Xiao Nian

Today it is 小年 xiao nian – the ‘little year’.  Xiao Nian falls seven days before the Chinese New Year, and marks the day when preparations should begin for the New Year.

Really, I should have gone out and started buying food, decorations and nibbly things to ready for the big event – but I didn’t.

Instead, we ate 饺子jiǎozi. Jiaozi is usually translated as ‘dumpling’ but that word kind of misses the mark. I mean, who translates ravioli or gnocchi as ‘dumpling’? It brings to mind soggy flour balls deep-fried in over-heated greasy oil.

Jiaozi are something different again – delicious little gems of fillings wrapped in rice-flour and steamed or boiled.

I should probably have lit incense to Zao Wang too – but I didn’t. The Kitchen God will have to have his fill of bribed sweets elsewhere. ( Traditionally, people left out ‘lollies’ – sweets or candy – for the Kitchen God so he would make a good report to the Jade Emperor.)

Since the Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival – is on the lunar calendar, the countdown is also on the lunar calendar, falling on the 23rd day of the last month of the old year. During the next few days, I am supposed to : get my hair cut, have a good spring clean and sweep out the house, buy some new clothes to celebrate the New Year – preferably red for good luck.

And buy lots of rice flour and vegetables and meat for making those yummy jiaozi.

This afternoon children in the school across the road danced with rainbow umbrellas to the tune of Mei Li Hua, and fireworks went off outside, getting ready for the big night, when fireworks will light up the sky from here to Shanghai.

Stay tuned.


Black Chicken Soup

Winter’s a great time for chicken soup,

In China, the best chicken soup is made from black chicken, or

乌鸡   wūjī


The soup is traditionally used for mothers who have just given birth, or those recovering from a common cold or flu. It’s also just great for those cold winter nights.

The chicken’s feathers are black and the meat is a darker colour, and the taste is richand meaty. The soup made from the wūjī, is dark, tasty, nutritious… and…did we say tasty?

Like most poultry eaten in China, it’s not bought frozen from the supermarket, but fresh from the local market stall – beheaded, plucked and defeathered after you choose your chicken of choice.


Perfect with wild mountain mushrooms from Dongbei!


that looks like a pie, right?

Sorry, W-R-O-N-G!

it’s a 煎 包

jiān bāo


hang on…. that looks like a pie, right?

Sorry, W-R-O-N-G!

it’s a 煎 包 

 jiān bāo

or fried steamed bun. REALLY?? YUP!

I was in JInan, Shandong, a few days ago ( Shandong is a province between Beijing and Shanghai), and I ordered what I thought would be a fried dumpling. OMG! This thing tasted as delicious as it looks! Beautiful, crisp pastry on the top, and inside……..


yep, noodles. Not just any noodles, mind you, but glassy, delicious   粉 条 , fěn tiáo

Noodles made from rice flour, or, noodles made from mung bean paste, or, Chinese Vermicelli…. mixed with some fried pork bits and an indescribable, moorish taste… ( i had to have two).

And all that WITHOUT a skerrick of MSG!!!!

After 13 years in China, you’d think I’d seen it all, eaten all the various dishes there were to offer, right?

NUP. I had never seen such a thing before… a speciality of Jinan.


Just for the record, noodles are usually  面条 , miàntiáo ,noodles made from wheat.

They are pretty much a staple food, and they are everywhere in China, with many regional differences.

For a bit more about the history and types of noodles, check here.

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