Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Koshari Mama: Egyptian Street Food

"The Hindi word khicri or khicra is assumed to descend from the Sanskrit krsara...which meant a mixture of rice and peas. This idea of mixing lentils (or peas) has spread during this century to the Near East as well, where rice and lentil koshari is now a popular cheap meal in Egypt."
--Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1995

Last Thursday, I planned to visit the Stoneham Farmers Market so I checked their website to see if anything special was scheduled that day. I saw a new vendor, Koshari Mama, and once I checked out their website, I was intrigued, hoping to taste some of their food.  

Koshari Mama was founded by a mother/daughter team, Sahar Ahmed and Dina Fahim. Dina graduated from Boston University’s Culinary Program, and worked at a number of local restaurants, before deciding to go out on her own. She wanted to embrace her Egyptian heritage, and her mother was a natural partner for her new endeavor. Based in Lowell, they currently sell their products at a number of farmers markets, including Stoneham, Melrose, North Andover, Davis Square, and you can see their schedule on their website.

One of the main foods they produce is Koshari, an Egyptian street food. It is a hearty vegetarian/vegan dish composed of rice, lentils, pasta, and chickpeas, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. Koshari is available as a Mini (8 oz) $3.00, Small (12 oz) $5.00, Large (16 oz) $8.00, and Egyptian Size (24 oz) $12.00. The dish is prepared in front of you and you can choose how hot of a sauce you want.

Though many sources state Koshari was created in the 19th century, its roots extend back at least several hundred, if not more, years before that time. It has become an inexpensive and very popular street food in Egypt. After tasting this Koshari, I can understand the appeal. It presents a delicious blend of flavors and textures, from the softer macaroni to the crunchy fried onions pieces. It had a certain nuttiness to it, as well as a nice spicy flavor from the sauce. I tried the Mini, just to get a taste of it first, and my only issue is that the cup was so full, it was tough to mix up all the ingredients without spilling them over the side.

I want more, and will be sure to get some the next time they come to the Stoneham Farmers Market, unless I see them at a different Farmers Market. I highly recommend you check out Koshari Mama! I'll also note that they sell a few other items too, such as their homemade Hummus, which was also quite tasty, with a strong garlic aspect and a hint of lemon.

"Kosheri (also spelled kosheree, kochary, kushari, and kochari) is the only menu item sold in some specialty restaurants in Egypt. There is a saying about this nourishing rice, wheat and bean dish: You can have anything you want to eat, as long as it's kosheri."
--The Record (NJ), November 24, 2004

Monday, July 22, 2019

The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown (Part 2)

Let’s continue our exploration of the history of Boston’s Chinatown restaurants and survey the first couple decades of the 20th century. At the start of the 20th century, Chinatown would continue to grow and expand, with a number of new Chinese restaurants opening. They would face a number of challenges and obstacles during this time period, from racism to legal issues, though they had a number of supporters as well. The restaurants would also attempt to widen their customer base by appealing more to non-Chinese Americans.

It's pleasant to see that one of the first newspaper articles in the 20th century about Chinatown restaurants was especially positive. The Boston Globe, February 10, 1901, published an article with some general information about Chinese businesses from barbers to restaurants. It noted the utter cleanliness of the restaurants, “…the rear of one of the many Chinese restaurants. Everything about the place is neat and clean, as is also the personal attire of the chef. The Chinese are fastidious about the quality of their food, as well as the manner of its preparation.”

There was also reference to some Chinese dishes. “These Chinese chefs are especially clever in compounding that curious dish known as “chop sooy,’ a conglomeration of stewed meats and vegetables.” In addition, the article stated, “’Chow mem’ is another choice dish, and an expensive one, too.” It seems likely that “mem” was a typo or misspelling and that the dish was actually “chow mein.” This was the type of article that would entice people to check out Chinese restaurants.

A number of newspapers during this period would make brief mentions of various Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. For example, there was mention, in March 1901, of a Chinese restaurant, owned by Lock Sen Chin, which was located at the corner of Beach Street and Harrison Avenue.

Fears and concerns about the Chinese continued to manifest themselves. The Boston Post, August 30, 1901, described how hundreds of Chinese were illegally crossing the Canadian border, eventually settling in the Boston area. They were assisted by rich and influential Chinese smugglers, some who lived in Chinatown. The article was concerned that local immigration commissioners were doing little about this matter. Due to the racist Exclusion Act, it was difficult for Chinese to immigrate to the U.S. so some did try to illegally enter the country. However, this influx helped Chinatown grow and the Chinese certainly were hard workers, contributing to the community.

There were some problems with the Chinese restaurants, but they often were caused by white people starting fights. A Chinese restaurant at 31 Howard Street, owned by King Hong Low, was the scene of multiple problems over the course of a couple years. For example, the Boston Globe, September 7, 1901, reported on a fight that almost became a riot. Some white men started a fight and the other guests “stampeded” out. Unfortunately, two women fainted on the stairs out and were trampled, though there wasn’t any notation that their injuries were serious. One white man and two Chinese men were arrested for assault.

The next month, the Boston Daily Globe, October 31, 1901, reported on another almost riot at this same Chinese restaurant, with the article noting all of the trouble at this place in the recent past. This time, some Italians, who ate at the restaurant, tried to bring their dishes outside and the Chinese insisted they pay for the dishes. The Italians refused and a fight began, with almost fifty people involved in the fracas, wrecking the restaurant and there was plenty of blood spilled. Twenty women hid in a rear room during the battle. In the end, only one Italian and one Chinese man were arrested. An additional person, a bartender at a local saloon, was later arrested for stealing $30 from the restaurant during the riot.

The police explained a main reason for the trouble at this specific location. When the saloons closed at 11pm, people would then gravitate to the Chinese restaurant which was still open. The police also noted the area is frequented by “women of the street” and that the Howard Street gangs were also known to dine there.

The Boston Post, January 24, 1902, related the story of how an assistant constable from Chelsea, entered the Howard Street restaurant, claiming to actually be the Chief of the Chelsea police. He nearly caused another riot, as he complained about the food, the actions of the employees, and even insulted the appearance of the Chinese. He angered the Chinese who demanded to see his authority, and it was at that point that he finally backed down. He fled from the restaurant, and eluded capture by the police.

As there still were so few Chinese women in Chinatown, a number of Chinese men married American woman. Domestic life wasn’t always blissful. The Boston Post, August 27, 1902, interviewed Mrs. Loo Sun, the American wife of a Chinese tailor at 27 Harrison Avenue about her recent domestic abuse. Her husband had choked her, and was later arrested, convicted for assault and fined $10. Mrs. Loo Sun planned on leaving her husband and had some derogatory comments about Chinatown, stating, “A girl had better be shot before she ever comes to live down here...There are about 30 white girls in this vicinity living with Chinese husbands and we are all sick and tired of the life.

In December 1902, there was a new Chinese restaurant, Hawm Fah Low & Co., located at 777 Washington St.

There was trouble at the famed Hong Far Low in August 1903. The Boston Globe, August 10, 1903, reported that two boys met up with two girls at the restaurant, and it appeared that they hadn’t known each other for long. The boys were upset they couldn’t get hard liquor so they began to break furniture. They had to be physically thrown out by the Chinese and the fight continued on outside. A crowd formed and when the police arrived, they couldn’t easily get through, so one officer fired his weapon twice into the air. The two boys successfully fled the scene but the girls didn’t, though it appears they weren’t arrested.

In December 1903, there was a brief mention of an unnamed Chinese restaurant at 46 ½ Harrison Avenue. And in April 1904, there was also a brief mention of an unnamed Chinese restaurant at 46 Beach Street.

More trouble at another Chinese restaurant, fulfilling some of the worst fears of the opponents of the Chinese. The Boston Globe, January 23, 1904, printed a horrifying article about the alleged abduction, imprisonment and abuse suffered by two young women. Two 22 year old girls, from Nova Scotia, had been in Boston for only about seven months and decided to dine in Chinatown one evening. They met Chin Tye, a Chinese man who lived at 20 Oxford Street with his American wife, Emma. Tye invited them back to his house to meet his wife and the girls decided to go.

However, once at the house, they claimed that they were stripped, given wrappers and Chinese slippers to wear, and locked into a room. They weren’t permitted to leave the house. They remained there for several months, where they “entertained” a number of Chinese men. Eventually, they somehow got word to a police officer who rescued them, and Tye and his wife were arrested. On January 28, the charges of abduction and imprisonment were dismissed against the couple, and they were instead tried on the charge of "keeping a house of ill-fame." They were convicted and sentenced to six months.

The Boston Globe, May 22, 1904, wrote about the passing of Old John Sing, also known as “The Sage” and “Old John,” who worked, for the last ten years, as the “custodian of the temple of curious in the establishment of Hong Far Low & Co.” Sing, who was 65 years old when he died, came to the U.S. when he was a young boy, and settled in Chelsea where he eventually opened a fruit store. When he was 23 years old, he married an African American woman and moved to Charlestown. The article stated he “was the first Chinese to embark in general business.” Sing was survived by his wife and their three children, Oscar age 19, Rose age 21, and Maude age 23.

The above advertisement is from the Boston Globe, September 24, 1905, noting the Shanghai Low, a “first-class Chinese restaurant” located at 42 ½ Harrison Avenue.

The above advertisement is from the Boston Post, September 11, 1907, noting a new Chinese restaurant, the Hankow, located at 19-21 Essex Street. It is an “up-to-date” Chinese restaurant and will have a “Ladies’ Private Dining Room.” The Boston Sunday Post, September 15, 1907, had a brief article about Hankow, stating it was “one of the most completely furnished and up-to-date Chinese restaurants in the city of Boston” and that “service and food are of such excellence as to satisfy the most fastidious.”

It appears that Hong Far Low, at 36 ½ Harrison, lacked a liquor license as the Boston Globe, July 20, 1908, reported a raid by the police at the restaurant. The police seized 53 bottles of beer, 2 gallons of gin, a pint of whiskey, and 3/8th of a gallon of mixed liquor.

Fears were stoked that white women were being morally corrupted at Chinese restaurants. In January 1910, Representative Donovan of Boston filed a bill to prohibit women from entering Chinese restaurants unless they were over 21 years old, and accompanied by a man. That man, who couldn’t be Chinese, also had to be at least than 21 years old.

In the Boston Sunday Post, February 20, 1910, Representative Donovan explained some of the rationale behind his bill. “This proposed statue, says Mr. Donovan, is to keep girls out of Chinatown, and away from that centre of degradation.” He continued, “It is really a study to watch how the Chinamen trap these girls.” He then went into detail how women who went to Chinese restaurants were groomed and spoiled by the restaurant owners, slowly enticing them until they eventually led them into an opium den, convincing them to partake of that drug.

As written, this bill would even have prevented a Chinese woman from entering a Chinese restaurant with her Chinese husband, father or other male relative. Fortunately, Attorney General Malone, in April 1910, gave his opinion that the bill was unconstitutional. Thus, on April 22, the Houses rejected the bill but the matter wasn’t finished.

After the rejection, a persistent Representative Donovan asked for the bill to be reconsidered. He claimed that the Attorney General opinion wasn’t absolute and that the bill would be constitutional if Chinese restaurants were found to be more “injurious to the public morals” than any other class of restaurants. Donovan claimed to have evidence to show this was the case. Fortunately, his motion to reconsider was also defeated.

Massachusetts wasn’t the only state to attempt to restrict women from entering Chinese restaurants. The Pittsburgh Press, September 12, 1910, reported on a proposed ordinance which would close Chinese restaurants as midnight, but also would prohibit all women from going to Chinese restaurants, whether accompanied by a man or not. Mrs. Stella C. Masters, a leader in Pennsylvania’s temperance movement, claimed to have amassed plenty of evidence of the moral dangers from Chinse restaurants. “I have had even young men and women describe to me sights and sounds and incidents in these places, which, if published, would chill the blood of the right-minded citizen.”

There was plenty of people opposed to the ordinance, including Captain of Detectives William Elmore who stated, “We never have any trouble with these restaurants. The Chinese give us less trouble than any other class.” Surprisingly, the Pittsburgh City Council passed the ordinance but the Mayor quickly vetoed the bill, claiming it was unreasonable and discriminatory.

Though you would have thought the matter was settled in Boston, it was resurrected in January 1911 when Representative William L.V. Newton of South Boston tried to bring the bill forward once again. In February, Newton claimed that a lawyer had tried to bribe him with $150 last year to oppose this bill. There was some House discussion of the bill, and Henry Cunningham, who wrote the bill, said the idea behind the bill was to suppress crime. In March, the House decided to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of the proposed bill.

Some evidence which would lend support for the bill came from a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In the Boston Globe, March 6, 1911, there was an article about a speech given by Dr. William F. Boos to the annual public meeting of the Watch and Ward Society. He stated that, “More than 10 percent of the doctors of the United States, as well as many of their wives and many trained nurses, are addicted to the use of morphine, and numbers of Boston young women who patronize Chinese restaurants because of a taste for chop suey and other characteristic Chinese dishes end by becoming confirmed opium smokers in Chinese dives in the rear of Harrison av.

In the end, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was unanimous in their decision that this bill was unconstitutional, and this finally ended the pursuit of this bill. Well, almost.

The Boston Globe, June 17, 1911, reported on how three men tried to steal cups from the Red Dragon restaurant at 9 ½ Harrison Avenue. The Chinese tried to get the cups back, but the thieves brandished a gun so they backed off. The police were able to arrest two of the three thieves.

Numerous newspapers during September and October 1911, presented some intriguing new information related to the alleged first restaurant in Chinatown. Was this finally the answer that I've been seeking? Or would it only provide additional questions?

Jang Po, a leading businessman in Chinatown, was returning to China, with about $500,000 he had earned during his career. It was alleged that he opened the first Chinese restaurant in Boston in 1879, and served chop suey. He allegedly began with a modest restaurant and a few years later, moved to “more pretentious quarters.” In the fall of 1911, his restaurant occupied nearly a block. He also owned a grocery store and curio shop. It was also stated that his wife and children lived in Canton, China, and that he had only seen them once in the last 38 years.

Curiously, in all of the articles at this time, not a single one of them ever mentioned the name or address of Jang Po’s restaurant. Why was that the case? Did Jang Po own Hong Far Low, or a different restaurant? Such a strange omission and there weren’t any clues as to why they omitted that information. In fact, the articles were very vague about Jang Po's history, which tends to raise a red flag in my mind. What was the source for these newspapers articles? Did they only speak to Jang Po, or did someone else provide them the basic information?

In addition, which made me even more skeptical, I couldn’t find any prior mention of Jang Po in any of the newspaper archives or websites I searched. He just seemed to suddenly appear in a number of newspapers in September and October 1911, despite allegedly being in Boston for thirty-eight years. Why didn't anyone write about him prior to 1911? This information certainly didn't provide me any answers, only additional questions.

In February 1912, there is a brief mention of the Empire Restaurant Company of 34 Beach Street.

Leprosy fears! The Boston Globe, March 8, 1913, and Fitchburg Sentinel, March 8, 1913, reported that Wong Quang, a waiter at a Chinese restaurant on Oxford Street, was recently diagnosed with leprosy. Wong had been in the U.S. for eight years, and one of those years in Boston. It was unknown how he acquired the disease and health officials were examining the other restaurant workers, as well as those close to Wong, to ensure no one else had leprosy. Wong was to be sent to the leper colony on Penikese Island, off the southern coast of Massachusetts. In the end, no one else was found to have leprosy.

Representative Donovan returned, and he was still angry about the Chinese! The Boston Globe, April 6, 1913, wrote about a town meeting held for a number of Boston wards. Representative John Donovan, of Ward 7, complained about the growth of the Chinatown neighborhood, alleging that landlords were pushing out poor people so they could rent to the Chinese, who were willing to pay twice what the prior residents had been paying. Donovan also wanted to know why there were so many Chinese in Boston despite the Exclusion Act. In addition, he tried to push his restaurant bill again, to prohibit unaccompanied women from entering Chinese restaurants, and wanted another law to prevent the Chinese from carrying firearms. Fortunately, Donovan was largely ignored and his bill remained dead.

Though Donovan was largely ignored, a new report, House 2281, Report of the Commission for the Investigation of the White Slave Traffic, So Called (February 1914) raised concerns about the dangers of some Chinese restaurants. The report stated, “Some of the restaurants conducted by Chinamen in various cities in Massachusetts are favorite resorts of professional prostitutes and their pimps and customers. Certain white prostitutes solicit exclusively in Chinese restaurants, and cater only to Chinese patrons. Many of these are quite young women.” It also noted that, “These restaurants are also the meeting places of young white men and immoral young girls who have not yet become commercial prostitutes.” In addition, the report states, “Private booths in these restaurants are curtained, and couples may enter and draw the curtains together, with the understanding that the waiter is not to open the curtains until he is told to do so by the occupants. Young girls often become intoxicated in these places. Some Chinese restaurants have rooms upstairs which they rent to couples for immoral purposes.”

However, these warnings about Chinese restaurants were only a small part of the larger report, which also indicated numerous other places, from dance halls to lodging houses, where prostitution occurred. Thus, Chinese restaurants weren’t much different from many other establishments at this time. It wasn’t even a harm that primarily occurred at Chinese restaurants. It was more just a small element in the larger scheme of rampant prostitution in Boston during this period. However, that wouldn't stop some opponents from trying to use the information against Chinese restaurants.

The Boston Daily Globe, March 26, 1915, noted that The Bun Fong Low Co. Chinese restaurant, located at 32 Harrison Ave, was under new management by The Sun Far Low Co.

A couple Chinese restaurants were the subject of litigation in 1916. First, the Boston Post, January 25, 1916, had an advertisement for The Mandarin, “Boston’s Finest Chinese Restaurant,” which was located at 255 Tremont Street. It opened, after being remodeled and improved, but in May 1916, the restaurant was found guilty of operating without a common victuallers' license, and was fined $100.

The restaurant appealed the issue and later that month tried to compel the licensing board to issue them a license. They stated they had just taken on a ten-year lease and had spent $35,000 in alterations. It is unclear what happened to their prior license, and why a new license wasn’t granted, though the restaurant alleged racial discrimination.

Second, another Chinese restaurants was sued for engaging in racial discrimination. The Boston Post, October 24, 1916, published an article about what might be the first damage suit against a Chinese restaurant for racial discrimination ever tried in Municipal Civil Court. The four plaintiffs were Norman Raynor, his wife Susan Raynor, Bernard Thomas, and Evelyn Gray. On Labor Day, they had attended the theater and afterwards went to Chinatown for dinner. At the Eagle Restaurant Company, 32 Harrison Avenue, they were told that “colored persons” weren’t allowed in their establishment. The plaintiffs sued the defendants for $110 each and the Court ruled in their favor, though the award was only $25 each.

A brief article in the Boston Post, December 14, 1916, noted that the Pekin, a new Chinese restaurant just opened, and it was located at the corner of Washington Street and Beach Street.

The Boston Globe, February 17, 1917, presented the advertisement above for The Royal Chinese American Restaurant, which is located at 16 Harrison Avenue. The restaurant apparently felt the need to indicate its independence from any other restaurant. This is also one of the first ads to reference “Chinese American” as nearly all of the previous restaurant ads referred only to “Chinese” restaurants. Many of the advertisements that now start being published combine the two cuisines, Chinese and American, likely trying to draw in more non-Chinese customers.

Another new Chinese restaurant opened. The Boston Post, June 7, 1917, published an ad for the New Park Restaurant at 3 Harrison Avenue. It is noted to be the "Handsomest and Most Up-To-Date Chinese Restaurant in New England." It serves "American and Chinese Food Specialties," continuing the trend to add American dishes to their menu.

And the trend continued, being even more specific. The Boston Post, March 12, 1918, had an ad for the First Anniversary of the Joy Yong restaurant, located at 21-23 Harrison Avenue. They had a Turkey Dinner special for $1.00, and also mentioned two of their lunch choices, Roast Chicken Dinner for 40 cents and Fried Scallops for 35 cents. It's interesting that chose to highlight these American dishes rather than any Chinese dishes.

The Boston Post, October 8, 1918, printed an ad for Me King, another new "American and Chinese" restaurant. It was located 111 Court Street, on the 2nd floor of the Hamilton Hotel, and next door to the Palace Theatre. They offered a Regular Dinner for 40 cents, though the ad didn't specify what that included, and whether it is American or Chinese.

The Boston Post, November 27, 1918, posted 4 advertisements on the same page for different Chinese restaurants. First, there was the Pekin, which offered a special Thanksgiving special dinner consisting of mainly American dishes with a couple of Chinese thrown in, including Birds Nest Soup and Lobster Chop Suey. Second, there was the Joy Yong and Royal Restaurant, which both offered the same Thanksgiving menu, basically all American dishes. Third, there was The King Fong, a new Chinese & American restaurant at 428 Tremont Street. The ad recommended people try their new dish, Chu Chin Chow. Lastly, there the Mee King, an American & Chinese restaurant located at 115 Court Street. They also offered a special Thanksgiving menu.

Another new spot! The Boston Globe, January 13, 1919, had an for the King, located at 630 Washington Street. It claimed to be the “World’s Best Chinese-American Restaurant.” They also offered a special, a Roast of Beef, 5 course dinner, for 40 cents. Again, we see a restaurant highlighting their American options rather than their Chinese ones.

And another new one! The Boston Globe, April 3, 1919, mention that The Siwoo, a new Chinese restaurant would open that day. Located at 22 & 24 Harrison Avenue, the restaurant, under the management of Paul G. Mahr, occupied an entire four-story building and was “elaborately furnished in luxurious Oriental style.”

And new restaurants kept popping up! The Boston Post, October 24, 1919, had an ad for the Grand Garden, located at 660 Washington Street. It was said to be “Boston’s Grandest and Largest American-Chinese Restaurant” and their motto was "Popularity." There also seemed to be a type of competition with some of these restaurants to be larger and grander than all the others, each ad using more superlatives to attract customers.

The Boston Post, November 29, 1919, had an ad for an American and Chinese Restaurant located outside of Chinatown. The Canton Restaurant, which was under new management, was located at 26 Warren Street in Roxbury, and might have been the first Chinese restaurant in Roxbury.

The return of Hong Far Low! The Boston Globe, April 29, 1920, had a brief ad that Hong Far Low Co., the "Famous Chinese Restaurant," was reopening. It was located at 34 1/2, 36 1/2, and 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue. I didn't find any references as to when and why it might have temporarily closed.

The Boston Globe, December 2, 1920, presented an ad for The Court, located at 88 Court Street, at Scollay Square. The ad asked people to “Visit America’s Most Hygenic and Sanitary Chinese Restaurant Today.” Unlike many of the other ads around this time period, they didn't state they were an "American-Chinese" restaurant. They also recently reduced their prices, like a Full Course Chicken Dinner for 50 cents.

Check out the ad for "The New Shanghai" in the Boston Globe, December 19, 1920. Located at 89 Court Street, in Scollay Square, it was open from noon to midnight, and claimed to be the "World's Greatest and Best Chinese-American Restaurant." They offered a Special Turkey Dinner for $1.25. Seems like all these new ads didn't feel a need to promote their chop suey.

The years from 1901-1920 saw expansion for Chinatown and its restaurants, though there were obstacles. With perseverance, they did their best to overcome these challenges and attempted to attract more non-Chinese to their restaurants, especially by offering more American cuisine, from turkey dinners to roast beef. Some of the restaurants were also trying to out do each other in their size and grandeur.

What would Chinatown become in the years from 1921 to 1950s? There will be future articles exploring this period.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Friday, July 26, at 5pm, Davio’s Lynnfield will welcome Guest Sommelier Gary Parsons as he presents the wines of Honig Vineyard & Winery. Honig Vineyard was purchased in Rutherford, CA in 1964, and began producing wine in 1980. In 1984, at the age of 22, Michael Honig took over management of the vineyard and winery. With the help of a handful of family members and a staff of dedicated employees, what began as a small “garage” winery has today become a successful family enterprise, with everyone working collaboratively to run an inspiring and socially responsible business. While focused on producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc since the early 1980’s, the Honig family is committed to protecting the environment, developing their employees, and supporting their community.

Featured Wines:
2017 Honig, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley $10 glass
2016 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $20 glass
Dinner reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 781-944-4810.

2) This summer, check out Rosé Thursdays at Davio’s Lynnfield. Each week, Davio’s will host a different Guest Sommelier for the evening to sample rosé wines from around the world. Known as the ever popular “summer water”, rosé is a type of wine that incorporates some of the color from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. It may be the oldest known type of wine, as it is the most straightforward to make with the skin contact method. Rosé wines can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling and with a wide range of sweetness levels from highly dry Provençal rosé to sweet White Zinfandels and blushes. Rosé wines are made from a wide variety of grapes and can be found all around the globe.

Rosé Thursdays at Davio’s Lynnfield will run from July 11th through August 22nd starting at 5:00pm and reservations can be made by calling 781-944-4810.

Featured Wines
7/11 - 2018 Costaripa, “Rosamara”, Lombardy, Italy Glass $12 / Bottle $50
7/18 - 2018 Chateau d’Esclans, Whispering Angel, Cotes de Provence Glass $18 / Bottle $80
7/25 - 2018 Inman Family, “Endless Crush” Rose of Pinot Noir, Russian River Glass $16 / Bottle $70
8/1 - TBD
8/8 - TBD
8/15 - 2018 Bertani, “Bertarose”, Veneto, Italy Glass $14 / Bottle $60
8/22 - TBD

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hudson-Chatham Winery & the Joys of Baco Noir

"Among these wines, Baco Noir is the only eastern cheese partner. It is a full-bodied red from a grape of the same name, which makes it a 'varietal' wine. The grape is expected to have a great future in eastern winemaking."
--Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1968

Have you ever tasted a wine made from Baco Noir?

Baco Noir is a French hybrid grape, whose origin extends back to 1902, though it was initially called Baco 24-23. It didn't become known as Baco Noir until 1964 and very little is currently grown in France. In the early 1950s, the grape was planted in North America and currently you'll find it grown in various states as well as Canada. In the Hudson Valley of New York, you'll find one of Baco Noir's most ardent advocates, Carlo DeVito.

Carlo, with his wife Dominique, own the Hudson-Chatham Winery and you can read my prior article for background on the winery. The winery produces a number of different Baco Noir wines and I've enjoyed them in the past, especially the Baco Noir Old Vines. Recently, he sent me a media sample of the 2016 Hudson-Chatham "Block 3 North Creek Vineyard" Baco Noir and it didn't disappoint in the least.

Before I review this wine though, I wanted to highlight some intriguing historical items, found in old newspapers, concerning the some of the earliest mentions of Baco Noir grape in North America,

The earliest newspaper reference I found of a U.S. winery using this grape concerned the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, founded in 1860, which is said to be the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1967, published an article about the winery, noting that in a few years they would market a Baco Noir varietal wine. They didn't have sufficient grapes yet for a varietal wine, but had been adding some Baco Noir to their Burgundy wine, sold under their Great Western label.

Interesting, the Princeton Bureau County Record (IL), November 25, 1968, presented some Thanksgiving recipes and wine recommendations, and Baco Noir was mentioned. "Non-conformists and red wine lovers find that a herb-stuffed turkey calls for the depth of flavor found only in a Baco Noir Burgundy or Chelois." However, apparently the recommendations came from the Pleasant Valley winery so the inclusion of Baco Noir shouldn't be a surprise.

The above advertisement was in the Nashua Telegraph (NH), December 12, 1968, noting the unique taste provided by the Baco Noir.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14, 1969, presented a different advertisement, which seemed to indicate their Baco Noir varietal wine was now being sold, although it still stated "Burgundy" on the label. An article in the Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1969, seemed to confirm this, noting "Great Western has made varietal wines of some of its former generics, and hopefully they will drop the name 'burgundy,' which should be reserved for French wines,...as soon as Baco Noir burgundy...are better known." The article also states that Baco Noir is "destined for popularity."

The Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1970, published an article about the Great Western wines, commenting on the Baco Noir and Chelois grapes, "Both are interesting, both popular and growing more so." The Daily News (NY), October 22, 1970, then printed an article on the grapes of New York. It mentioned, "Before the hybrids, New York wines were less than glorious. Native American stocks and crosses grew well, but wines from them had a strange, wild taste." It then continued, "Main interest now centers on red wines like Baco Noir and Chelois...these are low-priced at less than $2 a bottle."

Baco Noir had already spread to other U.S. states, but the first mention of a state other than New York  producing a Bacon Noir wine was in The Times Herald (MI), April 14, 1971. It had an advertisement for Bronte's Baco Noir Wine, comparing it to a Burgundy, just as Great Western had done. The Fort Lauderdale News, March 15, 1972, also noted that an Ohio winery was producing a red table wine made from Baco Noir and Chelois.

The Democrat & Chronicle (NY), March 16, 1972, provided some information on grape production in the Finger Lakes during 1971. The wineries processed 66,242 tons of grapes, a 32% increase from the prior year. Only 40% of these grapes were used for the production of wine. French hybrids, including Baco Noir, totaled 6,716 tons, so only about 10% of total production.

Great Western's Baco Noir was becoming so popular, that the Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1972, noted the wines had to be allocated, or they would have been completely sold out. In only a few years, Baco Noir had captivated wine lovers.

Now, back to the 2016 Hudson-Chatham "Block 3 North Creek Vineyard" Baco Noir. Block 3 is planted with two varieties of Baco Noir, including the hearty and dark Finger Lakes variety and the French/Hudson Valley variety which produces a lighter wine. Some of the wine is aged for about six months in neutral oak barrels, and the final blend isn't fined or filtered.

Initially, I love that this wine is only 12% ABV, making it easier to enjoy multiple glasses. When so many other red wines have a 14-16% ABV, it is always a pleasant change to see a lower alcohol red. With a light red color, this wine possesses an appealing fruity nose with subtle hints of vanilla and spice. On the palate, it is smooth, delicious and easy drinking, but this isn't a simple wine but rather one with some interesting complexity. It also possessed bright cherry and raspberry flavors, subtle spice notes, a touch of vanilla, and excellent acidity. This is a versatile food wine, great for pizza to burgers, salmon to roast pork. Highly recommended.

If you haven't tasted a Baco Noir wine, then now is the time to try one. And if you can find Baco Noir from the Hudson-Chatham Winery, then I strongly encourage you to buy it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Rant: A Tale of Two Buns

"The purpose of the sandwich... is to effectively deliver protein or other stuff into your mouth without a fork. Structure, texture, and proportion are as central to the success or failure of the sandwich as its taste. That may be the very best chopped liver, but if the rye bread surrounding it falls apart, you may as well eat it out of a fucking trough."
--Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain

This is a tale of two buns: one success, one failure. Anthony speaks the truth, that the structure of the bread is a significant aspect of a sandwich and if it falls apart, the sandwich is a failure.

Last week, a good friend from Minnesota came to visit Boston and I acted as a tour guide for part of his time while he was here. We visited several restaurants, with seafood being prominent, and the bread issue arose at two of the places we visited. To me, the main takeaway is that restaurants need to pay more attention to sandwich bread, and not just show concern for the fillings.

This is a picture of a successful sandwich, one where the bread is a rock star!

Cusser’s Roast Beef & Seafood, located within the Moon Bar of the Mooncusser Fish House, is open for lunch, from Monday to Friday. Their small menu offers Roast Beef Sandwiches and various seafood dishes, from Fish Tacos to Swordfish Souvlaki. My friend had their Fish & Chips, a delicious beer battered fish-of-the-day which was Striped Bass that day. An excellent, seasonal and more unique choice.

I opted for the North Shore-style Roast Beef Sandwich, which was as scrumptious as always. The roast beef was tender and flavorful, complemented by the tangy barbecue sauce. The roll, as I've mentioned before, is perfect. It was served warm and was soft and fresh, with the slight crunch of the seeds atop the roll. Honestly, the rolls you get at most North Shore roast beef joints aren't particularly interesting or memorable. This roll is a success on multiple levels, being a fine vehicle for the roast beef, and the ratio of bread to filling was also very good. The rolls are made daily by their talented pastry chef Katherine Hamilburg. When designing this sandwich, they spent lots of time creating the roll, more than any other aspect of the sandwich.

That dedication has paid off, as they now serve one of the best Roast Beef sandwiches in the area, and that is due, in large part, to their compelling roll. With a more ordinary roll, their sandwich probably wouldn't be as worthy of the accolades.

This is a picture of a failed sandwich, one with plenty of potential but where the bread was lacking.

Another one of our stops was at a well-known seafood restaurant, which receives raves for its Lobster Rolls. I opted for the Lobster Roll ($32), hot with butter, and it came on a toasted brioche roll. There was an ample portion of buttery lobster, and the meat was sweet and tender. It certainly had the potential to be a winner of a sandwich except there was a failure in the structure of the bread. Apparently, there was too much butter, which soaked through the soft roll, causing the middle of it to fall apart and making it difficult to eat as a sandwich. In the end, I had to use a fork to eat most of the lobster, and that shouldn't have happened.

I wanted a sandwich and at the price I paid, the roll shouldn't have failed.

Restaurants, pay attention to your buns! Don't make them an after thought. Put careful consideration into your choices as it can make or break your sandwiches. It doesn't matter how delicious the fillings, without good bread, the sandwich just won't succeed. Your choice of bread can even elevate your sandwich above many others which don't pay as much attention to their bread.

What sandwiches do you enjoy which are made even better because of the bread that is used?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mind of a Sommelier: Rebecca Myers

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Rebecca Myers is the Co-Owner and Director of Wine & Service ay Loyal Nine in Cambridge, a restaurant which "focuses on New England culinary traditions." Loyal Nine serves breakfast, lunch, and supper, as well as Sunday Brunch. It's a casual spot with creative, delicious and intriguing cuisine and I'm fascinated by their wine list.

Rebecca grew up in Bordeaux, and her first real restaurant experience began at 16 when she had a job working at a small bar & café after school and on weekends. This was the start of her wine education. A move to the United States four years later landed her at a restaurant in Providence, RI where she met her husband (and Loyal Nine co-owner) Daniel Myers. In 2007, the two moved to Boston, and she landed a serving job at Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro.

After four years, Rebecca moved to Chicago and joined the team of the newly opened Parisian-style Maude’s Liquor Bar. A few months later, she continued west where she worked at A16 and, as a Captain, at Coi. However, the couple's love for the East Coast brought them back to Boston in 2012, and she joined the team at Barry Maiden’s Hungry Mother in Cambridge. Together in early 2013, the wife-husband duo formed the Hand Taste Collective, a Somerville-based pop-up group that created one-night-only dinner services at restaurants around town. Through this project, they began to develop the concept for their own restaurant, partnering with two other industry vets for its opening.

Rebecca and Daniel are currently working to open their second location, Northern Spy, in Canton.

Now, onto the Interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
Being part of an owner-operator team, we all wear many hats but we all have our area of expertise. One of my favorite parts of day to day is keeping track of the wine world at Loyal Nine and sharing it with our staff and guests that dine at our restaurant. For that privilege, I hold the title of wine steward or wine Director. I am a self taught wine lady, immersed in the food & wine world since child hood, growing up in France.

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
The wine list is an ode to the Vigneron, the independent growers, farming cleanly and producing grapes on living, heathy soils. They often times are working with heritage grape varieties sometimes on the verge of disappearing. It is their life's passion that they present to us in bottle form and we are here to share their story and product with others. Many of the growers are using organic/ biodynamic farming methods and some a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal use of sulfur, leading to wines with a raw or wild feel, very alive and can also vary from bottle to bottle. That being said the list is geared towards offering great value in terms of quality, price and above all joy.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
The idea with the wine list and with wine service all together is to make the experience easy, delightful and you might be pleasantly surprised with something that you have never heard of or thought that you would order before, at times you may even get your mind blown... great wine Has a way of doing that. We strive to present you with wines that are exciting and expressive while finding balance with our environment and playing well with our food. We do a lot of preserving with pickling, curing and make our own vinegars. So with our food having a penchant towards the tangy and briny, wild wine is well matched with its lively attitude and textural tendencies.

How often does the wine list change?
Working with small producers keeps the wine list changes quite frequent, as the amount of wine produced is always limited. We try to retain working with the same producers as much as possible. Some of which we have represented on our list from the beginning, we keep several of their wines on our list in different categories, sparkling, white and red. Their wines come and go throughout the year in these different categories and we get them whenever we can. This is also great for the staff as they get to know a producers style very well and can get excited for a new release or the return of an old friend.

How do you learn about new wines?
There seems to always be a continuous stream of new producers or wines to be in touch with, so the key seems to be enabling a constant exposure to as much wine as possible at all times. whether attending organized trade tastings, importers showing their portfolios, house visits.....but the very best is getting to meet the maker behind the wine, getting a feel of who they are, their convictions and what they would express through the wine.

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
For the wine list format and pricing, I took inspiration from little restaurants or eateries you can find throughout towns all over France. Often times they hold quite an extensive amount of wines but always organized in categories by price. So for our list, with about a hundred wines listed, if you are looking for a wine for $40 you will find a selection in white and red, and the same with a $60 option. A separate category we call 'Down cellar', includes wines priced above 60 but under 200, as nothing on our list exceeds that price. The idea is to provide ease of ordering, you always know what price you are willing to spend for a bottle when dining out.

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
The great thing in working with wines that are less recognizable and unusual is that we are always being asked for recommendations, which really gives us the chance to tell you about the wine and get you excited to try something new. If you are thinking of a chardonnay, what type of white do you really have in mind, something plump and buttery or something bright and mineral focused? You might find yourself enjoying a glass of Negro Lorenzo Arneis from the Roero in Piedmont or Roditis from Slavos in Cephalonia, Greece. 

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
The challenge is being able to turn people on to wine made in a less conventional way, just be open to trying something new, getting out of your comfort zone can be very rewarding. People care about what they put in their bodies and are enjoying getting into wine made with no additives, farmed from grapes not covered in pesticides. However it is very much thanks to the server staff who care to learn about each wine and get excited about the message and really get to know the wines as well. We talk about and taste wines at the restaurant on a regular basis, we also love having the growers come visit us and talk wine with everyone here. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list?
Some of our best value wine is from Meinklang, a family run 'mixed farming operation', located along Austria's eastern border with Hungry, in the middle of the national park Neusiedlersee. The Michlits family truly celebrate biodynamic principles of diversity, growing crops, cultivating wild insect colonies, raising farm animals including a herd of Angus cattle providing natural fertilizer for the farm. Angela and Werner Junior run the wine side of the farm, cultivating a variety of indigenous grapes surrounded by natural ponds and wild grasses. They work minimally in the cellar using ambient yeast and maturation in concrete egg-shaped containers. A bottle that we love and are pouring by the glass right now is their 'Burgenlandred', it's a juicy blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, both native Austrian grapes. A vibrant, fragrant red with tart berry fruit and a light dry finish that keeps you coming back for more. Their wines are so great that we also had to have their 'Foam', naturally sparkling wine, and Gruner Veltliner for white, all poured by the glass. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
     A wine from Hubert and Heidi Hausherr, that is very unique is the 'Altengarten' 2012 bottling. All of their wine is very unique and really special. They are located in Alsace, and farm a very small estate in the village of Eguisheim. Everything is done manually from plowing the fields with the help of their draft horse Skippy, hand harvesting, and at the time their grapes were pressed in an old wooden manual vertical basket press. They strive to represent the terroir and make their wine in a natural way without additives or filtration. They will typically make field blends, multiple varieties grow together, are picked and fermented together. They do not follow the norm for the area nor do they take the easy road in any way. The reward is this wine, a blend of Riesling & Gewürztraminer, it pours a hazy golden color, intense aromatics of wild flowers, tropical fruit and spice escaping from the glass. It drinks full bodied & inciting with complex flavors of baked nectarine, Meyer lemon and pink pepper corn, but also oxidative with a nutty, savory, dry sherry finish. It is alive and evolving as it reacts to the air and the temperature in the room, dream wine. 
     Another Unique winery is Rocco di Carpenetto, Lidia and Paolo run a tiny winery and agriturismo (essentially a B&B), in the village of Carpenetto in the Alto Monferrato hills of Piedmonte. They make natural wines from old vines in the Ovada, using spontaneous fermentation with native yeast, unfiltered with very little sulfites. They take care of everything themselves, up to the bottling and labeling. they Their 'Losna', local dialect for lightning bolt, it's a spirited, big red made with Dolcetto grapes, a beautifully structured wine balancing chewy tannins, intense dark berry fruit and raw textured mouthfeel. A stunner! 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
     A wine that I will always love to drink as long as it will be, is Cascina degli Ulivi, Ivag. RIP Stefano Bellotti, a pioneer become guru of biodynamics, no longer of this earth. His revolutionary winemaking and authentic practices in Novi Ligure, Piedmont, have influences many and have forever changed the face of the wine world. This wine is made of cortese grapes, from wild vineyards scattered about the hills of Gavi, zero sulfur is added and it is bottled unfiltered. 'IVAG' is Gavi spelt backwards reflecting his non conformist methods. The wine pours a cloudy deep straw color, drinks bold and earthy, expressing it's wild personality with notes of yellow fruit, raw nuts and bread. 
     For a view into the independent growers life I would recommend a documentary called 'Natural Resistance' by filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter, a group of natural winemakers in Italy stirring the pot. Among other winemakers that we work with Stefano Belotti participated in the making of this documentary.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

More on the Origin of the Everything Bagel

Who created the Everything Bagel? It's an issue mired in contention, with several different individuals claiming to have invented it. The main problem is that none of the contenders have offered sufficient evidence to support their claims.

A couple weeks ago, I read an Atlas Obscura article, Everything You Need to Know About the True Origins of the Everything Bagel by Dan Nosowitz. I enjoy Atlas Obscura, as it often showcases fascinating stories and locations. In general, Nosowitz wrote a very good article on this topic, although his research missed some items. When I researched my own lengthy Bagel History article, I had plenty of extra information that never made it into the article. I thought the information might be useful for future articles, and some of that information dealt with the Everything Bagel.

Nosowitz wrote that the person who may have coined the term "everything bagel" was David Gussin. "By his own and most other accounts, that person was David Gussin. Around 1979 or 1980, he says, he was a teenager working at Charlie’s Bagels in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York." Gussin's work included "...cleaning the oven, where excess bagel toppings accumulated when they fell off." And Gussin once said, “One day instead of throwing them out like I usually did, I gave them to Charlie and said, ‘Hey, make a bagel with these, we’ll call it the everything bagel.” Nosowitz then noted, "Soon, a shop across the street started selling their own everything bagels, and word slowly spread."

Gussin's claim as the inventor of the Everything Bagel was highlighted in an article in the New Yorker, March 10, 2008. However, this article stated, "Within a year, Gussin said, “the everything bagel was everywhere.” This contradicts the claim by Nosowitz that the Everything Bagel slowly spread. However, if Gussin is to be believed, then where is the evidence of the Everything Bagel spreading so far within a year of his alleged invention? It doesn't seem to exist.

In the Atlas Obscura article, Nosowitz stated, "The first mention I can find of the everything bagel is in a New York Times food column from 1988, and at that time the concept was new or niche or local enough that the writer felt it necessary to place “everything bagel” in quotes and define it." The New York Times, August 3, 1988, mentioned the recent opening of the Bagel Baron in Manhattan, and stated they sold an Everything Bagel. "The 'everything bagel' is dusted with salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic and onion."

Why wouldn't the Everything Bagel have been mentioned previously if it were invented around 1979-1980, especially as Gussin claimed that it was soon everywhere within a year of its creation? Such a new offering would have been ripe for presenting in a bagel bakery advertisement. During my prior research, I found plenty of ads from bakeries and delis touting their new styles and flavors of bagels. It makes little sense that the first mention of the everything bagel in a newspaper would be 8 or 9 years after its invention.

However, there actually were newspaper mentions of the Everything Bagel prior to 1998, though they still don't provide support to Gussin's claims.

The above advertisement and coupon was from the Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghampton, NY), December 7, 1984. It mentions that the Everything Bagel is "new," topped with sesame, poppy, onion, garlic and salt. None of their prior advertisements mentioned this type of bagel. This was the earliest reference that I have found, four years before 1998, though it is possible older references may exist as well.

I next found a reference from an advertisement for a New Jersey bagel spot in The Record (Hackensack, NJ), April 13, 1986. This indicates that the Everything Bagel had already spread past New York, so no longer was just a local item. This ad though doesn't explain what was on their Everything Bagel.

The next mention was in The Long Island News & the Owl, June 23, 1988, which published an ad for The Bagel Boys, listing an Everything Bagel. Again, there is no description of the toppings in this bagel.

The Herald News (NJ), August 3, 1988, printed a review of a store, Wanna Bagel, which also sold an Everything Bagel, with 5 toppings, though they were mentioned. Again, we see these bagels being sold outside of New York.

And though the following references occur after the article in the New York Times, August 3, 1988, they are relevant to the issue at hand. The Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1988, published an article and review about "bagels and....," a bagel shop located in Annapolis. They sold an Everything Bagel, noting it is  "full of seeds and no salt." Obviously the idea of this bagel has continued to spread, to Maryland, though it's curious that there isn't any salt on it.

And it continued to spread, all the way to Florida. The Tampa Tribune, June 16, 1989 wrote about a Clearwater bagel bakery, the New York Bagel Boys, which sold an Everything Bagels with dried onion, garlic, sesame and poppy seed. Again, no salt was listed as an ingredient. And the Green-Bay Press Gazette (Wisconsin), March 27, 1991, mentioned a local bagel shop making an Everything Bagel topped with poppy, caraway, and sesame seeds, onion and garlic.

So, the first newspaper reference to the Everything Bagel is actually at least from 1984, and during the 1980s, this bagel spread to places including New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida. Without any supporting evidence, I remain skeptical of David Gussin's claim that he coined the term "everything bagel." And I also remain skeptical of the other claimants to its creation as they too lack evidence supporting their claims. We may never know who invented this bagel and coined its name.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Kamakura & Kumo Sky Bar: A Passion For Japanese Drinks

Chilled Sake, Warm Sake, Shochu, Japanese Koshu wine, Japanese Whiskey, Japanese beer, Japanese-inspired cocktails. There are very few local restaurants or bars which offer nearly all of these choices, and only one place that offers all of them.

That restaurant is Kamakura, located at 150 State Street in Boston. Chef Youji Iwakura has created a compelling Japanese restaurant, offering his take on Kaiseki (basically a seasonal tasting menu) as well as a la carte choices, Bento Boxes, Sushi Omakase, and more. Dining there is a superb experience with some of the finest Japanese cuisine available in the area. The restaurant is spread out over three stories, with the top story being their Kumo Sky Bar & Lounge.

I recently attended a media cocktail party at their Kumo Sky Bar, though I have also visited the bar previously on my own. The bar has about 26 seats, with several seats looking out into the city, a number of seats at the bar, and a number of small tables. This bar has a 400-square foot, retractable glass roof, which should get plenty of use this summer, and presents quite a great view during both day and night. "Kumo" is the Japanese word for "cloud," and with its retractable roof, you certainly get a nice view of the clouds when they are in the sky,

It is an intimate room, and can be booked for special events. It is also a great place to just grab a drink and a snack any night.

The Drinks program at Kamakura, which is available throughout the restaurant including the Kumo Sky Bar, is strong on Japanese beverages, offering much that is delicious, interesting and unique. This is a great place to expand your palate, to sample exciting new drinks you know little about. The staff at Kamakura can help educate you about these drinks, and provide plenty of suggestions for you. And for those who are already familiar with these Japanese drinks, you'll find some more unique items to thrill your palate.

They have a list of ten Featured Cocktails, priced $13-$18, with one outlier at $34. The cocktails change seasonally and all have a Japanese aspect to them, whether it is the main spirit or one of the ingredients. A few of the cocktails include the John Manjiro (Iwai Whisky, Choya, Cherry, $14), Murasaki (Empress 1908 Gin, Sake, Floral Vermouth, $16) and Shoyu What I Got (Blanco Tequila, Mezcal, Choya, Sea Fennel, Aged Shoyu, Orange Bitters, $14). Aged shoyu? How many cocktails have you ever seen that use soy sauce as an ingredient? Choya is Japanese plum wine. I like the innovativeness of these cocktails. Most of the media at the cocktail party ordered cocktails, and I heard many compliments about their taste.

If you'd prefer a Non-Alcoholic Cocktail, they have three choices, all priced $10 each. You could opt for a Matcha Tonic (Matcha, Simple Syrup, Tonic Water), Cucumber Rickey (Fresh Cucumber Juice, Lime, Spritz), or a Lychee Collins (Lychee syrup, Soda, Citrus).

Of course they have a Sake menu, both by the glass and by the bottle. There are about 15 selections by the glass, broken down into two main categories: Junmai and Honjozo, the primary divisions of Premium Sake. There is also a single American-produced Sake. The Sake by the glass is available as a 4 ounce ($11-$35) or 6 ounce ($16-$52) pour. They also offer Junmai and Honjozo flights, each with 3 Sakes, for $38, which is an excellent way to sample a variety of Sakes. A few of the interesting Sakes I'd recommend include the Yuho Junmai Kimoto, Katsuyama Ken Junmai Ginjo, and Musashino Nyukon Tokubetsu Honjozo. You'll also find one Sake on tap, the Bushido Ginjo Genshu, 4-oz $12/6-oz $18, which I've enjoyed on a previous visit.

There are about 21 options for Sake by the Bottle, which come in various sizes such as 300ml, 500ml, and 720ml. About 60% of the options cost less than $100 a bottle, though you could splurge as well on the Hideyoshi "Flying Pegasus" Daiginjo at $560/720ml. You could opt to celebrate with some Sparkling Sake, such as the Dassai Sparkling Junmai Nigori ($62/360ml), which is one of my favorite Sparkling Sakes. The Hakkaisan Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo ($140/720ml) is a hedonistic pleasure I've previously reviewed.

A couple months ago, I recommended that people drink more Warm Sake, and Kamakura is a great place to experience it. They have 5 choices of Warm Sake, available in 5 ounce ($14-32) or 10 ounce ($28-$64) chirori, metal vessels. They serve the Sakes at what they suggest as the ideal temperature, from 104 to 113 degrees, but you can ask for a specific temperature if you so desire.

Of their five options, my favorite is the Shinkame "Holy Turtle" Tokubetsu Junmai, 2 year aged (5 oz $20/10 oz $40). Yoshimasa Ogawahara is the 7th generation owner of Shinkame Shuzoa Sake brewery located in the Saitama Prefecture. I have the privilege to meet and interview him back in 2014. He told me that Sake is the only alcohol in the world where the taste varies according to a wide variety of temperatures, both hot and cold. He also stated that warm Sake pairs well with a diversity of cuisines and not just Japanese. During the cocktail party, I once again enjoyed some of the warm Shinkame and highly recommend it as an experience more people should try.

Kamakura has a small Wine List, with about 12 options, including 10 available by the glass ($12-$22). The options include 3 Sparkling Wines (all French), 4 Whites, 1 Rosé, and 4 Reds. Of the 12 wines, 7 are from France, 2 from California, 1 from Germany, 1 from Washington, and 1 from Japan. The wines aren't the usual suspects, and present some interesting and classic choices, from German Riesling to French Rhone wines.

What is unique though is that they carry a Japanese wine, the 2017 Chateau Mercian Yamanashi Koshu (glass $19/ bottle $76), and they are the only restaurant in Massachusetts to carry this wine. Nine years ago, I attended a tasting of Japanese Koshu wines at Uni, and that was also the first time I met Chef Youji Iwakura. You can read my previous article for more information about the Koshu grape. This was an excellent summer wine, with plenty of acidity, bright citrus and peach notes, a streak of mineralogy, and a pleasing and fairly lengthy finish. There was a mild richness to the wine as well as a touch of salinity. This would pair great with seafood, including raw oysters. Highly recommended!

Their Beer list is also small, with a rotating selection of Draft Beer, including the Lamplighter ($9).  By the bottle/can, they have 3 Japanese beers, including the Orion ($8), Koshihikari ($11), and Ginga-Kogen ($16).

Check out their list of Featured Spirits which includes some local options, like Bully Boy (vodka, gin and rum) as well as Japanese Gin (Nikka Coffey and Ki No Bi Kyoto), which is the hot new alcohol coming out of Japan. They also have about 10 Japanese Whiskies, and you can order a Flight of 3 for $35. I enjoyed a glass of the Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt, a fine sipping whiskey with fruity notes, a hint of smoke, subtle spice notes, and a noticeable influence of Sherry.

Kamakura also has a menu of Shochu, a distilled Japanese alcohol, with 6 options and you can order a Flight of 3 for $18. Most of their Shochu selections are made from sweet potato, which is often considered to be the ingredients that makes the best Shochu. My favorite on their list is the Tenshi no Yuwaku, 8 Year ($21), made from 83% Sweet Potato and 17% Rice. It was fermented in Sherry casks for about 8 years, which is rare as few Shochu are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. I enjoyed it neat, finding it rich, creamy and smooth, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity. This is the first time I've seen this Shochu available in a Massachusetts restaurant. Highly recommended!

To sample what Kamakura has to offer, rather than opting for the multi-course Kaiseki dinner, you can always check out the Kumo Sky Bar to have drinks and small plates. You'll have a great view of the city while enjoying a large variety of Japanese drinks. Be adventurous and try some Japanese Koshu wine, aged Shochu, warm Sake, or a premium chilled Sake.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown

Take a leisurely walk through Chinatown, exploring Harrison Avenue, Beach Street, Tyler Street, Knapp Street, and more. You'll quickly note numerous restaurants, offering a variety of Asian cuisines, although Chinese restaurants predominate. So many delicious options, from Soup Dumplings to Dim Sum, with many restaurants offering excellent value as well.

However, what was the first restaurant in Chinatown?

Chinatown has been around for roughly 140 years, and most sources claim that the first restaurant in the neighborhood was Hong Far Low, though the sources vary as to when it was established. Various sources have suggested dates including 1875, 1879, or even 1890. The problem is that little documentary evidence has been provided to support any of these claims. Instead, the claims have taken on a life on their own, becoming "common knowledge" and then repeated by numerous other sources.

The most evidence, though still scant, was provided in the book, Chinese In Boston 1870-1965, by Wing-kai To and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (2008). Their first piece of evidence was a photo, circa 1916, of a tiled door stop that stated "Hong Far Low Established 1879." The authors thought the tiled door stop might have been created in 1896 during building reconstruction, though it is possible it was created even later. Can we trust the date on this door stop?

Another piece of evidence in the book is a photo of a menu, alleged from the early 1900s, with a photo of Hong Far Low and it states, "This is the first man in Boston who made chop suey in 1879." However, this menu is from The Harley Spiller Chinese Menu Collection, and they indicate the menu is actually circa 1930, so not really from the early 1900s. The Menu lists 6 types of chicken chop suey as well as 13 other types of chop suey, including "Tomato with Beef."

Initially, we should be at least a bit skeptical of this book's evidence as it was provided only by the restaurant itself. They certainly wouldn't be the first restaurant or business to create a myth around themselves, making claims that were actually true. At the very least, we should seek out additional information, which could either support or refute these claims. If the claim is true, then we should expect to find additional supporting evidence through additional research.

I've conducted some of my own research, and it leads me to the conclusion that the Hong Far Low was not established in 1879, and was more likely founded about ten years later, around 1888 or 1889. In addition, if it had actually been founded in 1888 or 1889, then it definitely wasn't the first Chinese restaurant in Chinatown nor the first to serve chop suey. I didn't find a single shred of evidence to support their claim of being around since 1879.

For some context and background, let's start with a historical look at the first Chinese people that came to Massachusetts and the eventual formation of Boston's Chinatown.

The above photograph is from the Boston Daily Globe, August 7, 1902, and the accompanying article alleges that in 1846, Oong Ar-Showe was the first Chinese man to come to Boston. Although I will discuss the life of Ar-Showe shortly, as it is important, he actually wasn't the first to come to Boston. For that, we need to look back to 1840.

The Boston Globe, June 19, 1910, in an article titled, How Ah Soon Came To Boston-The Pilgrim Father of the Chinese, related the tale of Ah Soon, who initially worked as a clerk for a Chinese tea merchant in Hong Kong. One day, in 1840, when he was 17 years old, he was sent to deliver some tea chests to a Yankee ship. The captain of the ship needed a new cabin boy and decided to kidnap Ah Soon. When Ah Soon went below decks with the tea, the captain ordered the ship to set sail. Once Ah Soon realized what was happening, he asked to be returned to shore though the captain came up with an excuse why he couldn't do so, offering Ah Soon the position of cabin boy and ensuring he would be returned to China during their return trip. Ah Soon decided to accept the position, though he had little choice.

In the summer, the ship landed in Boston and Ah Soon disembarked to explore this new city. When the ship departed, Ah Soon remained behind and eventually was hired as an assistant storeman in the warehouse of a merchant who engaged in business with China. Ah Soon faced almost no prejudice in Boston, and was seen more as a curious novelty by the people of Boston. In time, he became wealthy, with a store located at 27 Union Street, and moved to the Maplewood area of Malden.

He eventually married an American woman and they had seven daughters. Since 1843, unlike a number of other states, interracial marriages in Massachusetts were legal. All of Ah Soon's daughters married Americans, as there were no Chinese men available. Sadly, just after their last daughter was married, Ah Soon's wife died, and he travelled back to China, thinking he would remain there. Two years later, he returned to the Boston area, living for another five years at his residence in Malden.

In 1846, six years after the arrival of Ah Soon, Oong Ar-Showe traveled from the Chinese town of Chirmee, located about 60-70 miles from Makowe, and settled in Boston. Though he wasn't the first to come to Boston, he certainly made a significant mark in Boston, more than any other Chinese who might have predated him. There is a possibility that a few other Chinese might have come to Boston after Ah Soon, but before Ar-Showe, but we know nothing about their identities.

When Ar-Showe arrived, he was about 22 years old and spoke only a few words of English. It didn't take him long to be hired by Redding & Co., as a tea salesman. Redding & Co. had a tea shop on Washington Street, and had recently started specializing in tea. They figured that the addition of a Chinese employee might be beneficial to their business. The company also employed a woman, Louisa M. Heuss, to work with Ar-Showe, including helping him to learn English. Ar-Showe also adopted an American name, Charles.

Ar-Showe spent five years working for Redding before taking a job with P.T. Barnum, to accompany him to the World’s Fair as an interpreter for a Chinese family. Ar-Showe spent about 18 months in Europe, before returning to Boston. None of the sources I found gave any reasons why Ar-Showe would choose to leave the tea business and take a job with P.T. Barnum. Did he just want to see more of the world? Had he been made a significant financial offer? Was he bored of the tea industry?

Upon his return, sometime in 1852, Ar-Showe opened a store to sell tea and coffee, located at 21 Union St, between Hanover St and Dock Square. The Boston Post, October 1, 1852, noted the opening, and praised Ar-Showe, stating, “He has had great experience in the tea business in China, and is called the best judge of teas in this country,..” The above advertisement is from the Boston Post, June 9, 1853, and you can see that it describes eight of the teas which are available for sale at his shop. The teas were sold in five-pound bags and could be purchased at his shop or through mail order.

In addition to starting his own business, Ar-Showe decided to marry, and a wedding was held in January 28. His bride was Louisa M. Heuss, the same woman who had been his attendant when he worked for Redding & Co. The Liberator, January 28, 1853, wrote, “Oong Ar-Showe, the well known China tea merchant of Boston, was married at South Boston, on Sunday, to a young German woman. The bridegroom, for some time past, has discarded the Chinese dress, with the exception of the queue, which is kept beneath the collar of his coat, and at first sight, no one would suspect him of being a native of China.”

Ar-Showe and Louisa had a son, also called Ar-Showe though he was christened as Charles in 1854, and they would also later have two daughters. They lived in South Boston for a number of years and then moved to the Maplewood neighborhood in Malden, which is where Ar Soon also lived. Ar-Showe was an excellent businessman, acquiring a significant amount of wealth. He was naturalized as a citizen in 1860, probably the first Chinese ever to do so, and voted in every Presidential and State election afterwards. Unfortunately, his wife died in 1877 or 1878, and Ar-Showe moved back to China for two years. He returned to Malden, staying only a short time, before returning to China permanently. His children remained behind.

The year 1870 would see the first significant influx of Chinese into Massachusetts. The Boston Globe, September 19, 1873, discussed some of the findings of the 1870 census. The city of Boston, with a population of 250,526, didn't have any Chinese. The communities of Brighton, Cambridge, West Roxbury and Charlestown also didn't have any Chinese. Somerville and Brookline each had a single Chinese person listed in their census results. We know there were a handful of Chinese scattered in other communities, such as Chelsea and Malden, but overall, the Chinese were clearly a rarity in most of Massachusetts.

In the far west of the state, the situation was a bit different. On June 15, 1870, 75 Chinese workers, who travelled from San Francisco, arrived in North Adams to work in a shoe factory. C.T. Sampson, the owner of the shoe factory, previously had labor difficulties with his workers, who all belonged to the Knights of St. Crispin, a trade union. The Knights were upset about the arrival of the Chinese, though they still worked at 4-5 other large shoe shops in the town. Within a week or so, the Legislature also tried to enact a law that would void any contracts with the Chinese that were for a term longer than 6 months. Fortunately, the House voted against it so it didn't come to pass.

It cost Sampson nearly $10,000 to hire and transport the 75 Chinese workers, who were mostly 16-22 years old and none had previously worked in shoe making. This group included 72 workers, 2 cooks (who were about 35 years old) and 1 foreman. The foreman was Ah Sing, who took on the name of Charlie, and had been in the U.S. for about 8 years. He was 22 years old, spoke English fluently, could read English, and was a Methodist. Of the other workers, they were divided into three companies, and each company was composed of cousins.

According to their three-year contract, the foreman was to receive $60/month for overseeing 75 men, and 50 cents more for each worker over that total. The cooks and workers was to receive $23/month for the first year, $26/month for the second and third years, and $28/month for any time after the third year. They also received room and board, and were housed at the shoe factory, with their own kitchen.

The Pittsfield Sun, August 11, 1870 reported that Sampson would soon send for 50 more Chinese workers as the initial group was working out so well, except for 4-5 of them who he might send back to San Francisco. By October 1870, Sampson claimed that he had now spent about $30,000 on his Chinese workers but he had already saved money on shoe production. In addition, the Chinese were learning English and had already sent $1600 westward, to pay off their debts, such as their original cost of passage across the Pacific Ocean. However, there is no indication at this point that Sampson followed up on his previous plan to send for 50 more workers.

The Berkshire County Eagle, December 1, 1870, noted how the Chinese workers were attending Sunday School at the shoe factory, which included learning English. Initially, a 12 year old boy, with a primer, showed up at the shoe factory to help teach the Chinese. Since then, other boys, from 12-14 years old, helped with the teaching, and some girls and older men joined them too. The Chinese integrated fairly well in North Adams and even the unions generally left them alone, primarily because the Chinese had willingly come to the shoe factory, and weren't actually slaves who had been forcibly brought there.

In the Pittsfield Sun, August 31, 1871, Sampson proudly stated that the Chinese workers had saved him about $40,000 in the past year and were producing 10% more shoes than the previous workers. And in November, Sampson noted that so far, he only had to send one Chinese worker back to San Francisco. By March 1872, one additional Chinese worker had returned to San Francisco on his own. Unfortunately, in August 1872, a 20 year old Chinese worker died, from rheumatism of the heart, and this was the first worker death. Thirty more Chinese workers came to the shoe factory in November 1872. A second Chinese worker died in February 1873, from pneumonia after two months of being ill.

The original three-year contract with the Chinese workers was set to run out in June 1873 but by the end of May 1873, all but 6 of the workers agreed to extend their contract. Those six workers generally either returned to San Francisco or China. In July 1874, there was a third worker death, from dropsy. By September 1875, there were still 93 Chinese workers at the shoe factory, so we can see that nearly all of the original workers had remained there for over five years, though that apparently changed during the next year.

The Boston Post, June 12, 1876, reported that Sampson only had 85 Chinese workers, which included 40 who had arrived a year ago. So where did approximately 50 Chinese workers go? Some likely returned to San Francisco or China, but at least a few of them may have remained in Massachusetts. The foreman, Charley Sing, was still at the shoe factory, and in October 1876, he was the first Chinaman in the area who was allowed to vote, and he opted for the Republican platform.

By February 1879, a sixth Chinese worker died, from typhoid pneumonia. A year later, in February 1880, there were only about 40-50 Chinese workers still at the shoe factory though several months later, it was noted that all of the Chinese workers would soon be gone. Some of these workers may have moved to other parts of Massachusetts though the newspapers didn't mention whether any of them so relocated.

During the 1870s, other Chinese men came to Massachusetts, including to the Boston area. Around February 1875, the first Chinese laundry, noted as a "California Chinese Laundry," opened at 299 Tremont Street in Boston. It was owned by Wah Lee & Co., a group of four Chinese businessmen. By May 1875, another Chinese laundry, Sum Kee, was opened at 217 Shawmut Avenue. Other soon opened too, and the Boston Globe, August 3, 1875, noted, "The rapid increase of 'California Chinese Laundries' in Boston is noticeable."

At this time, laundry work, which was done by hand, was laborious and time-consuming, so not many whites wanted to do such work. The Chinese were willing to do so, faced little initial competition, and quickly turned it into a wide-spread industry. In China, women generally did the laundry so the Chinese men who came to the U.S. quickly learned how to perform this work. In addition, starting a laundry cost very little, making it attractive to the Chinese who had little starting capital. This situation was common throughout the U.S.

In September 1875, two Chinese laundries opened on Howard Street while there was mention of another Chinese laundry, owned by Wahlee Ah Gewe, at the corner of Blossom and Cambridge Streets. In January 1876, there was reference to a Chinese laundry, owned by Sing Lung and his brothers, under the Newport House at 5 Cambridge Street. In January 1878, there was mention of a Chinese laundry at the corner of Northhampton and Washington streets. And in June 1878, there was mention of another Chinese laundry at the corner of Howard and Bulfinch streets. In comparison, the Boston Globe, August 30, 1877, noted how New York had over 800 Chinese laundries.

Despite the proliferation of Chinese laundries, a "Chinatown" still hadn't formed in the city. The Boston Globe, December 22, 1877, published an article, The Heathen Chinee, and noted that six years ago, there were only about three or four Chinese in Boston but now there were about 150-200 Chinese. The article stated, "One thing Boston lacks which San Francisco has--Chinatown. But how long will it be before there is such a noisome quarter?" That writer definitely wasn't pleased about such an idea.

Two years later, the Boston Globe, March 25, 1879, ran another article titled, John Chinaman. How He Lives And Thrives in the Hub. The article mentioned that there were only about 100 Chinese laundrymen in Boston, and a few other Chinamen, and it was alleged most were just here to earn money so they could eventually return to China. As the laundries were spread across Boston, the Chinese lived in various areas, as they usually lived in the laundry building. There still wasn't a mention of a Boston "Chinatown" or any Chinese restaurants. It also stated that there wasn't a "joss house," or Chinese temple in Boston.

There was a brief follow-up article in the Boston Globe, March 31, 1879, noting that the Chinese laundry trade had fallen off a bit, and that the owners of some of the first laundries had returned to China. The Boston Weekly Globe, September 9, 1879, went into more detail in an article titled, Washee. Washee. How John Chinaman Makes Money in Boston. The Chinese population in Boston was estimated at about 120, who were generally aged from 12-40 years, with an average of 25 years. The youngest one worked at a laundry on Leveret St, and the two oldest, around 40 years old, lived in the South End and East Boston.

About 100 of them were involved in the laundry business, working in 40 different Chinese laundries. These laundries were broken down into 30 in Boston proper, 4 in Charlestown, 3 in East Boston, and 3 in South Boston. Of those in Boston, 18 were in the South End, 10 in the West End, and 2 in the North End. The remaining 20 Chinese were involved in selling fruit, cigars, tobacco, and tea. There were several tea merchants, who had been in the city for a number of years, including Ar Showe on Union St., Ar Chang in the South End on Washington St, across from the Rockland Bank, Wong Ariock at 101 Pleasant St., and James Williams (who dropped his Chinese name) at 264 Hanover St. There was also one Chinese man with a fruit and nut store on Tremont Street.

What could surprise you is that there might not have been any Chinese women living in Boston at this time. In addition, there were only a small number of Chinese woman living in other communities in Massachusetts. We know that Ah Soon had seven daughters, who married Americans, but we don't know where they settled. Ar-Showe also had two daughters and we aren't sure where they settled either, though it is possible they continued to live in Malden.

In addition, we know that one Chinese woman lived in Chelsea. In the late 1850s, Robert S. Ar Foon and his wife came to Massachusetts, where Robert acquired a job as a cook for Josiah Caldwell, a wealthy American who spent Spring in Boston, Summer and Fall in Lenox, and Winter in Cuba. Robert travelled with Caldwell for a number of years. On March 28, 1872, while living in Boston, Robert and his wife had a son, Henry Smith Ar Foon, though a couple months later they moved to Chelsea.

Prior to 1872, Robert had become a naturalized citizen, so Henry was an American citizen by birth, likely the first Chinese to achieve that honor. Robert eventually partnered with Ar Showe, the wealthy tea merchant, and opened a restaurant and ice cream café on Broadway in Chelsea. At some point, these businesses were relocated to Winnisimmet Street, and they also opened a tea shop. These businesses may have closed around 1889.

Another Chinese wife lived in Cambridge with her husband and children. On May 26, 1879, Harvard University signed a contact with Ko Kun Hua to teach Mandarin Chinese at the university. The contract was three years and Ko was to be paid $200 a month. Ko arrived in Cambridge in September, with his wife, a female servant, six children and an interpreter, Chin-Tin-Sing. His Mandarin course was intended for commercial purposes, for those planning to travel for business to China. It was open to undergraduates as well as anyone else who was interested, except for women. Initially, he had a single student, who wasn't even an undergraduate. By August 1880, this student had done so well that he left for China for business. By February 1881, Ko was instructing three students, though by the start of June, he no longer had any students. Unfortunately, In February 1882, he became ill and died from pneumonia.

There are multiple reasons why so few Chinese women came to the U.S. at this time. First, many Chinese men came to the U.S. to make money, with plans to return to China once they had made a sufficient amount. It wasn't cheap to travel across the Pacific and would have been much more expensive for them to travel with their wives. The law would also place barriers upon Chinese women from entering the U.S. The disparity between men and women would last into the 20th century.

The Boston Weekly Globe, September 9, 1879, mentioned that a Chinese Mission, or Sunday School, was established in April 1876 by Miss Henriette Carter of Cambridgeport as part of the Home Missionary Society. Classes are held on Sunday afternoons, for about 2 1/2 hours, in the vestry of the Mount Vernon church on Ashburton Place. The school teaches the Chinese how to read and wrote English, as well as how to be a good Christian, including refraining from gambling, drinking liquor and using opium. In July 1879, there were an average of 24 Chinese students and in August, there was an average of 31.

I'll also note that a Friendly Inn was established at 36 and 38 Harrison Avenue in July 1877. The two buildings were arranged as one house, with the street level containing an office, reading room, and restaurant. The second floor was a site of parlors while the third floor had sleeping rooms. The Inn was a refuge for poor alcoholics, where they could get sober, and idea that was being repeated across the country by women’s temperance groups.

Unfortunately, the facility couldn't raise sufficient money for their expenses, and in July 1879, they had to close one of the two houses, the one with the restaurant. The landlord then rented that building to a liquor saloon. And by October 1879, they had to close the second house as well. This is where Hong Far Low would eventually be located but it continues to make little sense that it would have opened at the very end of 1879, especially as a liquor saloon was just opened at that location.

In 1879, with only about 120 or so Chinese in Boston, spread across the city, would anyone have started a restaurant with such a limited number of potential customers? How could such a restaurant survive with so few patrons? We also have to consider that laundries were generally open 6 or 7 days a week, and only on Sundays might the workers have any free time. Could a restaurant survive when their customer base might only be able to visit one day a week? Unlikely. In addition, as the idea of a "Chinatown" hadn't apparently been solidified yet, it seems logical that a Chinese restaurant wouldn't have been established on Harrison Avenue at this point in time. It doesn't seem that this would have been an opportune time for Hong Far Low, or anyone, to open a Chinese restaurant.

At this point, before progressing further, I should mention a dark aspect of American history, involving abject racism against the Chinese.

In 1868, the Burlingame Treaty was signed between the U.S. and China, expanding commerce between the two countries, as well as establishing liberal immigration policies, allowing Chinese to more easily immigrate to the U.S. Thousands of Chinese then came to the U.S. hoping to earn money which they could send home. Unfortunately, they often faced racism in the U.S., and it only worsened in the coming years. What was supposed to be better relations between the two countries became a system where Chinese laborers were exploited by Americans.

Some Chinese and Japanese women were being brought, sometimes against their will, to the U.S. to work as prostitutes. In 1875, the Page Act was passed, ostensibly to protect these victimized women, but the language of the act actually made it more difficult for any Chinese women to come to the U.S.  This was an obstacle that prevented numerous innocent Chinese women from coming to the U.S., even just to unite with their husband.

In May 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited the entrance into the U.S. of Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, for a period of ten years. The Act had some exceptions for merchants, students, teachers, and diplomats. In 1892, the Act would be extended for another ten years by the Geary Act, which also added other strict legal requirement for the Chinese. And then, in 1902, the Act was made permanent until being nullified in 1943 by the Magnuson Act.

These terrible laws adversely affected the Chinese for many, many years and were fueled by pure racial prejudice. This article isn't about all of the harms of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and not the place to go into great detail about them, but I did feel it necessary to mention it as it clearly affected the settlement of Chinese immigrants in Boston.

In the report, The Chinese in Boston, 1970, written by Charles Sullivan and Kathlyn Hatch for the Action For Boston Community Development, there is a table providing statistics for Chinese immigration to the U.S. from 1820-1970. In the period 1881-1890, despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, 64,301 Chinese immigrants still came to the U.S. In the period 1891-1900, this number had dropped significantly, down to 14,799. In the period 1901-1910, the number had risen a bit to 20,605. If it hadn't been for the Chinese Exclusion Act, far more Chinese would have immigrated to the U.S., which would have included uniting families who were separated from each other. This certainly has much relevance to our current situation concerning the immigration crisis.

Now, back to the topic at hand.

During the 1870s and first half of the 1880s, the local Boston newspapers only mentioned Chinese restaurants in regards to San Francisco and New York. For example, the Boston Globe, July 19, 1885, noted that there were only six Chinese restaurants in New York City. "Each is famous for dish or style of cooking. The Delmonico of the number is Yu-ung-Fang-Lau, at 14 Mott Street." If Hong Far Low had existed since 1879, it seems likely the local newspapers would have mentioned it at least once when discussing these other cities with their own Chinese restaurants.

More information refuting the 1879 origin of Hong Far Low is found in the Boston Globe, June 11, 1882. There was a report of a fire, caused by a drunken tenant, at Mrs Osborn’s boarding house, located at 38 ½ Harrison Avenue. This is the eventual address of Hong Far Low and it is clear that their restaurant was not yet located at this address in 1882. And this will support additional newspaper articles, noting that Hong Far Low was mostly likely established no earlier than 1888. The boarding house must have been sold at some point prior to May 1885, when the police arrested a Chinese man, Moy Jim, for operating an opium den at 38 ½ Harrison Ave;

The first mention I found of the use of the term "Chinatown" for a Boston neighborhood was in the Boston Globe, March 13, 1884. There was an article about opium smoking, and how Chinese were leaving New York City, where it was illegal, to journey to Boston which lacked a law against opium smoking. The article mentioned the existence of "Chinatown" in Boston, noting, "The Chinese settlement on Harrison avenue is called by that name. The Chinese there occupy several blocks. They have their own stores, their own gambling houses, and their own opium joints." The article didn't mention any restaurants being in Chinatown at this time.

I found it fascinating that during the early 1880s, Harrison Avenue was also the home to a number of "Clairvoyants," such as Miss Millie, Little Adaline, and Miss Davenport. In early 1880, the Boston Globe started running a column of advertisements for clairvoyants and continued to do so throughout the 1880s. For instance, even in 1890, there were still over 50 ads for clairvoyants in the Boston Globe. In December 1880, it was noted that there were two clairvoyants at 32 Harrison Avenue, and in February 1881, it was mentioned there was a clairvoyant on the first floor and another on the second floor. Even after Chinatown was established as a neighborhood, some of the clairvoyants remained behind, and in March 1887, there were at least five non-Chinese clairvoyants within the area of Chinatown.

This also raises the issue that during the 1880s, Chinatown wasn't exclusively populated by the Chinese. During this period, the newspapers mentioned numerous non-Chinese businesses located on or near Harrison Avenue, where Chinatown was situated. You would find non-Chinese businesses such as hat makers, tailors, printers, apothecaries, and more.

It wouldn't be until an article in the Boston Globe, September 12, 1887, that there was a reference to Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. The article focused on an annual festival by the Chinese Free Masons, noting that the area of Chinatown was, "That short block of buildings on the left side of the street (Harrison avenue) going toward the South-End is owned and inhabited by Chinese, the number finding home and shelter under these roofs being sufficiently large to people a good-sized town." Chinatown had solidified its identity, and it was noted that on Sundays, Chinese from other parts of Boston came to visit Chinatown.

Chinatown included "...laundries, lotteries, gambling room....two or three Chinese restaurants, barber shops, tailor shops, grocery, crockery and fancy goods stores, and many other varieties of stores..." The writer of the article visited two of the restaurants, the first being on the second floor of a building that was next to a barber shop and the second restaurant, a smaller one, was also located on a second floor. The writer enjoyed a meal of "chop soui," rice cakes and boiled chicken. This is the first mention of chop suey in Boston, so we know it existed at least since 1887.

Unfortunately, the writer didn't provide any identifying information about the restaurants, such as their street number, restaurant name, or the name of the proprietor. You might think that Hong Far Low could be one of these unnamed restaurants however later information will cast great doubt on that that possibility. We might actually never learn the names of these first restaurants, so the question of the identity of first restaurant in Chinatown may be unanswerable. Would later newspaper articles provide additional information which might help us answer this question?

The Boston Globe, February 13, 1888, reported on a Chinese New Year's celebration in Chinatown, discussing a number of their customs. It was noted that the Moy Auk music band, a group of five fiddlers and banjo players, was hired to perform at the celebration. Though Moy Auk was only briefly mentioned in the article, he would make his mark on Chinatown over a year later, interestingly enough in the restaurant industry.

There was another article about Chinese New Year in the Boston Globe, January 30, 1889, and it mentioned how Moy Auk and his band came from New York City to play at the celebrations. Based on other information, it appears Moy Auk chose to settle into Chinatown at this time, thinking he might be able to make a living with his band. This article also mentioned two restaurants in Chinatown, located at #26 Harrison and #88 1/2 Harrison Avenue. No names were provided for the restaurant or their owners. These also appear to have been the only two restaurants in Chinatown at this time, and Hong Far Low was not located at either of those addresses. This seems to indicate that Hong Far Low did not yet exist.

Moy Auk finally decided to get involved in food in Chinatown. The Boston Globe, June 11, 1889, reported on a banquet celebration of the Chinese Free Masons, which was held at their hall on 36 Harrison Avenue. The caterer and chief cook of this banquet, for about 500 people, was Moy Auk, who also led the band. It wasn't clear in this article whether Moy Auk actually ran a Chinese restaurant or was more just a caterer.

More information about Moy was provided in the Boston Globe, June 23, 1889. The article, titled Chinese Restaurants, indicated that there were six Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. There had been a "swell" Chinese restaurant at #24 Harrison Avenue, just over the store of the Quong Hing Wah Company, but the restaurant owner was a serious gambler. He lost much too much money and the restaurant had to close. The article then mentioned that the two best Chinese restaurants were  now Moy Auk's at 36 Harrison Avenue and Hong Far Low at 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue. So, Moy had actually started a restaurant and wasn't just a caterer.

This is the first newspaper reference to Hong Far Low I found, and very little information was provided about it, except that it had an English painted sign that could be seen from the street. For how long had Hong Far Low been in business, considering it had a reputation as one of the best in Chinatown? The article doesn't answer that question though we can look through the lens of the other best restaurant, Moy Auk, which featured as the main topic of this newspaper article.

Moy was referred to as the "Delmonico's of the Celestials in this city." At this time, Delmonico's, in Manhattan, was considered one of the finest restaurants in the country so this was very high praise. Moy came to Boston, hoping to be able to play music year round, but learned that wasn't possible so he decided to open a restaurant. The talented Moy was a butcher, meat cook, and pastry chef. His restaurant, which was located beneath the hall of the Free Masons, was where the Chinese celebrities and dignitaries dined, as well as some white men, for a dish of "chop sui."

The article also stated that "Chop siu is Chinese for mixture, and it is a mixture which proved to be excellent eating. It is composed of chickens' and ducks' livers, gizzards and hearts cut into small pieces, fresh pork, celery, asparagus tops, bamboo shoots, and one or two other Chinese vegetables or greens, and dried mushrooms. These are all cut up into convenient pieces for the mouth, some sort of gravy is poured over the mass, which is then put in a spider and fried. While cooking the mixture sends out a very savory odor, and although its appearance on the table is rather against it, it is, nevertheless, very palatable." There isn't any mention that Hong Far Low was the first to bring chop sui to Chinatown, which casts doubt on their claim.

Moy's great culinary fame apparently arose within a time span of less than six months, so it wouldn't be a stretch to believe that Hong Far Low had also been in existence for less than six months. However, Hong Far Low hadn't garnered the same culinary recognition, though it was still seen as one of the best restaurants in Chinatown. If Hong Far Low had been in operation since 1879, you would likely assume that it would have been considered the premiere restaurant in Chinatown in 1889. In addition, the lack of any prior mention in the newspapers of the existence of Hong Far Low  before 1889 casts more doubt on their claim to have been established in 1879.

As a follow-up to this article, the Boston Globe, June 30, 1889, wrote that Moy Auk was very pleased with the write-up review of his restaurant. Moy just wanted to correct one point, that he did not generally keep chickens in the back of the kitchen, except for a single rooster at any time. His chickens, hundreds of them, were raised at his place in Winter Hill.

The Boston Globe, August 21, 1889 described the Chinatown celebrations for the Holiday of the Moon, providing basic information about the festival and its customs. There was a brief mention that Moy Auk, Hong Far Low, and other restaurant keepers did an excellent business during the festivities.

A follow-up article in the Boston Globe, August 29, 1889 wrote how Moy Wah, a laundryman who lived outside of Boston, came to Chinatown for the Holiday of the Moon and won a significant amount of money gambling at fan-tan. So, he decided to throw a banquet to celebrate. He hired Moy Auk, the "Delmonico of Chinatown," to cater the banquet, which would be for 12 people and would cost $12 a plate, quite a significant amount. An American reporter received an invite to this banquet and provided some information on the various dishes that were served.

Unfortunately, Moy's culinary reign, which hadn't even reached one year yet, was soon to end. The Boston Globe, September 10, 1889 reported that "It is the custom in China for merchants who have been successful in business to give a banquet to their customers and friends once a year." Moy Auk held one such banquet on September 9th, and the article wrote, "Moy Auk is recognized throughout New England as the crack celestial chef, and his dishes are greatly prized by the Mongolians, who say that they are prepared with a greater delicacy than those of any other Chinese cook." However, Moy was getting tired of the restaurant, and was awaiting the arrival of his brother who would take over the the restaurant, while Moy traveled the country with his band.

As 1890 began, Moy Auk's restaurant closed. The Boston Globe, January 12, 1890, reported that one of their writers had recently stopped by Moy's and found that it was closed. There was a sign there, written in Chinese, which the writer couldn't translate. He asked around Chinatown and one man told him that Moy was happiest as a musician and had left with his band. Moy's brother never arrived so Moy simply closed the restaurant. A great loss for Chinatown.

In the Boston Globe, March 1, 1891, there was a fascinating article about a banquet at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which was attended by some of the biggest luminaries of Boston, the "cream of society." It was surprising to see so many white people dining at a Chinese restaurant all together. The event was held at a restaurant on the second floor of 29 Harrison Avenue, which was owned by Hand Gane Quoe, who also owned a hotel at the same address. The menu at this banquet was listed in the article, and it included Chow Chop Sui.

A couple years later, the Boston Globe, May 7, 1893, highlighted a number of "Chinatown Moguls. Harrison Avenue's Celestial Magnates, For Whom The Geary Act Has No Terrors. The article began by noting, "There are 1600 unregistered Chinamen in the State of Massachusetts." Later on, in discussing the establishment of Chinatown on Harrison Ave, it stated, "Their colonization of that district dates from 1880." It continued, "The first house to be leased to and occupied by the Chinaman was one on Oxford pl. It was in a wretched state of repair and scarcely fit for human habitation." And currently, there were "...over 1000 Chinamen have their homes and places of business in the neighborhood, and under the governorship of Sam Wah Kee they live the lives of just, orderly, law-abiding citizens."

The article went into detail about the Hong Far Low restaurant, the first time the restaurant had been described in any depth in a newspaper. "A prettily decorated room is the restaurant at No. 38 1/2 Harrison av. It is owned by Hong Far Low, who, although he has resided in America four to five years, speaks no word of English. But for all that, he is a very capable man of business, and a cook of no mean abilities. But Hong is not the chef of his establishment. He employs four men to take care of the culinary department. He himself devotes his time to keeping the books, and also an eye on his six waiters." The article continued, "From 7 o'clock in the morning until 10 at night his doors are open, and during meal hours a motley crowd of Americans and Chinamen gather around the polished, shining ebony tables and partake of the viands, tempting and otherwise, for which his oral menu calls."

What could you eat there? "At Hong Far Low's one may order roast chicken or duck, and when it is served he will find it done to a turn. Or he may call for 'k wusi,' and he will receive a dish of excellent spaghetti, perhaps accompanied with a glass of rice wine, which in color resembles whiskey, and which tastes somewhat like gin." Interestingly, one of the regular customers at Hong Far Low was Moy Auk, who lived at 25 Harrison Avenue, and continued to lead his orchestra, which still traveled across the country.

This article was fascinating for multiple reasons. First, it indicated Hong Far Low came to the U.S. no earlier than 1888, so there is no way he could have opened his restaurant in 1879. And if this was the case, Hong Far Low could not have been the first to bring chop sui to Boston as it already existed here prior to 1888. This article didn't even mention that chop sui was a speciality of Hong Far Low. It was around this time, 1893, that Hong Far Low started to acquire much of its fame, and maybe they decided to create a bit of a myth around their founding.

The Boston Globe, December 16, 1893, described how Hong Far Low hosted a special banquet for a newly married couple, and the event was attended by all the elite of Chinatown as well as a number of prominent whites, including government officials. The menu was provided in the article, which included items such as birds' nest soup, fried lobster, abalone, fried pigeons, and shark's fin. High quality Chinese red wine was also served.

A couple reporters in the Boston Post, December 24, 1893, wrote about their own dinner at Hong Far Low. Their article began, "Have you dined at the Chinese restaurant? No? Then you have not really entered into Boston's Bohemia; you have not experimented to the full in dinnerdom. To dine at the Chinese restaurant is really an experience worth having and it costs--well, it cost two Post reporters last week just $1.25, including a tip to the waiter." They continued, "The distinctive beauty of the Chinese restaurant is its novelty."

The reporters went to Hong Far Low, noting it had two dining rooms, and were given a menu that was written in both Chinese and English. However, the reporters weren't too adventurous, opting for very simple boiled chicken, rice and tea. So much for embracing the novelty of the restaurant. They tried to use chop sticks, though they had some difficulty. After their dinner, they enjoyed some sweetmeats and candies.

There was a brief mention in the Boston Post, October 6, 1894, that Moy Soy, who speaks English fluently, was the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant at 36 ½ Harrison Ave.

The Boston Sunday Post, January 20, 1895, reported that a new Chinese restaurant was almost ready to open. Located at 29 Harrison Avenue, on the second floor, the restaurant was owned by Sin Cheun Low. A skilled chef, recently returned from China, would helm the kitchen, and the restaurant was expected to open in a few days. It was noted that all of the waiters would be fluent in English as the owner wanted to attract more non-Chinese.

More information about this new restaurant was provided in the Boston Sunday Post, September 1, 1895. The owner, Kim Chun Low (note the different spelling from the prior article) welcomed the reporters who commented on the "gold and silver embroidered draperies and pearl inlaid furniture,“ noting the interior decorations had cost over $2000. They stated is was “..by far the most magnificent Chinese restaurant in Boston.”

Numerous Knight Templars, from across the country, came to Boston and checked out Chinatown. The Boston Globe, August 28, 1895, reported on their visit, indicating they well patronized the three Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, including Hong Far Low. The knights enjoyed chop souey but their women generally disliked it. They also generally had difficult with chop sticks, but were provided knives and forks.

As an aside, in 1892, there were about 1000 Chinese men in the Boston area, and 70% of them still worked in the 280 Chinese laundries spread across the city.

The Boston Post, April 5, 1896 had a section of Reliable Merchants, a place for ads for various businesses, and there were two for Chinese restaurants, pictured above. The first was Oriental Restaurant, located at 32 Harrison Avenue. "Everything in Chinese cooking served in the best of style. Imported Teas...After the theater come and try our specialty of Chop Sooy, Boiled Noodle Soup, Chow Mein, Foa Young An." The other, Kin Chun Low (which I've previously mentioned), is stated to be "First-Class Chinese restaurant; "Come and try our best Chop Sooy and all kinds of Chinese eatables."

Both the Boston Globe, March 22, 1897 and Boston Post, March 22, 1897 wrote about a banquet held at Hong Far Low, a send-off for six rich Chinese who were returning to China. It was quite a sumptuous feast, with no expense spared. It was most interesting that the Post referred to Hong Far Low as the Delmonico of Chinatown, a designation once held by Moy Auk in 1889.

The Boston Globe, December 31, 1898, had an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant located at 31 Howard Street and owned by Kaun Heung Lowe & Co. "The very best cuisine in both Chinese and American styles. Chop Sooy a specialty. Open all night." The fact that it was open all night, like other Chinese restaurants, would become an issue about seven months later.

The Boston Globe, July 3, 1899: reported that the police commissioner had ordered that Chinese restaurants could no longer stay open all night. Prior to this order, the restaurants could be open all nights except for Saturday. It was claimed this regulation was simply treating restaurants as it already did hotels, though some claimed this was part of a move to drive the Chinese out of Boston.

The police commissioners were involved in Chinatown once again. The Boston Globe, December 16, 1900, reported on a tour taken by Lieutenant Governor Bates, some police commissioners and other members of the police. They visited Chinatown, first visiting Lock Sen Low, a restaurant at 46 Beach Street. Many of the residents of Chinatown feared a raid when they saw all the police, and any contraband was quickly hidden. The tour continued on to Hong Far Low, where they had a taste of chop suey. The tour continued visiting a few other spots in Chinatown before moving on to the North End.

As the 20th century began, Chinatown would continue to grow, and new restaurants would open. There would be about 15 additional newspaper references to Hong Far Low, from 1903 to 1926, and not a single of those references ever mentioned that the restaurant originated in 1879 or was the first in Boston to offer chop suey.

The question of the identity of the first restaurant in Chinatown will have to remain unanswered for now. The first newspaper mention of restaurants in Chinatown was in September 1887 and chop soui was being served at that time. However, the article failed to provide sufficient information to identify those two or three restaurants. In January 1889, two Chinese restaurants were mentioned, though their names and owners were not provided, but their addresses were given, and neither address is that for Hong Far Low.

The first mention of Hong Far Low isn't until June 1889, though it is possible that the restaurant opened in 1888. None of the documentation supports the claim that the restaurant opened in 1879. As Hong Far Low didn't arrive in the U.S. until at least 1888, there is no way he could have opened his restaurant in 1879. And that would also mean he couldn't have been the first to bring chop suey to Boston as it existed here before 1888. Not a single newspaper article ever mentioned that Hong Far Low was established in 1879. The myth of Hong Far Low may sound interesting, but it doesn't conform to the reality.

I'll leave you with a question, what do you now consider to be the Delmonico of Chinatown?

Check out Part 2 of my Chinatown Restaurant History, covering the years 1901-1920)

(As of July 18, 2019, I've expanded/revised this article due to additional research. It has nearly doubled in size. I've added more information, especially on the first Chinese that came to Massachusetts, including the shoe makers of North Adams. You'll also find information on Chinese laundries, a Chinese professor at Harvard, the first Chinese man naturalized as a citizen, the first Chinese child born as a citizen, the rarity of Chinese women, and more. You'll also find more pictures, some from old newspapers and some photos from the modern day.)