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The Chinese use the lunar calendar, as opposed to the West’s solar calendar, to calculate the dates of all their festivals. Just what day Chinese New Year starts changes each year. In general it commences anytime between the middle of January to the middle of February. It is not a single day event, as the New Year is in the West, but a seasonal festival that is celebrated for up to two weeks.

You can learn to determine Chinese New Year day yourself
as long as you have access to a calendar which shows the phases of the moon (this site has one that's easy to follow: First, locate the date for the Winter Solstice – usually December 21st or 22nd - and count 2 new moons from that date. The second new moon is the first day of Chinese New Year.

The fifteenth day after Chinese New Year day is Lantern Festival (the first full moon of the New Year) and marks the official end to the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. Every festival has its special food and the Lantern Festival Day is no exception. On that day it is traditional to enjoy yuan xiao, or glutinous rice balls filled with either sweetened black or white sesame paste, red bean paste or ground peanuts. The white rice balls (a little smaller than a ping pong ball) are served floating in the boiling water in which they were cooked. The hot liquid is garnished with fragrant sweet olive (osmanthus) blossoms. The floating rice balls remind us of the first full moon of the New Year.

Copyright© 2009 Helen Chen. All rights reserved.
Helen's Asian Kitchen is not affiliated with Joyce Chen products.


  1. I know noodles are a huge staple in Asian cuisine. Are there specific noodles that are only made with certain types of dishes? What is the difference in styles?

  2. Danielle: There are many different types of noodles, but there are basically two types made with either wheat (with or without eggs)or rice flour. There are also noodles made from bean flour. In general all the noodles can be used interchangeably in soup, stir fried or even deep fried. There are traditional and regional specialties that may be made with a specific type of noodle, but in most cases the choice of noodle type is fairly flexible and left to the cook.


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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.