Weekend Cooking: Happy Chinese New Year hotpot!

The lunar new year officially began on January 31. And on New Year’s Eve, one is meant to gather with the family and have what is known as a reunion dinner. When I was a kid that meant a big steamboat (that’s what we call hotpot in Singapore) feast at my paternal grandparents’ house. My cousins, aunties and uncles would be there so that meant two big tables of food surrounding the electric steamboat in the middle.

With us living in the US (no public holiday!) and our families back in Singapore, Chinese New Year is far quieter for the boys!

But with my mum’s arrival on Thursday, we managed to have a little celebration of our own with some friends. On a suitably rainy and chilly Saturday – just the right weather for hotpot!

I made a chicken stock for one side of our dual hotpot and the other side was a herbal stock known as bak kut teh in Singapore (usually a pork rib soup – but I just use the herbs that came in the packet).



– napa cabbage
– carrots
– kabocha squash
– mushrooms (white and brown beech and king trumpet)
– fish tofu
– fish balls
– crab sticks
– Viennese sausages
– thinly sliced wagyu for shabu shabu from Mitsuwa market
– thinly sliced pork belly
– Singapore style chili sauce
– Japanese sesame dipping sauce
– Taiwanese dipping paste shacha

And I cooked some Hainanese chicken rice (albeit from a store bought paste) as an accompaniment.

Essentially you get the pot onto the portable gas stove (or sometimes electric, or sometimes the whole hotpot itself is an electric thing), get the stocks bubbling (I had been simmering both stocks on my kitchen stove for about half an hour already, to develop some flavour). Then begin by putting into the stock the vegetables and mushrooms, which take longer to cook. Other items like the meat should be done individually – pick up the common chopsticks and the little dipping basket (essentially a ladle with holes), swish the meat around in the stock until it’s done just the way you like it (I like mine cooked for just a short while, so that it’s still a bit pink). Then pop it into your bowl. Pick up your own chopsticks, dip the meat in your favourite dipping sauce, and yum!

There was way too much food but somehow we found space for dessert.


One of our friends brought a raspberry tart from a French bakery in Palo Alto. So good I forgot to take a photo!

My mum brought from Singapore kueh lapis (layered cake), a rich eggy many layered butter cake with spices. And sometimes, like this one, studded with prunes. Here’s one recipe (with 22 yolks!) – it’s a tedious process in which a layer is baked then another later poured over and baked and so on. I doubt I’ll ever try making it myself.

Happy New Year!


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Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐!

It’s the first day of the lunar new year, so 新年快乐!

Happy Year of the Horse to you.

As we are far far away from our families, the boys don’t get a chance to go visiting. Or experience the kind of New Years that I did growing up, with huge reunion feasts on the Eve, staying up past midnight to usher in the new year, lion dance at my grandparents’ house as well as the constant flow of visitors and seemingly never ending series of visits to relatives and friends. Not to mention all the mouthwatering treats that awaited at each house (except for those herbal drinks which I grudgingly sipped from and still detest today). And the many angbaos to collect (and money to count at the end of each day).

But there are some traditions that I’m trying to uphold here!
Like buying new pajamas and new clothes. Having some oranges in the house to virtually 拜年 with their grandparents over Skype. Plus a somewhat clean (but not tidy) house – the past few days I’ve been busy trying to clean up, to make way for the good luck and all that you know. (Plus during the 15 days of the celebration, you’re technically not supposed to be cleaning. I don’t know if anyone actually sticks to that especially with people visiting and dropping crumbs all over).

We have ang baos 红包 or red packets of money ready for the boys.

And there’s even nian gao 年糕 or sticky cake in the pantry for eating (sliced up and panfried with egg. Yum!) this weekend.

A hotpot lunch had been planned for next weekend with some friends and with my mum who will be visiting from Singapore.

So it will be our own little version of the New Year here in the Bay Area.

Happy new year! 恭喜发财!年年有余!

Weekend cooking: Happy Lunar New Year


A jar of my mother-in-law’s homemade pineapple tarts, handcarried from Singapore in December. They are rather delicate, thus the crumbs.

It’s not the Lunar New Year without something sweet in the house! In Singapore, we’d have all our favourites like kueh bangkit, pineapple tarts (ok so we do actually have these since the in-laws brought them from Singapore in December), bak kwa (a kind of barbecued pork jerky).

And so while it’s not exactly a traditional Chinese cookie, I made oatmeal raisin cookies (via the Rachel Allen cook book Bake! – someone has put up the recipe here – I did reduce the sugar to about 180g and added some cinnamon) and some banana bread as I had three too ripe bananas sitting in my freezer and I hate turning my oven on for just that one thing (recipe via Smitten Kitchen – but minus some of the spices which I didn’t have).


Great with a glass of milk!

One of my favourite Lunar New Year treats is nian gao (年糕) a steamed sweet glutinous rice cake (recipe here). I’ve never made it myself before as there are plenty of varieties available in the Asian supermarkets here (such as brown sugar, coconut). Here’s what I like to do with it: slice it, dip in an egg batter and pan-fry for a crispy sweet eggy breakfast! Nian gao, which can literally be translated as ‘year cake’ is traditionally offered to the Kitchen God to stick his lips together so that nothing bad will be said!


Tastes better than it looks!

One of my other favourite New Year traditions is yu sheng (a raw fish salad) which I’ve previously mentioned here but it is difficult to find in the Bay Area and in the first place, with the pregnancy, raw fish is out for me. So no yu sheng this year!

Sweet treats or not, have a happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐!万事如意!

Tossing for prosperity

We’re still celebrating Chinese New Year! It’s traditionally 15 days of celebrations, and this dinner organised by some Singaporean and Indonesian associations in the Bay Area on Sunday had an enticing treat – yusheng! Yusheng is a kind of raw fish salad that everyone at the table tosses together for prosperity and good luck. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty tasty too. From what I understand, it’s a dish usually served only in Malaysia and Singapore, and not that easy to find in the Bay Area.

Yup, it ends up being tossed all over the table too…

I’ve been trying to figure out how to link this foodie bit with the bookish bits of the post, but it all sounds too cheesy. So I’ll just say that the rest of the weekend was spent doing bits of reading, putting together wee-reader’s crib, putting together a list of baby items to buy (we’re getting close!), hanging out with friends (with whom the husband played tennis), eating Korean beef soup (which seemed to have done wonders with my stuffed nose!), and just relaxing at home.

I really ought to write up my thoughts on a few great books I’ve read: Deirdre Madden’s Molly Fox’s Birthday,  John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy, and Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Moving Pictures. Hopefully I’ll get to them later in the week. They deserve individual posts and not just a hastily lumped together one!

I’m still chugging away at Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, which is turning out to be an excellent read, and my current ebook/nightstand read is Vanity Fair, which has always daunted me with its size, but now that it’s an ebook version, that doesn’t matter!

Hope your weekend was a good one! What have you been reading recently?

Happy New Year!

Back home in Singapore, there’ll be some new pots of flowers, plenty of mandarin oranges for visiting, snacks of all kinds (my mom was busy making her yummy cookies the past weekend), new clothes perhaps?, and everything will be relatively spick and span. Here in Fremont, not much is new, although I guess the house is relatively clean, and we’re expecting a friend to pass us bak kwa (a kind of sweet-salty dried BBQ pork slices… so good) that we bulk ordered from a company in the Bay Area, and a feast at R&G Lounge (warning – site automatically plays music) in the city on Saturday. Celebration or not, I’m looking forward to the new year!


(Here’s wishing you a happy Year of the Rabbit, may everything you do be successful, and here’s to good health!)

Chinese New Year

by Lynda Hull

The dragon is in the street dancing beneath windows
pasted with colored squares, past the man
who leans into the phone booth’s red pagoda, past
crates of doves and roosters veiled
until dawn. Fireworks complicate the streets
with sulphur as people exchange gold
and silver foil, money to appease ghosts
who linger, needy even in death. I am
almost invisible. Hands could pass through me
effortlessly. This is how it is
to be so alien that my name falls from me, grows
untranslatable as the shop signs,
the odors of ginseng and black fungus that idle
in the stairwell, the corridor where
the doors are blue months ajar. Hands
gesture in the smoke, the partial moon
of a face. For hours the soft numeric
click of mah-jongg tiles drifts
down the hallway where languid Mai trails
her musk of sex and narcotics.
There is no grief in this, only the old year
consuming itself, the door knob blazing
in my hand beneath the lightbulb’s electric jewel.
Between voices and fireworks
wind works bricks to dust—hush, hush
no language I want to learn. I can touch
the sill worn by hands I’ll never know
in this room with its low table
where I brew chrysanthemum tea. The sign
for Jade Palace sheds green corollas
on the floor. It’s dangerous to stand here
in the chastening glow, darkening
my eyes in the mirror with the gulf of the rest
of my life widening away from me, waiting
for the man I married to pass beneath
the sign of the building, to climb
the five flights and say his Chinese name for me.
He’ll rise up out of the puzzling streets
where men pass bottles of rice liquor, where
the new year is liquor, the black bottle
the whole district is waiting for, like
some benevolent arrest—the moment
when men and women turn to each other and dissolve
each bad bet, every sly mischance,
the dalliance of hands. They turn in lamplight
the way I turn now. Wai Min is in the doorway.
He brings fish. He brings lotus root.
He brings me ghost money.

Lynda Hull, “Chinese New Year” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull. Used by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org.