Happy Chinese New Year – The story of Nian

Happy Chinese New Year 2015 to all.



As many know, Chinese New Year is a time where majority of those of Chinese descent, come together with their family and friends to celebrate. It is a festive period involving lots of good company, food, money giving, traditional entertainments, and lots of laughter.


And of course, we cannot forget about the Chinese rice balls, which is eaten during festive seasons like Chinese New Year, New Year, and for some, during the Christmas season as well.
















The colour red have always been a symbolic colour for Chinese New Year. According to an old Chinese myth that I know, there was once a beast with the body of a bull and the head of a lion called, Nian. Every beginning of the year, Nian would come out from the mountains where it was living and terrorize a village. It would eat their crops, and if there were any villagers in the way, it would eat them too. One day, a strange man came to visit the village and told the villagers that the beast can be defeated by loud noises, bright firelights, and the colour red. So the villagers would hang and display bright red lanterns and fire crackers everywhere. In the end, Nian was terrified that it returned to the mountains and was never seen or heard of again. That is why Chinese New Year is filled with loud noises and firecrackers. And in memory of Nian, there is the symbolic and well known lion dance.

There are several versions of the Nian myth, but they are all similar in a way with how it ends.














Photo credits to Suzanne Yeang and Irene Soo. Thank you, Ladies, for the wonderful photos, as usual. And special thanks to Irene for always taking mouth-watering photos of the rice balls. I know nobody who can make rice balls as perfect as she can. Looking forward for more to come.

Gong Hie Fatt Choi to everybody.

Other posts on past Chinese New Year and rice balls:






A Penang Story – Part 1

So it all began with this photo I saw posted by a friend on Facebook.


To most of you, this might seem like an ordinary photo. But for me, it’s so much more. It reminds me of my other home, Penang, in Malaysia. The photo is recent, and the location of where it was taken was at a famous shopping mall nearby where I used to live when I was residing in Penang. It was where I used to go almost everyday to have my meals, meet up with friends, and do my shopping. It’s been 11 years since I was last there. When I saw this photo, I immediately became homesick. It sure hit me hard.

There are 13 states and 3 federal territories in Malaysia. But out of them, Penang is the most different state. The people, the community, the lifestyle, the environment, is somehow different from the other states/territories. If you live in one state and then move to Penang, you will automatically feel the difference. A good difference. After being magnetized by the photo, I decided that I wanted to share with you my tour of Penang via my personal thoughts, views, knowledge, and experience, with also the help of some of my Penang friends with the visuals. Instead of presenting everything in one post, I am going to divide them into categories. My tour will include some of my favourite local food where you can’t find ANYWHERE else in the world, famous streets, art, stories and gossips (both local and personal), a haunted hill and war museum, and a history of an Englishman.

Enough said. Let the tour begin.

Malaysia is a multicultural country. There is Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sikh, and Eurasian. Therefore, the food in Malaysia is also multicultural. Some have a combination of Malay and Chinese, while others may have a combination of Chinese and Portuguese. But in the end, no matter how many cultures there are, in food and people, it all comes together as one, Malaysia.

msia24The Penang flag.


I lived in one of those tall condominiums by the seafront back when I was residing in Penang from the beginning of 2003 till end of that year.

msia6msia20komtar Penang’s iconic tall building.

What I miss the most is the food. Sure, there are Malaysian restaurants around the world. But it is never the same as home. I’ve tried many Malaysian dishes in London (where I am living), and the food never tastes the same. The food isn’t bad either, but it just doesn’t taste like home. It’s not as authentic, even though they say it is. In some restaurants, they even have the names of the food wrong. I don’t know how I’ve survived 11 years of no home food. I’ve even tried cooking some of the dishes, but they just don’t taste the same. I guess I just have to wait for some of my Malaysian friends to come and visit so that they can teach me the authentic way. Below are some of the food that are so authentic that it’s hard to find anywhere else in the world except for home.

msia12Char Kuey Teow, a noodle dish cooked in light and dark soy sauce, with egg and seafood.

msia11Noodle dish with meat or seafood dumplings. Most Malaysians like to have their dishes with iced/hot tea or coffee with milk.

msia22msia8Noodle dish in soup. This is an extremely rare dish to find in any western countries. The closest I’ll ever get to tasting the real deal is a pot noodle version from London Chinatown 😦msia14A typical noodle cafe. msia15A noodle stand.

msia7Not just is this dish rare to find in western countries, but so is the fish. I call this fish the white fish.

msia13When I saw this photo while looking through a friend’s Facebook album, I almost cried. This is my all time favourite Malaysian dessert. It is made out of rice flour and thick coconut milk. It is layered, and I have a way of eating it. I don’t like eating it as it is, or taking a bite off it. There has only been ONE way I would eat it, and that is by layers. I would gently peel off each layer and eat it. I don’t know why. It’s the only way I will eat it. There’s no other way. Every time I see this dessert, I would immediately think of my childhood. msia17Another all time favourite. Biscuit with dried coloured icing on top.

msia16Of course, how can I forget about the rice balls.

My other posts on rice balls:




msia1A typical Malaysian breakfast. It is a very simple dish. Bread with butter and sugar spread on top. Bread can be toasted or not, up to you. I prefer it toasted.

msia3Roti Canai, flat bread with spicy sauce.

msia21Traditional prawn curry in deliciously thick sauce. My goodness.

msia23A typical stall selling traditional desserts.

msia10Durians, also known as the smelly fruit to some. Like marmite, either you like it or you don’t. msia5Inside the durian. It does leave a strong odor on your hands afterwards. They are very expensive here in London Chinatown. Crazy expensive.

msia9Chinese buns. It is usually used for celebrations or prayers.

That’s it for the first part. To be continued.

A huge thank you to Irene Soo and Suzanne Yeang for the wonderful photos.

How to make Chinese rice balls

I’m going to show you my recipe on how to make Chinese rice balls. It’s simple, as long as you have the ingredients right.

First, you will need the following ingredients; glutinous rice flour, ginger, sugar (or rock sugar) and pandan leaves. You can get the sugar (not rock sugar) and ginger at supermarkets. As for the glutinous rice flour, rock sugar and pandan leaves, you will probably need to get it in Chinatown or at Asian stores (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese stores).




Pour the glutinous rice flour in a medium-sized or large bowl. The amount of flour needed is up to you.


Now, this is the tricky bit. Slowly mix the flour with water (tap or bottled), only adding small amount of water at a time, and keep kneading it until the texture becomes like soft play dough. For me, there is always a strange sensation with the flour when I first add in the water, like the flour is not absorbing the water. If that is the case for you, don’t worry. It’s how it is. Just keep going. If you want to add some colouring, now it’s the time to do so. How much of it to put in is up to you. For me, I only add in small droplets of it as I like my rice balls to look like marbles.



Take a pinch of it (or more depending on the size you want) and start rolling it with the palms of your hands until they are the shape of a ball.




















Once you have finished rolling, boil some water in a pot. When the water starts to boil, add in the rice balls and let it boil for 5 minutes. Never add in the rice balls when the water is not boiling or else they will stick together. After 5 minutes, take them out (best to use a strainer if you have one) and adding them in a pot or bowl of chilled water (tap or bottled). The purpose of boiling the rice balls is to give them a wash, and adding them in chilled water prevents them from sticking together. Meanwhile, boil another pot of clean water. While waiting for the water to boil, add in the ginger (don’t forget to peel off the skin), a few pandan leaves and sugar (or rock sugar). The ‘water’ base is usually served sweet, but it’s up to your taste bud. Once boiled, add in the rice balls and let it boil for about 15 to 20 minutes.



And then you are ready to eat. Enjoy!


There are other ways of making the rice balls. Some are served in thicker syrup, whereas others in watery chocolate sauce. There is no right or wrong to the recipe.

Happy New Year – First post of 2013

Happy New Year everybody. During this time, many Chinese will celebrate the brand new year with Chinese rice balls. Click here for my previous post on Chinese rice balls.

(Photo credit: Irene Soo)rice ball 2013 2

rice ball 2013

rice balls 2013 3

rice balls 2013 4

rice balls 2013 5

rice ball pur

Rice ball caterpillar (Photo credit: Chunkha Phen)

rice ball 2013 caterp.

Chinese rice balls

I noticed that quite a number of people liked my ‘Mooncake’ post, so here is another one on Chinese rice balls.

(Photo by my friend, Irene Soo)

Chinese rice balls, also pronounced as ‘Tangyuen’ or ‘Tongyuen’, is a Chinese dessert that is usually eaten during Chinese New Year or around Christmas. However, many people would still have the dish during every other days. The rice balls are made from glutinous rice flour, and the food colourings are added onto it. But it’s optional. The rice balls can be made into any sizes, with or without any fillings. The common fillings include sesame, peanuts and sweet bean paste. The rice balls are then served in boiled, rock sugar water.

(Photo by my friend, Irene Soo)

I love rice balls, and I love mines without any fillings. When I used to make rice balls with my mother, she would always make sure that I make the shape of the balls as round as possible. If not, she would sigh loudly and in frustration as she picks up the ones that are not round and re-do them again. It didn’t matter if she had to re-do one hundred or a thousand rice balls. She always made sure that they all looked perfectly round. As for me, I didn’t have the kind of patience to make it perfectly round, because all I wanted to do was to eat them. My mother did not like colourful rice balls, therefore, our rice balls would be coloured pink and white, the ordinary colours. According to my mother, rice balls should be perfectly round, because it symbolizes ‘togetherness’ among family and friends coming together. There is also another saying that people should eat the number of rice balls according to their age. So for instance, if you are ten years old, you should eat ten rice balls.

The photo above with the smiley rice balls are made by my friend, Wewe. Her rice balls are served in chocolate syrup.

The photo above are my rice balls. I like to play and experiment with the colours.

Mooncake Festival

It is Mooncake festival month!!!!

Mooncake festival, also known as Mid-Autumn Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival that takes place in September where mooncakes are gifted among family and friends. The date varies depending on the Chinese calender. The mooncakes are sweet with a duck egg in the middle. Every mooncake has a duck egg to symbolize the moon. There are also many other types of fillings in the mooncakes such as lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, jujube paste, sesame seeds and peanuts. As for me, I only like to eat the duck egg. When I was little, my parents’ friends would come over to our house with lots of mooncakes where we would eat it together. I remember digging, yes, proper messy digging, into my mooncake and taking out the duck egg. My mother would always glare at me and tell me off.
“Why do you always have to eat the mooncake like that. It’s not nice. You should eat it properly with grace.”

Happy Mooncake festival!!!!
Thank you to my dear friend, Wern, who took the pictures for me.