018. Please do check out this collection when it comes out. I will add an link here when it’s published.

I look forward to hosting more guest bloggers in the coming months, as I have done in the past. Please connect with me in one of many social media platforms which I frequent: FacebookTwitter; LinkedIn.

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My Top Ten #Holiday Highlights of #NewZealand’s #NorthIsland (2)


Our very ‘private beach’ during our trip to Northland

Welcome back, everyone!

Today I continue showing you discoveries of New Zealand, through my words and pictures. Most of the photos I have selected are from my own collection. I also ‘borrowed’ a few from my fellow fine photographers John and Linden. Not too keen on selfies, I usually rely on others to put me in the picture ;-).

Now let me continue my list of Top Ten personal picks from NZ’s North Island:

6) Lakes and Huka Falls: Not only does New Zealand have some of the best coastline surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean on the one side and Tasman Sea on the other, but also it has a number of fresh water lakes in the middle of North Island, most notably Lake Taupo (largest NZ lake), and the “Lake District” near Rotorua. During our short stay overlooking Lake Taupo, we took a leisurely walk around the lake and spotted a group of black swans, seagulls and ducks swan near the shore. There were many water activities and it would have been a great place for canoeing, rafting and sailing. However, it was a windy day so we opted for a boat trip by Ernest Kemp, after many other local cruises had sold out. Despite the fear of sea sickness, we ventured on board and were able to see one of the treasures of Lake Taupo: A striking modern Maori rock carvings which can be only seen from the water at Mine Bay. The modern carvings dated from late 1970s while other smaller ones have been there much longer. The largest is a stylised image in likeness of Ngatoroirangi, a navigator who guided two Maori tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago.

Huka Falls are a set of spectacular cascades on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo. You can take a jet boat to get to the base of the Falls, getting both thrills and soaked, or like us, taking in the views from above. The most striking thing, to me, was not the speed and volume of the falls, but the pure blue of the rushing water and the roaring sound that brought Nature closer to my heart. I had to make a few small recordings to take them home with me, and I listen to them as I write this.


The Blue Lake

I mentioned in the previous blog that we explored a Living Maori Village in Rotorua, and this is one place which you can’t miss if you go to New Zealand. Apart from wonderful thermal pools, geysers and boiling mud pools, it is surrounded by an amazing array of lakes, the Blue and Green lakes, Lake Tarawera and it goes on. We had a quick lake-hop in our hired car but I wish I had more time than simply stopping for a few snaps before leaving this heavenly place.

7) National & Regional Parks: New Zealand is a super green country full of national and regional parks. My friend Lulu said to me that her favourite place on North Island was Tongariro National Park, and also top of recommendations of any NZ guidebooks. It was a real pity that when we drove up there, the sun which had consistently greeted us had decided to hide behind the clouds that day. There was some snow on top of the highest peak Ruapehu, and we could see it from 20 miles away. Had we had more time to take one of the many trails/hikes and had it been a better day, we could see some of the most scenic offerings. As it was, our short stop only allowed us a glimpse of the dramatic volcanic landscape, giving the feeling of being transported to a very different place. I could see Lord of the Rings in my mind’s eye.

Our plan to visit Hobbiton was derailed because it was fully booked, but we were not disappointed. There was so much else to see and every day our eyes feasted on the natural beauty and wildlife, from Oystercatchers on the beach, flittering Piwakawaka at Shakespeare Regional Park and thousands of gannets on the rocks at Muriwai Gannet Colony.

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8) Pohutukawa, also known as New Zealand Christmas Tress: New Zealand is full of trees, ancient, massive and weird looking specimens. We came across many wonderful trees, and most common of all were those that produce a brilliant red, occasionally other colours. They especially like to hang out on cliffs and by the many beaches we visited. Guess there is a bonus in visiting New Zealand during Christmas time, Pohutukawas were in abundance and with beautiful blooms, and they rewarded me with contrasting colours in fabulous photos. You can see from the slide show below the kind of trees we have seen, and from time to time, a swing which could be found in many places.

9) Waitomo Caves: One word to describe this place: MAGICAL! ‘Wai’ is the Māori word for ‘water’, and ‘tomo’ a hole in the ground. Visiting Waitomo Caves was an unforgettable experience. No photos were allowed inside the cave but we had a Maori guide whose great grandfather discovered the cave about 120 years ago. We walked through majestic caverns, limestone shafts, marvelling at the stalactites and stalagmites – one is called bungee jumping kiwi (bird) and another looks like an elephant. The tour ended with a boat ride through a grotto lit by thousands of tiny native New Zealand glowworms. I pinched one photo showing inside the cave from the Internet, but you really have to go and be awed by what you see!

10) Wedding: Here comes the main reason why we took the long haul trip to the far end of the Earth. We wanted to celebrate the special day with my Brother-in-Law Mike and his beautiful new bride who calls New Zealand home. I would like to take this opportunity to wish the newly weds every happiness and lasting love for each other. I also want to thank them, for making one of my dreams come true. New Zealand has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and their wedding in December had persuaded John, far more effectively than I ever could. Being the best man was the duty he took seriously, and definitely the icing on the cake!

The wedding venue was truly enchanting, on a headland in the stunning Mahurangi Regional Park overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, and by a massive Pohutukawa tree. It was a little cloudy on the day but still a perfect occasion for the family and friends. I know that my sister-in-law is a very private person, but I am sure that she will not mind me sharing some of the fabulous photos on the day. It was really a perfect year end to a not so perfect year, for which I will forever be grateful.

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New Zealand, a most fascinating and magical land. Two short blogs are hardly enough to include all the memorable moments we have had in the delightful three weeks we spent there. It’s without a doubt a trip of a lifetime, and next time we will be going to South Island too and we won’t be rushing back.

Let the fun, love and happiness extend to 2018 and beyond.


Like a bird, I wish I could fly to New Zealand!


Ciao and See You Again Soon!

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My Top Ten #Holiday Highlights of #NewZealand’s #NorthIsland (1)


Catching a cloud, Hahei Beach, Photo credit: John Kirk

Many of my followers and friends are aware of my most recent, life-affirming winter break across the ocean at the far end of the globe: New Zealand. The journey itself was long and exhausting in a span over two days, from Birmingham, via Amsterdam and Guangzhou, with an 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ. It was precisely because of the long distance, John once said to me: If I ever go to New Zealand, I’m not coming back!

We went, in the depth of winter on this side of the world, just before heavy snow grounded a number of international flights across the country – what a lucky escape and great timing, and we came back, reluctantly and with sadness. The air is still filled with a winter chill, but we have the most treasured memories of an unforgettable trip, with nearly four thousand pictures I took and many mini videos I have made, to share and to keep, in the tender part of my heart.

In today’s post, I will share with you some of my best loved places and happiest moments of my trip Down Under. Three weeks were hardly sufficient to explore fully this amazingly beautiful country, hence our decision to concentrate on the North Island this time. We also had a very special reason to be at the North Island in December 2017, which will be revealed towards the end of my next post, and of course, some of you on my social media networks are already in the know :-).

Without further ado, here are my top picks and recommendations, if you are ever lucky enough to pop over for a visit ;-:

  1. Bays and Beaches: Honestly I have lost count of how many bays and beaches I have been to during this trip, and as someone who loves the sea, sand and the sound of the waves, I have been to many stunning beaches in my life time. I must admit that New Zealand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid my eyes upon. They simply took my breath away. Just look at the pictures below and tell me that you can’t agree more.
  2. Boat Trip from Auckland: We were lucky! We have family members living and working in NZ. My sister-in-law’s brother, a successful business man, resident of Auckland, took us for a fabulous ride into the stunning part of the South Pacific Ocean on Christmas Eve. He anchored his boat near a few small islands some twenty kilometres from the largest NZ city Auckland which is surrounded by the sea. In the crystal clear water under the shining sun, our family party enjoyed diving, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. Even though not a great swimmer, I decided to take the plunge. I mean, when will I go swimming in the Pacific Ocean again next? Isn’t this the most perfect Christmas gift?

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  3. Gardens, Parks and Tropical Flowers: As the chill of the winter deprived many plants of their flowers in the UK, New Zealand was blooming with a variety of summer flowers wherever we went. There were dahlias of different colours from my sister-in-law’s garden, as well as one of my favourite tropical flower, Bird of Paradise, and other species, many of which I have no name but a deep fondness for. In urban areas, there are many parks and gardens and we visited a few, including the Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, where I happily snapped away. Thanks to my Facebook friend Pieter who is living in Hamilton for suggesting that we visited Hamilton Gardens. We did, on Christmas day, joining many local residents there on a fine day. The many fine gardens of this world (Chinese, English, Indian, Italian and Maori etc) were featured here, not to mention a fabulous rose garden too!
  4. New Zealand Food: I am a foodie and I enjoy sampling different foods of the world. New Zealand didn’t disappoint. I had the freshest oysters and New Zealand mussels, and not to mention one of the best ice creams in the world. I know the Italians would say that they invented ice creams and have the best on offer. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law would probably disagree. At every place we visited, they were keen to show us the best ice-cream place and the Kiwis give you the most generous potions! I would say that the Italians have more variety, and the New Zealand offerings have more quantity in terms of cream composition and serving volume. After all, New Zealand has probably more cows than people. John and I were also served many fresh, organic vegetables grown and prepared by our sister-in-law. On top of that, we were recommended the best Sichuan restaurant in the country located in Hamilton, again curtesy of my Kiwi friend Pieter. An authentic taste of China and my home region served to further fire up my love for this land.
  5. Native Maori Culture: You cannot visit New Zealand without coming in contact with the Maori culture, and we did what we could with the limited time we had. Following recommendations from another friend Julian, who flew his whole family down there last Christmas, we visited a number of tourist places in the North Island. In Rotorua, we spent a few delightful hours in a Living Maori Village, Whakarnewarewa, where the chief guided us through a journey of discovery. Nestled in a unique geothermal valley, we were greeted with Pohutu Geysers, thermal pools where they still cook and bathe. When some were too hot to handle, they served as a reminder how powerful Mother Nature was, and how incredible some of the natural creations were. Our visit to Wai-O-Tapu was another experience which will be deeply embedded in our memory. This thermal wonderland, with volcanic dome of Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain), was covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. Some of the most unforgettable sights were the Champagne Pool, Sulphur Cave, Inferno Crater and Devil’s Bath. I know people who belong there ;).

I would conclude the first part of my New Zealand blog here, and I hope that the very brief introduction and selected pictures have given you a reason to visit New Zealand one day, or at least, a reason for you to come back soon for more virtual tour of this amazing country.


More fab photos to come. See you soon!

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