Joyce Chen, author of the "Joyce Chen Cookbook" and a "Boston City Honorary Ambassador to the People's Republic of China," was born in Peking and moved to a Shanghai suburb when she was 15. The youngest of seven sisters--four of whom are still living in China--she came to the United States in 1949 and later opened two Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, Mass., one of which is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Chen's search for "authentic Chinese food," the need to stay in touch with her family, and her wish to "exchange information and contribute to a better understanding" between her native and adopted countries have made China one of her travel favorites. The "ambassador" title was bestowed on her by Mayor Kevin H. White of Boston, which has a sister city affiliation with Hangzhou.

"It is my duty to love the two countries," explains Chen. Since her first trip back to China in 1972, she has returned four times and is planning to go again in December. But her work "takes so much of my time, it's very hard for me to go just for a vacation." (Besides her interest in Chinese cooking and other food, she has created a line of gourmet cookware that is manufactured for her in both China and Japan. She has a daughter and two sons, all active in the businesses.)

While in China, the author enjoys her visits to Peking with its Imperial Palace, museums, and "the lovely flowers in the springtime." She adds, "Of course, Peking duck is a very famous duck." And there are side trips to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. In Hangzhou she savors the mountains, lakes, gardens and the absence of neon signs; and when the sweet olive (used as a seasoning and flavoring) is harvested in the fall and the wind blows, the whole city becomes fragrant. In Suzhou she samples the "excellent pastries, dumplings and candies." In Chengdu she continues to eat--Sichuan Province is well known for its hot, spicy food.

"They still cook the old way--with too much oil. Frankly, I tell them so. I've learned a lot from the Harvard Medical School about oil being fattening and not good for your health."

Some other favorites:

* Japan: "The people who serve in Tokyo's hotels and restaurants are very polite and helpful." Kyoto's history attracts her.

* Switzerland: "I like to have some peace." As on all her trips, she seeks natural beauty, taking quiet walks in Geneva and drives into the mountains.

* Maine: "Whenever we go up to the Bar Harbor area, we have lobster every night cooked different ways."