Fish and Noodles; family and food.


Happy Chinese New Year. There’s my grandmother on my father’s side along with my grandfather, looking pretty awesome. Tiny people!

Though I’m mostly Chinese and grew up with Chinese customs mixed into our American life, my family, strangely, didn’t really celebrate Chinese New Year in any huge fashion.

I went to Chinese school once a week every week, so during that one day of the year we would get little red envelopes with a $2 bill folded crisply in half, but that was about it for me and my sister. Other kids in my Chinese School class would boast how much money they received at home; even at the tender age of 9, I knew that $100 was an exorbitant amount for a second grader.

In lieu of cash, and I suppose without any regrets from any of us in retropect, the only consistent tradition observed by my family every year was an emphasis on food; a meal together on at least one night surrounding the New Year holiday. Even though this emphasis would always seem to come about more casually that naught, with either mom or dad saying something like, oh shoot, it’s Chinese New Year tomorrow, we should definitely have fish for dinner.

dried noodles

chinese ingredients

If not fish than it was noodles, sometimes dumplings or 10-ingredient stir fry and 8-jewel-sticky rice or nien gao for dessert. Throughout dinner we would be asked the same question, as we were asked every year: do you know why we’re eating (insert so-and-so) now?

Though we rolled our eyes at the time, we were also nervously excited to carefully, with the calculated concentration so practiced by children, give the right answer. After all, if it’s anything that the Chinese are, it’s superstitious, and everything has a meaning attached. Peaches for fertility, dumplings for wealth, oranges for luck, cakes for prosperity, the list goes on.

The two big-occasion dishes of our household during all Chinese gatherings were fish, and noodles.

Fish was a favorite of mine, for its multiple symbolic qualities, some of which I could remember, some I could not. Always whole, usually steamed, with its beady, glazed eyes always seemingly pointing at me. On the table only because it of an eponymous misfortune (for the fish, at least); the word “fish” in Chinese is a homonym with the word for prosperity, and so, eating fish over the new year is extremely good luck (for the diner).

In traditional fishing cultures, as was the tiny island of Taiwan where my parents are from, it brings especially great luck in the year ahead. However one should NEVER flip a fish over on the serving platter, for this indicates a sunken boat and bad luck at sea. Rather, the spine should be lifted off the plate once the meat is picked cleanly from the bones.

stir fry noodles

My sister preferred noodles, because she was a normal child and liked noodles over fish. I remember we were told, year in and year out, that noodles signified longevity, and more so than usual, we slurped as if the louder our inhalation of an entire noodle, the longer we’d live.

I’m surprised as to how much of this knowledge I’m able to recall all these years later, without hesitation and with great pride. Food serves many important roles, most fundamentally in its nourishing qualities, but to me, it’s also a reminder of where I’m from, and the family that I’m tied to.

It’s Chinese New Year today, and to celebrate, these noodles will likely make an appearance…well, sometime this weekend.

Chow Mein, aka Longevity Noodles


  • 1 small knob Ginger, about 10g or 2 tsp. peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Sesame oil
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
  • 1 chicken breast, approx. 200g
  • 4 servings egg noodles (see your package’s directions) + sesame oil
  • 1 small red onion
  • 6 leaves (approx. 275g) Chinese napa or savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 8 shiitake or oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, julienned


  1. Cut chicken into thin strips. In a medium bowl, combine chicken with ginger and garlic, the whites of the green onion (reserve the green to add into noodles later), soy sauce, and sesame oil. Cover. Marinate for at least 15 minutes, or 1-2 hours if possible for more flavor.
  2. After chicken has marinated to your liking, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, and drizzle additional sesame oil and toss. This will not only add a great flavor and fragrance to your dish, but it will also keep the noodles from congealing and sticking together!
  3. In a wok or large saute pan over high heat, add 2 Tbsp. Cooking oil (peanut or grapeseed are the best for Chinese cookery). When oil is hot, add onion. Saute for two minutes, or until onion starts to become translucent. Add napa cabbage and mushrooms, cooking for another 3 minutes. Add the marinated chicken, stirring constantly. When chicken is no longer pink (just about 30-40 seconds), add carrots and green onion. Continue to saute until chicken is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, occasionally tossing with a wooden spoon.
  4. Add noodles to the pan, carefully turning noodles into the vegetables with the help of tongs or chopsticks. Cook for another minute or two. Taste, adding another Tbsp. of soy sauce if you would like more flavor. Transfer to a large dish or bowl, and serve immediately.

Optional: substitute shrimp, peeled and de-veined, instead of chicken. Or, broccoli, for a vegetarian option!


Saturday Series / NO.1

This week I laid out posts in advance!  I’m getting serious about this posting thing, forreals.

So now, let’s throw something new in the mix. Starting now, I want to share a photo (or two) to end the week. Something that, during the week, either caught my eye, or influenced me, or simply just made me laugh. Or cry, that’s sometimes just as good.

Kigogo Family

To start the series, I’ve picked a photo from earlier this week, last Sunday to be exact, when I was able to visit a local family’s home with a friend of ours. In true Jessie fashion, my battery was low and I only managed to snap a few photos before my camera died on me. Always at the most opportune moments, I tell ya’.

Check back again next Saturday to see what’s been happening in this part of the world, in my little nook of the universe. Hopefully I’ll have my batteries ready and charged enough for some more options to choose from.

Also, how odd and prime of a date is today? 07’13’13. Senior year of high school was the last time I took a math class, and despite that fact, I can totally nerd out with the best of ’em.

Help a sister out.

My baby sister was a floppy lil one.


15 years later, she can hold herself up…and then some.


Hey friends, my sister Vickie is participating in a 5k walk on Oct 6 for the American Heart Association. I’ve never done one of these, because I’m horrified of asking for things (i.e. money) and even more, I’m petrified that I’d only manage to scrape together like, $20. Luckily for the sick and needy, my sister is a better woman than I, and she’s got $125 left to reach her goal of $700. $700!! Hm, maybe I should ask her to raise some money for me…

I love this picture, taken in Solvang, with a crash test dummy by my side.


Anyway, she only has 11 days left. I’ve already given what a can, so I’m reaching out to see if you can help! Click on this link, below, and follow the directions provided. Fortunately (or not), they’ve made giving money away so easy now.

Vickie’s Heart Walk Page

She told me she’s raised the most out of anyone in her company, but I think she’s just got the most friends on Facebook :)

On a similarly mortal note, the DiploMan saw an interesting stat last night. Can you guess what the number one cause of unnatural death in the U.S. is?

Car Accidents?
Falling off ladders?
Slipping on bathroom floors?
I would have guessed the first….but it’s actually suicide. Pretty crazy, right?

What we’ve all been waiting for

Visit the original version of this article over at Honest Cooking

I wish I could say we explored all of Mexico City by foot in the one week we were there. I wish I could say I ate at hotspots like Pujol or Izote and visited amazing markets like this one, or went into the home of an abuela and learned to make mole. sigh.

I wish I could have attended an amazing wedding.

Oh, wait, I did. (I guess I can only wish for so much, right?)

Despite staying in a posh, hotel-ridden neighborhood, the DiploMan and I were, of course, most drawn to the least decorated strip of Polanco’s center which housed a fruit market and neighboring hole-in-the-wall taquerias. Rather “underdeveloped” in comparison to its fellow restaurants and bars in the area. And lest I forget to mention yet again, that Coffee Bean down the street.

After recovering from a flu that left me, so frustratingly, without an appetite for the first three days I was in town, I was finally feeling well enough to stomach my pre-ordained craving for tacos. Under a glowing azure overhang, as we approached the rotisserie on the sidewalk that skewered a chunk of al pastor meat, looked past the open griddle and taco counter, I knew we were in the right place when I spotted a small cluster of formica fold-out tables and flimsy plastic school chairs.

I don’t know if it’s living in China that’s changed this perception, but those formica tabletops really did set off some nerve  in my brain, alerting my food memory banks for the potential of a great meal to be had. Though Polanco’s posh hotels, well-dressed women in heels and beautiful architectural gems had quite the appeal, THIS is what had enticed me about Mexico, this is what I had been waiting for since we landed.

When I spotted the takeout tacos in trays waiting to go out to hungry customers and caught a whiff of the spicy meat and fragrant onions, I knew for certain we were in the right place.

Kitchen in the front and seating in the back is a layout often seen in small hole-in-the-wall eateries abroad, where Health Inspection does not reign supreme. It’s a change of pace that is quite welcome in my book, for the displayed kitchen serves as a demo booth for the heart and soul of the menu.

Clearly, the heart and soul of this ‘restaurant’ was tacos. Tacos with chicken, tacos with al pastor, tacos with steak, with cheese, without cheese, so many options for tacos!!! Equipped with a griddle, two chopping stations and an antiquated cash register, the presumed brother and sister duo took orders (her) and cooked tacos (him) with automated frenzy. Many of their customers ate their orders perched on the narrow wooden “bar” across from the griddle, others took their tacos to go, with many a taco quickly disappearing as soon as they stepped onto the street.

A few clientele, mostly off-shift workers from neighboring restaurants and old Mexican men who seemed to be reminiscing of their youth over several bottles of beer each (and us), chose to sit in the rear of the restaurant, at the aforementioned cluster of formica tables.

Posted on the wall were large, bright cardstock that acted as menus, in addition to flimsy laminated and bound menus that were informally distributed to the table. Foregoing what was put in front of us, the DiploMan and I, along with the rest of my family, were mostly drawn to the bright orange display featuring the Orden de Tacos, five tacos of our choosing for $33 pesos (about $2.50USD). With cheese, a modest $53 ($4USD).

A revelation was had when I asked about the Campechanos, a mix of chorizo and steak. Consider my mind blown.

In total, the five of us splurged on five Orden de Tacos along with an order of Birria– all supplemented by the homemade green and red salsas, a bottomless supply of limes, and a large bowl of chopped onion and cilantro.

The tacos arrived at the table, double corn tortillas generously piled with seasoned meat and cheese, one piled atop the other barely accommodated on a regular-sized plate. Our orders of tacos con queso were topped with a griddle-melted pile of Mexican cheese, which was not unlike a less-salty version of Mozzarella. The issue of cheese on tacos, commonly referred to as Gringo style, is an area that is often left wanting in my dining experiences. These tacos certainly did not disappoint nor were they wanting, and if anything there was- dare I say it- too much cheese (!!). Then the Birria arrived, an oily, fragrant stew of mystery meat (lamb? veal?) waiting to be stuffed into their own little tortilla pockets, a lovely milder, warm, and soupy counterpart to the tacos.

What ensued was what often happens when simple, good food is placed in front of individuals- a chorus of munching and grunts of approval, the swapping of plates and exchanging of tacos (one chorizo/steak for one pollo? Deal.), some swooning and even rolling of eyes from delight, and definitely minimal conversation. If they hadn’t known it before, as I surely had, this was definitely a meal that we had all been waiting for.


The Beauty of Bones

Forgive the radio silence over the last few days.  Between getting a part time job (not food related, therefore, boring and not worth writing about here) and having my parents in town for a short 36hour visit, I really didn’t have a bit of spare time to write.  I did, however, had a bit of time last Friday to prepare a pot of soup to welcome my mom and dad to China.

My mom’s cooking has a lot to do with my tastes and attitudes and opinions about food today.  She’s been a proponent of eating well, eating balanced, and eating naturally, long before Slow Food and Michelle Obama were at the forefront of our nation’s policies.  She’s instilled in me a good sense for hosting a small party of six and cooking as if a small nation was joining for dinner.  To her credit, I can wield a knife with basic grace, whether it be peeling a pear in one go or butchering a whole chicken.  There were a lot of simple things she taught me about food and the basics of cooking throughout the course of my childhood, and I am forever indebted to her for those things.

One talent I learned early on from her was the miracle of soup-making.  More often than not there would be a huge pot of pork/beef/chicken bones slowly simmering away on our stovetop, the meat cooked until tender and the broth ready to be cooked with noodles for dinner, reheated for lunch the next day…and usually again even later for a Chinese version of the late night snack.  My mom loved soup, and like most Chinese people believes there to be great healing and medicinal purposes in a great stock.

Long after I left the house, and after reading recipe after recipe, I realized in addition to the soothing qualities of soup, there existed a great versatility for meat stock.  Today I have a basic recipe that follows no specific measurements but always works, just like mom’s.  If I’m sick, I’ll throw in triple the ginger.  If I know I’m making a stock to be used for italian-mediterranean dishes, I’ll toss in various dried herbs like rosemary and sage.  If I will probably just be eating the soup and stock for dinner for the entire week, in will go some daikon radish, shiitake mushrooms and eventually, vermicelli noodles.

Here in China, the meat markets sing with the possibilities of soup making, much to my delight.  Each vendor has dozens of cuts of meats and bones laid out on display, from gelatinous pigs’ feet to delicate squab breasts.  Approaching a pig butcher, my asking for neck bones led to a vague finger pointing to a cluster of red meat sitting right in front of me.  After a bit of clarification- making sure that yes, this is pig, and yes, these are neck bones, I was set to go.  And from this, the picture below, I made a big pot of pork and vegetable soup to welcome my mom and dad to China.  Just like home.