Betty Liu wants you to know the wonderful time of year that is Chinese New Year. “It’s like another Christmas!” she writes. “Everywhere I turn, I see my favourite things – noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, red bean that, matcha this.” Food, as Betty will show you, is at the heart of the Chinese celebration (also known as Lunar New Year and Spring Festival), which kicks off the night before, when a big family reunion feast is enjoyed, and kicks on until Lantern Festival, 15 days into the new year. During the carnival, expect tempting dishes with fortuitous meanings, from noodles that signify long life, to dumplings for good luck.
Betty, whose folks hail from China, grew up surrounded by the country’s rich food through her mum’s authentic Shanghainese cooking, and when she left home in California for college in the Midwest, she picked up the pans to continue the tradition.
Her much-adored website/blog, betty liu (previously known as le jus d’orange), is an outlet to explore her family’s native cookery (with some delicious global dishes throw in for good measure – kimchi and pork belly hand pies or wild mushroom farro, anyone?), as well as showcase her professional work as a photographer.
For everyone else, it’s blogland’s first stop for inspired Chinese fare meets gorgeous photography, especially come Lunar New Year when Betty busts out a must-make menu of pretty marbled tea eggs, oh-so-soft and fluffy spring onion buns, small slurpable wontons and crispy sweet potato mochi cakes bursting with red bean paste.
“The memory of making food always stays with me more so than the final product. I will never forget making dumplings from scratch with my mum, when we schemed up a special ‘empty’ dumpling full of air as a prank, hidden among the normal pork-filled dumplings. Now, whenever I make dumplings by myself, I’m always brought back to that time, sitting in the light-filled kitchen, giggling uncontrollably as I made a pseudo-dumpling, wondering how I could rig it so that my sister received it.
"Lunar New Year is always a wonderful time of year, brimming with family, friends and food. Unsurprisingly, my favourite part has always been the meal preparations. When my family hosted, we cooked all day – preparing dishes, bringing out the large tabletop, bustling around the kitchen. When I grew older and began to learn how to cook, I’d sometimes make one dish or introduce something new (like challah). Classic dishes such as steamed fish make an appearance, but sometimes, I look more forward to the dishes that may not have a special meaning to the new year. For example, consuming fish is a sign of luck for the new year, but chive boxes, one of my favourite treats, may not have such significance. In our family, there’s no right or wrong food for this meal. One year we had a pasta dish among other more traditional dishes. Another year a Caesar salad made an appearance. These dishes are spread out on a ‘lazy Susan’, a circular apparatus that spins on a larger stationary circular table, so that one can simply turn the lazy Susan until the dish arrives before them.
There’s no right or wrong food for this meal. One year we had a pasta dish among other more traditional dishes.
"Since I moved away from home, it’s been harder to celebrate this occasion with my family, but my husband and I always try to cook up a simple meal with our favourite Chinese dishes. We make dumplings (which we can also freeze and save for a later meal). We buy a fish and steam it with spring onions and ginger. We fry up some rice cakes. We whip up easy spring onion pancakes. Simple, but nostalgic and delicious. The recipes collected here are a few of my favourite treats to make that instantly evokes memories of home.”
I started my blog to… Document my mother’s traditional recipes and so that I could make them on my own.
The must-cook recipe on my website is… Shanghai-style red-braised pork belly.
I can’t wait to go back to… Suzhou to eat xiao long bao [dumplings].
My current food obsession is… Anything fermented.
Eating… Dumplings takes me back to cooking with my mum.
Nugget of cooking wisdom… Be curious!
I learnt to cook from… My mum. I grew up eating traditional Chinese food, particularly that of the Shanghai area, and when I left for college in the Midwest, I suddenly found myself bereft of authentic, home-style Chinese food. When I returned for visits and breaks, I begged my mum to teach me the basics as well as her signature dishes. At first I was mainly interested in her signature dishes, but I came to love Chinese cooking techniques and how versatile they are. Every time I visit home, I try to learn a new dish from her.
When I go back to my home town… Fremont, California, the first thing I eat is anything my mum makes, and then I go out to get milk tea.
Chinese New Year is… One of my favourite holidays of the year, and an excuse to eat Chinese food. (Although, do we really need an excuse?)
Friends always ask me to cook my… Red-braised pork belly. It’s probably one of the most well known dishes from China, and the fact that it’s my mum’s (my mum is kind of famous as a good cook among my circle of friends) makes them more inclined to try it. It’s flavourful, melty-soft pork belly that is perfect over rice. I make it often for my friends and it never fails to disappoint!
The one thing I can’t cook is… Macarons.
I always have… Soy sauce in my pantry, eggs in my fridge, and dumplings in my freezer.
My most sauce-splattered cookbook is… The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. This book taught me how to make pie. I was intimidated at first about pie crusts and runny fillings, but this book is meticulously written with great step-by-step photos, and I started to understand what makes a crust flaky, or what the ratio is for a fruit filling. I’ve referred to it so many times that it is definitely my most thumbed-through cookbook!
The most difficult food to shoot/style and make look tasty is… Brown-coloured food.
Beyond my own blog, some of my favourites blogs are…
Hummingbird high – When I first started to experiment with baking, Michelle’s blog was invaluable. She has a section called Baker’s Notes that helps explain what ingredient to use for what, or what to watch out for. Her recipes are creative, straightforward, and I’ve never had one fail on me. Her photos are also so cheerful – I love just browsing through it!
Fix Feast Flair – Alana’s blog is kind of like me escaping into her life. She posts the most creative recipes, drawing inspiration from her upbringing in Hawaii, her Japanese heritage, and her culinary experiences in general. I have so many recipes bookmarked that I want to try, and the way she writes the recipes makes me feel like I can try them at home, no matter how complicated they may seem.
Faring Well – This is my go-to for healthy recipes and when I want to take extra care in nourishing my body. She has the most inspirational stories and she’s just so cute, too! I love reading about her move from California to Colorado, and all her experiments with plant-based foods such as DIY sprouting!
Bread + Barrow – Meg’s blog has deep roots in the New England tradition and cuisine. When I found her blog, I immediately fell in love – it was when I first moved to Boston and wanted to learn as much as I could about the area. I learned that Boston baked beans is apparently a candy, and she put it into ice-cream – how genius is that? I love her twists on New England cuisine. Her photos are simply stunning, beautifully styled, and more often than not, show process, which is excellent for someone learning how to cook!
Top picks from betty liu
Blog Appétit Editor Yasmin Newman
Blog Appétit is our curated list of go-to food blogs we love, with a focus on high-quality photography, trusted recipes, strong editorial themes and a unique voice and personality. View previous Blog Appétit entries.