Enter the Year of the Rabbit!

The Year of the Rabbit hops in today, Feb 3rd, with a 15-day party involving a feast of symbolic food, visits to relatives and friends and general merry making with age-old traditions such as lion and dragon dances. All around the world, folks of Chinese descent will celebrate (or not, as the case may be) in different ways, depending on which region in China they trace their lineage from. (more…)

February 3, 2011. Tags: , , , . Asian, Chinese, Stories, Stories. Asian. 2 comments.

Chicken Soup With Asian Twist and Matzo Balls (Plus Bonus Chinese Rice Dish)

Is there a fragrance more enticing than that of a home-brewed chicken soup? Everyone I know attests that their own mothers and grandmothers make the best chicken soup (top prize in my case goes to my mum-in-law). I grew up having lots of chicken soup, although much of it was the sort that goes into, and with, a dish called Hainanese chicken rice  – a big hit with my family from our days in Southeast Asia.

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April 1, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Asian, Chinese, Dinners, Jewish, Kids Cuisine, Mains, Passover, Soups. 7 comments.

Chinese New Year: Stories, Sights, Scents (and More Dumplings)

The Year of the Tiger began on Feb. 14th and festivities are wrapped up a good 15 days later with the Lantern Festival.

Here are some snippets of Chinese new year traditions and celebrations contributed by friends in Singapore, Thailand and Wales. Do feel free to add your own in comments! (more…)

February 17, 2010. Tags: , , . Asian, Chinese, Cultural Feasts, Festive, Stories, Stories. Asian. 5 comments.

Dumplings to Greet the Year of the Tiger!

Happy Year of the Tiger!

The Chinese New Year begins on Feb. 14th and continues for 15 days.

Where I grew up, in Malaysia and Singapore, we had lots of Chinese neighbors and this festival, along with Hari Raya Puasa (the Muslim Eid festival), Diwali and Christmas were open-door celebrations, with neighbors and friends dropping in and out of the celebrants’ homes to wish them well and to partake of the festive goodies. They would mostly be invited, although it would be perfectly normal also to visit someone if you knew them.

My late Granddad’s best friend, Uncle Guan (which was actually his first name), was Peranakan Chinese. The term refers to descendants of late 15th and 16th century immigrants to the Indonesian islands, who partially or fully adopted the local customs and style of dress and developed their own hybrid of Nyonya, or Baba Chinese cuisine.

A tradition that was peculiar to the Babas is that they (by this I mean the men) sometimes had more than one wife, and he, his spouses and all their joint children, often lived quite happily under the same roof. This was the case with our lovely Uncle Guan, his first wife, Mrs Guan, his second wife, Mrs Teo, and their 11 children (getting into Big Love territory here, aren’t we?)

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February 13, 2010. Tags: , . Asian, Chinese, Cultural Feasts, Festive. 6 comments.

Chia Asian Bistro: Good Dumplings, Fab Decor

(A version of this review was published on Baristanet on Jan. 18)

It was with great interest that I watched as Chia Asian Bistro on Bloomfield Ave took shape and eventually opened late last year, as I had yet to find a satisfactory local Chinese restaurant that hit all the right spots for me. Chia was bang on target with location, being within a few minutes’ walk of bustling Church St and its fine selection of wine, clothing, coffee and candy stores, and the accompanying foot traffic.

The restaurant, with an airy dining room and a separate banquet room for party bookings, is tastefully decorated, with dark cherry wainscotting and generous windows welcoming in large swathes of natural light. Wallpaper in a deep jade, on which a Mandarin poem gracefully repeated itself in silver lettering, was mesmerizing and soothing. In the banquet room, the wallpaper was calligraphed equally fetchingly, this time with repeated motifs of oriental-style kettles. Wide, polished wood planks adorned the floor in a dark stain, tables and sturdy cushioned chairs of walnut wood kept up the earthy theme, and a single, exotic flower in a vase stylishly accented each table.

That the place was attractive and light was key. For me, it makes the difference between a restaurant with tasty Asian food that I will visit when I get the hankering once in many months, and one that instantly pops to mind when someone asks, “Where shall we eat?” (more…)

January 25, 2010. Tags: , . Asian, Chinese, Restaurants, Reviews. Leave a comment.

Chicken Stirfry with Red and Yellow Peppers and Cashew

This is one of the fall-back recipes I’ve kept from decade to decade. It worked as well in the BC days (before children) as it does now – the only difference being in how I use my free time (far more frivolously in those days) and is inspired by the fresh and quickly prepared ‘street food’ in Singapore.  It’s easy, you only need the one wok, and takes 15-20 minutes from start to finish. Just put the rice in a rice cooker before you start chopping the veg and chicken fillets and watch everything come together at the end for a steamy-hot comforting meal on a cold-weather day like today. The red and yellow peppers may be substituted for green beans, broccoli or sugar snap peas.
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October 19, 2009. Tags: . Asian, Chinese, Dinners, Mains, One-dish meals. Leave a comment.

Pahang Adds Sizzle To Verona Restaurant Scene

(Review published on Baristanet on Sept. 24th)

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As someone who was born in Malaysia and has widely traveled and eaten her way through Southeast Asia, I was delighted to hear a restaurant called Pahang, after Malaysia’s third-largest state, had set up shop on Bloomfield Ave in Verona. With readers asking to know more about it, I was only too happy to oblige, even as I appreciated the surrealism of the task – little-known Pahang (plucked out of Malaysia), in the thick of Verona (ditto, out of Italy), in New Jersey. A neat microcosm of the three continents I’ve lived in. Serendipity? No matter, I was ravenous.

First, some context. Pahang the state, which comprises one million ethnic Malays and indigenous people (known as Bumiputeras), is also a fifth Chinese and seven percent Indian – factors which hugely shape the spicing and variety of the state’s cuisine, and of Malaysian food in general.

The visit to Pahang restaurant was a nostalgic one for me culinarily; for objectivity, I brought along a born-and-bred New Yorker friend who lives in Montclair and, thank goodness, was as motivated as I to find another Asian-food winner in the area. We had recently risked life and limb on Rt 10 to visit Penang on East Hanover, only to come away somewhat let down by our choices that day.

So, with renewed appetite, we walked into the cantaloupe and avocado-themed tropical-style interior of Pahang, which has been open since May, having parked easily across the restaurant and bought ourselves an hour at the meter for a mere 25 cents.

We made no reservations for lunch, indeed the restaurant was quiet, being as it was a Monday. More food for us then. I ask if we can have smaller portions as it was our first visit and as we were eager to try a number of dishes. Beyanka, the chef’s cheerful wife, politely obliged.

Perusing the impressive lunch and regular menus, we notice an entire section with several pages of Japanese food, including sushi, wraps and salads. As keen on Japanese as I am, I focus on the cuisine relevant to the restaurant’s name.

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We start with Roti Canai (pronounced cha-nai) – an Indian-inspired flaky bread which also goes by the name of prata, served with chicken curry. This is typical of street food in Malaysia and Singapore, and I felt it could be a benchmark of things to come. The bread was perfect, hot off the griddle, light and fluffy, not greasy, and the tasty chicken curry had tender chunks of the bird in it. Big thumbs-up there. (more…)

September 27, 2009. Tags: , , . Asian, Chinese, Restaurants, Reviews, Stories. Asian. Leave a comment.

Sweet and Sour Fish with Tomato, Broccoli and Red Pepper


This is a quick and delicious one-dish meal which appeals to children and adults alike. It recalls the gorgeous sweet and sour fish that I often enjoyed in many of Singapore`s food centres on its eastern coast – where the fish, nabbed while swimming carefree in a giant look-how-fresh-your-fish-is aquarium – was coated in corn flour and fried golden and crisp (yet remaining succulently moist inside), then plunged in a tangy, morish, deep red sauce.

Being a bit of a nutrition policewoman, there is none of that frying stuff going on here and I had two little ones who demanded immediate gustatory gratification.

The dish can be pepped up with a diced chilli, and its entire preparation from chopping block to mouth (including a quick escape for blog modelling) should take 15 minutes tops. This amount will serve four children or two ravenous grownups.

  • Salmon or firm-fleshed fish, 1 large fillet, cubed
  • Onion, 1 medium, diced
  • Garlic, half tsp, chopped
  • Ginger, half tsp, grated
  • Chilli, optional, 1, diced
  • Sesame seed oil, a few drops
  • Canola oil, 2 tbsp
  • Broccoli florets, 1-2 handfuls
  • Tomatoes, 2, skinned and diced
  • Red pepper, half, diced
  • Water, as needed, posibly a third cup
  • Honey sake teriyake sauce, about 1 tbsp
  • Balsamic vinegar, 1-2 tbsp
  1. In a wok or deep pan, pour the oils and add onion, garlic and ginger (chilli if using)
  2. Saute till fragrant and translucent
  3. Add red peppers, stir for two minutes, add tomatoes and broccoli and some water
  4. Stir and simmer for a few minutes
  5. Pour in the honey-teriyake sauce and balsamic vinegar, stir and taste
  6. Adjust the flavours accordingly, adding extra vinegar for more zest
  7. Add the cubed fish, stir very gently and leave to cook for about 2-3 minutes
  8. Check that fish is done and remove pan from heat
  9. Serve with freshly steamed brown rice

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July 30, 2008. Tags: , . Asian, Chinese, Dinners, Fish, Kids Cuisine, One-dish meals. 1 comment.