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Happy New Year!

Gong Xi Fa Cai! (Wishing you prosperity!) Chinese New Year starts on Sunday, February 14, 2010, and ushers in the Year of the Tiger. In China, tigers symbolize power, strength, and passion. People born in the year of the tiger are great to have around -- you just have to be energetic and ready to keep up with them. They tend to be dynamic, impetuous, intense, and adventurous. The tiger personality is outspoken and can be impatient and often quick-tempered. Balancing this volatility, the tiger person is affectionate, sincere, generous and warm. In matters of the heart, the Tiger person is a romantic -- passionate and sentimental, but with a tendency toward over possessiveness and jealousy.

Tiger years are explosive years with vast swings of extremes. Fortunes will be made and fortunes will be lost. It's a big, bold year that promises many surprises.

To emphasize and hope for positive surprises in the new year, all Chinese and Asians who recognize the Lunar New Year, will prepare and enjoy symbolic foods to ward off the bad and welcome in good fortune.

Have you ever noticed Chinese calligraphy posters hanging upside down in stores and on doors? It's always one single Chinese character -- usually gold on a red background ( auspicious colors). In the photograph I'm holding the word for Good Fortune ( fu) and I'm holding it upside down. The reason is that the Chinese word for "upside down" is a homonym for the word "has arrived." Therefore the symbolism here is that "Good Fortune has arrived." When I was at my cousin's home in Beijing they have the good luck character pasted upside down on their door. Look for it when you are in Chinatown or a Chinese market.

I also have dishes with apples and oranges. These two fruits symbolize prosperity and peace. The Chinese word for apple is ping guo. Ping is a homonym for the word, "Peace." And oranges, in ancient times, was given out by the emperor to his officials for good luck. The Chinese word for orange, ju, sounds like the word ji, "luck" or "good fortune."

There's also a large ceramic peanut on the counter. It's an unusual piece to Western eyes. The peanut symbolizes long life so having peanuts and serving peanuts during the New Year is symbolic of Longevity.

So, my photo is more than just a picture. It carries with it hidden meanings to wish you all peace, luck, longevity and good fortune.

XIN NIAN KUAI LE! (Happy New Year!)


  1. Helen....thank-you for the explanation of the upside down characters. I have seen this displayed at my church and had wondered why it was hung that way.

  2. One question that I would like to ask of you, Helen.

    I just purchased your carbon steel wok and would like to know how and how often I should season my wok.

    Steve Edelman
    McLean, VA

  3. I was fortunate to take one of Helen Chen's cooking classes. I so enjoyed learning some cooking techniques & tips. I have already cooked 3 stir fry recipes- they have been delicious. I also have used the rice cooker w/ excellent results. Thanks for broadening my recipe base, Helen. The food is delicious & healthy.


Share your comments, questions and Asian cuisine experiences here.


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.