Monday, September 28, 2020

Rant: How Do We Mainstream Sake?

The popularity of Sake continues to grow each year but it still remains largely a niche beverage. How do we make Sake more mainstream, so that it is as popular as beer or wine? 

There are plenty of valuable suggestions on how this can be accomplished, from more Sake education to making Sake labels more approachable, however I think the most effective recommendation is: We need more non-Asian restaurants to place Sake on their menus

Currently, Sake is mostly found at Asian restaurants, so the average consumer equates it only with Asian cuisine, from sushi to kushiyaki. That misconception prevents Sake from becoming more mainstream, relegating it only to a certain type of cuisine. We need non-Asian restaurants to have the courage to place Sake on their drink menus, to show consumers that Sake pairs well with a diverse selection of cuisines and foods. 

We need change! 

Sake can be paired with appetizers, entrees and dessert. It works well with a myriad of cuisines from Italian to French, Mexican to Spanish. It is an excellent accompaniment to a diverse selection of foods, from burgers to pizza, seafood to poultry, mushrooms to cheese. Its versatility is without question yet few restaurants, except for Asian spots, take advantage. In some cases, it is even a better food pairing than wine. 

I've previously written about how well Sake pairs with food, in articles such as The Science Of Sake & Food Pairings, Pairing Cheese & Sake, Slurping Oysters & Sipping Sake, Sake, Seafood & Lobster, and Sake For Thanksgiving. I've presided at Sake dinners, pairing it with Italian cuisine at Prezza and French cuisine at AKA Bistro. Locally, the Tasting Counter, in Somerville, is the only non-Asian restaurant to have any type of significant Sake program. And they've done an excellent job in showing the potential of Sake with all types of dishes. 

However, we need many more non-Asian restaurants to put Sake on their drink lists, to follow the lead of the Tasting Counter. We need to see Sake available at pizza joints, burger spots, Mexican restaurants, French bistros, fried chicken places, and so much more. We need Sake to be seen as a commonplace choice wherever you dine. As long as Sake is seen as only an accompaniment for Asian cuisine, then it will never become mainstream, remaining forever a niche beverage. 

These changes will involve some work for restaurants. It will require more education about Sake on the behalf of restaurants and sommeliers, who should be excited to learn about this compelling beverage. They need to learn how Sake will pair well with their cuisine. They need to learn how to persuade diners to take a chance on a Sake pairings. None of this is difficult, and mainly involves an investment of time and a willingness to experiment

Those pioneering restaurants willing to take a chance on Sake would be in a unique position, with a new selling point for consumers, standing out from other restaurants. They could lead a path to a future where Sake becomes more popular and mainstream. So what are you waiting for?


Celebrate Sake Day On October 1

On Thursday, October 1, raise an ochoko and celebrate Nihonshu no Hi, or as it is known in English, Sake Day

Sake Day originated over 40 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Sake (酒) is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (酉), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Sake Day. It is probably also due, in part, to the fact that October is generally considered to be the official start of the Sake brewing season.

What will you do to celebrate Sake Day? Will you share a bottle of Sake with family or friends at home or a restaurant? Will you take time to learn more about Sake? Will you go to a wine shop and buy a Sake you've never tasted before? With the pandemic, celebrations will be a bit more low-key this year, with more virtual events, but you can still celebrate the holiday.

Let me provide some suggestions as to how you can learn about, experience and support Sake. These apply for Sake Day as well as every other day of the year. We need more Sake Lovers in the world!

First, if you want to learn more about Sake, check out my numerous educational posts at All About Sake. You'll learn about the basics of Sake, pairing Sake & food, Sake customs and legends, and much more. There are links to over 100 articles, so there is plenty to explore and learn.

One of my most popular Sake posts has unquestionably been An Expanded History Of Sake Brewing in the U.S. I conducted extensive research for that article, combing through numerous old newspapers and other sources to put together the most comprehensive history of the earliest Sake breweries in the U.S. This article even led to Tsuneo Kita writing a Journal article in Japan, referring my article and writing, "This paper would not exist without a blog of April 2015, written by Mr. Richard Auffrey. I express my sincerest appreciation to him." Continuing this historical element, I've also written a three-part article on The Origins & History of Sake, which further parts coming in the future.

Another very popular Sake article is The Science of Sake & Food Pairings, an exploration for some of the scientific reasons why Sake pairs so well with many foods. Sake works well with far more than just Japanese cuisine, and you'll learn there is a Sake for all cuisines and foods. Why not celebrate Sake Day by trying out a Sake pairing with your favorite foods?

Second, if you want some Sake recommendations, then please check out my Collected Sake Reviews, which has over 100 reviews of a diverse range of Sake. This is all an excellent starting point for your exploration of the wonderful world of Sake. Maybe you will have difficulty finding these Sakes at your local wine shop. You can send me a photo of the Sake selection at your local wine store and I'll give you my thoughts on which Sakes you should try. 

Third, the American Sake Association has created an extensive schedule of virtual Sake events to celebrate Sake Day. You'll find items such as a virtual tour of a Hawaiian Sake brewery, a cooking demonstration, a discussion of Sake glassware, a seminar with John Gauntner, and much more. Register online here, and it only costs a small $5 donation. This is an excellent opportunity to learn much more about Sake.

Fourth, do some Sake shopping! A new wine & liquor shop has opened In Malden, the Malden Center Fine Wines, which is connected to Ball Square Fine Wines. I've been impressed with this store and they have a very good selection of Sake at reasonable prices. There is plenty of diversity in their selections, and they sell various sized bottles as well. I've bought a number of Sakes here and been very pleased with what I've found. (Plus, their wine and spirits selections is also compelling and worth checking out.)

Fifth, invest in a local Sake Brewery. Todd Bellomy, former of Dovetail Sake in Waltham, is seeking investors for his new endeavor, the Farthest Star Sake brewery in Medfield. This would become the only Sake brewery in New England, as a few prior Sake breweries have closed. If you would like to invest, please find plenty of information about the project here. Todd is very passionate about Sake and I know many people enjoyed the Sake he previously made for Dovetail. 

What will you do to celebrate Sake Day? 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Peking Duck: A History in the Local Region & Chinatown

That crispy skin! Who can resist its taste and texture? It might be the most popular element of Peking Duck, a Chinese dish of roasted duck. It can be found in a number of restaurants in Chinatown, although the version at China King might be the most famous and popular, and which can be seen in the above photograph. 

What is the history of Peking Duck in the U.S.? When did the first Chinese restaurant in Boston serve Peking Duck?

During the 19th century, nearly all U.S. newspaper references to Peking Duck referred to the breed and not the dish. This breed was introduced into the U.S. during the 1870s and quickly became very desired, eventually being used to create a new breed, the American Pekin or White Pekin.

The San Francisco Bulletin, January 12, 1885, noted, “Ever since its first introduction into the United States, the Peking Duck has steadily gained in popularity until now it takes a front rank among desirable breeds.” These ducks were described as “…pure white, hardy, vigorous and prolific.” The Abbeville Press & Banner (SC), July 31, 1889, also mentioned that, “Most breeders says that the ‘Pekin’ duck, a bird of Chinese origin, is the most desirable for all purposes. It is hardy, matures early, and weighs from fourteen to twenty pounds to the pair.”

One of the first references to Peking Duck as a dish was in an article titled What Chinese Eat, and which was printed in several newspapers in 1900. Maybe the first of those newspapers was the Kenosha News (WI), September 20, 1900. The article stated that, “Poultry is also one of the strong points of Chinese farming and cooking. The Peking ducks are celebrated throughout the empire for their size and delicacy, and the preparation of their flesh is one of the finest evidences of Chinese skill in cookery.” The article continued, “If one of my American readers cares to try a duck a la Chinoise, here is the recipe,” which you can see above.

The first reference I found for a U.S. restaurant specially serving Peking Duck was in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (NY), December 24, 1919, which had an advertisement for the Victory Restaurant, which served Chinese & American cuisine. One of their Christmas dinner specials was Roast Peking Duck, with Stuffing, for $1.00. 

However, one of the first Mandarin restaurants in the U.S. was the Mandarin Inn Cafe in Chicago, which opened in 1911. I haven't been able to confirm that they served Peking Duck although it seems probably as they specialized in Mandarin cuisine. 

Peking Duck at a Chinese banquet. The Santa Fe New Mexican, March 7, 1920, described a Chinese banquet, mentioning “At these banquets sixteen to twenty courses may be served, the last of which is the Peking duck tucked into a pastry envelope. The proper thing is to pick the pastry up in one’s fingers and the uninitiated westerner provides entertainment for his Peking host by letting the duck and gravy shoot through one of the corners. And if you are not served with Peking duck you may consider yourself intentionally slighted.” This was the only reference I found to Peking Duck being served in a "pastry," although the writer might have been referring to the traditional pancakes. 

More information about how Peking Duck was served and eaten in China was presented in the Chanute Weekly Tribune (KS), December 19, 1924. The author dined at a Chinese restaurant in Peking which specialized in Preking Duck. It was noted that the diners were first taken to a private room where they were brought some dressed ducks for them to choose for dinner. The chosen duck was then roasted in front of an open fire, and “then came the duck, brown and crisp and smoking hot. The servant started slicing off the meat in little slivers which came onto the table in a continuous stream. A saucer was put in the middle of the table and as fast as it was emptied more was slid onto it. We had each been provided with a little stack of pancakes, and the system consisted of holding one of these in your left hand while you reached into the center of the table with your chopsticks and secured three or four of the little pieces of meat and crisp, tender, brown skin, which you placed in a row across one diameter of your little pancake. To this, if you desired, you added a few slivers of green onion, and (if you were rash enough) some minced garlic. Then the pancake was rolled around the filling into a sort of overgrown cigarette and eaten, the end being walloped in a dish of soy sauce, about the consistency of catsup before each bite.”

The article continued, noting a practice which some Americans wouldn't find too appealing. “The last of the duck was signalized by the arrival of the head of the duck, neatly split, so that you could eat the brain and any other tidbit you might be able to extract.” Duck heads might still be provided with some Peking Duck dishes, so you could try it if you were more adventurous.

An article in the Oakland Tribune, February 8, 1927, reported on a planned celebration of Chinese New Year San Francisco. “The grand final feast of garlic-laden dumplings, Canton eels and Peking duck will be spread Tuesday,…” 

After World War II, Mandarin restaurants started to appear across the U.S. with one of the first being The Peking Restaurant in Washington, D.C. in 1947. Peking Duck also started to be mentioned in Boston newspapers during the 1940s, though the articles were about it being served elsewhere, and not in Boston. 

The Boston Globe, March 11, 1942, provided information on restaurants in New York City, including those in Chinatown. The article advised diners in Chinatown to simply tell the cook, with some notice, what you wanted to eat. “Given two days’ notice, he can even provide a Peking duck, which is like no duck anywhere else on earth, its outer surface coming all orange-colored and its inner surface tasting like heaven when the clouds are fluffy.”  Quite a compelling description of Peking Duck which probably intrigued plenty of people to seek out this dish. 

The Boston Globe, May 16, 1948, briefly noted that there were Chinese restaurants in Hawaii that sometimes served Peking Duck.And in Boston Globe, September 30, 1948, there was a brief mention of restaurant in Peking, China, where “Peking duck is broiled over flames which are said not to have been extinguished for more than a century;..”

A lengthier article was in the Boston Globe, October 7, 1948, also describing a restaurant in Peking and the preparation and serving of Peking Duck. It was noted that “The Peking duck certainly deserves the fame it has achieved. The ducks are kept in a dark room and artificially fed until they have reached the right age and plumpness. Then they are broiled over an open fire until the skin is browned and crisp. The duck is then brought in and exhibited before being carved into small pieces. It is eaten in this manner. Small, delicate pancakes are served along with the duck, and the diner places a bit of the duck in the pancake, covers it with a mysterious but magnificent sauce, along with a bit of sweet onion and cucumber and a dab of soy sauce, rolls it up, and eats it with his fingers.” Peking Duck is still eaten in this manner, with bits of skin and flesh inside small pancakes. 

There were a couple more references to Peking Duck being served in New York restaurants. The Boston Globe, April 20, 1951, mentioned that Peking Duck was served at the Shanghai Café, which was run by Charlie Foo. The Boston Globe, March 26, 1952, noted that Peking Duck was served at an uptown café; though it wasn't named. That article also mentioned, “In North China it is considered a delicacy and takes 48 hours to prepare.”

Besides New York, San Francisco was able mentioned as a place for Peking Duck. The Boston Globe, July 28, 1957, described a restaurant called Kan’s; noting that “Peking Duck also takes a day to prepare, mainly because the skin has to be coated with honey and then faced toward a southeast wind. Sometimes, when Kan is becalmed, he has been known to use a Westinghouse fan.” It continued, describing an accompaniment to the duck, different from the usual pancake. “Peking duck is served with thousand layer buns, a lump of white dough that resembles a dumpling or may be a just brown-and-serve roll which has been served before it was browned. A thousand layer bun is supposed to peel into a thousand layers, ..”

Peking Duck is part of Mandarin cuisine, and the first Mandarin restaurant wasn't established in Massachusetts until 1958, when Joyce Chen, opened her first restaurant in Cambridge. Her menu listed  Peking Duck ($10), describing it as “Duck specially prepared and served with Mandarin pancakes, a famous Peking speciality—Order one day in advance.” Besides being the first to serve Peking Duck in this area, Chen was also a pioneer in a number of other respects, such as popularizing the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and coining the term "Peking ravioli." 

Only two years later, another Mandarin restaurant opened in the area, in Medford. The Boston Globe, May 17, 1960, had an ad for Peking on Mystic, at 66 High Street, Medford, which served Mandarin and Shanghai style Chinese food. Perusing their menu, you'll see they served Peking Duck for $9.50, and it had to be ordered in advance. The Boston Globe, April 18, 1969, provided a review of Peking on Mystic, noting that they served Peking duck, which required prior notice, though on weekends, it could usually be prepared with one hour notice.

During the 1970s, several other Boston and Cambridge restaurants started serving Peking Duck. Part of this was fueled by interest in China due to President Nixon's visit to that country. The Boston Globe, January 29, 1971, mentioned that Shanghai Low, at 21 Hudson Street and which opened in October 1970, specialized in the cuisines of Peking, Shanghai and Szechwan. They sold Peking Duck ($12), with one day notice. The Boston Globe, March 24, 1972, had an ad for the China Pearl, which served Peking Duck, with a three day advance notice, and mentioned the President has enjoyed the dish while he was in China.

The Boston Globe, March 10, 1974, reviewed Lucky Garden Restaurant, in Cambridge, and noted it was one of seven locations within a fifty mile radius of Boston where Peking Duck could be found.  And the Boston Globe, November 14, 1974, mentioned that Peking on Fresh Pond, in Cambridge, served Peking Duck ($15.50), with advance notice. 

Today, Peking Duck can be found in Boston’s Chinatown restaurants including China King, Empire Garden, Peach Farm, China Pearl, and New Jumbo Seafood

China King
, owned and operated by Doris Huang (seen in the above video), makes one of the most famed Peking Ducks in the city. I recently interviewed Doris and we discussed her Peking Duck. Prior to the pandemic, they used to sell about 20 Peking Ducks a week, and that number has obviously greatly decreased during the last six months, although the day before the interview, they had sold 5 Peking Ducks. On Thanksgiving, they have sold as many as 50 Peking Ducks, a "Chinese turkey," in a single day.

At China King, their Peking Duck dish is served three ways. First, it's served traditionally, with flour pancakes and hoisin sauce. Second, shredded duck is stir-fried, served with hand-pulled noodles and third, some of the duck served in a soup with tofu and vermicelli. The order will serve four people and costs about $60. A day's notice is required, and maybe even longer near the holidays such as Thanksgiving. Ordering Peking Duck for take-out would also be an excellent way to support Chinatown restaurants. 

Where is your favorite Peking Duck served?

Monday, September 21, 2020

Rant: Candy vs Caramel Apples

With the advent of fall, there are certain seasonal treats which become more readily available, especially items using apples. One of my favorites, which can be found at many local farms, are fresh, cider donuts, and my favorites are from Russell Orchards. Prior to the pandemic, when we used to have local fairs, carnivals, and festivals, you would also find candy and caramel apples, which might be covered with coconut, nuts, colored sprinkles or other items. They are more difficult to find now, but are still available at some shops and farms. 

Most sources claim that red candy apples were invented first, by William Kolb, a candy-maker in Newark, New Jersey around 1908. Sources also claim that caramel apples were first developed by Kraft Foods in the 1950s. Although I found multiple references to "candy apples" in 19th century newspapers, none of the references were specific enough to identify their actual nature. Some of the references almost seemed to indicate they were merely a type of candy, and not what we think of when we think "candy apple."

However, I was able to find multiple, specific and detailed references to candy apples which predated their alleged invention in 1908. The St. Louis Republican (MO), November 5, 1900, published an article about local candy shops that were lowering their prices. It also mentioned that one of the shops had introduced a "Russian delicacy." The article continued, "The new thing was candied apples on a stick. The apples were raw but the candy was red and sticky, and altogether winning." A competing candy store quickly learned how to create these candied apples, and the price dropped from 3 for a nickel, to one penny each, and finally to 2 for a penny. It's now clear then that Kolb wasn't the inventor of red candy apples. 

The Buffalo Evening News, July 19, 1904, provided a recipe for a "candy apple" that stated "place apples pierce with bits of wood (like skewers) where the stems had been. These are placed in a pan and covered with a common brown taffy." This isn't a red candy apple but seems more similar to the caramel apple, as it was covered with a softer coating. 

There was another reference to a red candy apple prior to 1908, in The Times Herald (MI), December 9, 1905, which published an article about the holiday season and mentioned "Red candy apples for the holiday time may be easily made at home by dipping small perfect apples in a bath of hot candy colored a brilliant red." 

Candy apples, with their distinctive red candy shell, are usually made with a flavored boiled sugar recipe, while Caramel apples are covered with melted caramel. There is a huge textural difference between the two, one with a hard outer shell and the other with a gooey exterior. The popularity of each varies across the country, though I've been noticing over the last several years, to my dismay, an increase in the ubiquity of caramel apples locally. 

I love red candy apples, especially covered with coconut. It's often a challenge to take that first crunchy bite into the hard shell, but it's rewarding. With a fresh, crisp apple, the candy, coconut and fruit make for a very appealing treat. For me, the caramel apple fails. I love caramel, from a nice sweet sauce atop ice cream to a salted, gooey center of a dark chocolate. But I don't like its soft gooey texture on a caramel apple. It's too soft, and just doesn't seem complementary to the crisp, juicy apple. Plus, maybe it's also a bit sentimental, as growing up I most often had and enjoyed red candy apples. 

Why has the popularity of red candy apples waned? What is behind the rise of caramel apples? I don't have answers to these questions but I want to be able to more readily find red candy apples.

Do you prefer red candy apples or caramel apples? And why?

Friday, September 18, 2020

New Sampan Article: A Restaurant Review of Việt Citron

The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."

--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I've mentioned previously, I've a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I've previously written nine articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Việt Citron: Phở, Bánh Mi & More, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Việt Citron, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Burlington, opened a short time before the pandemic began, and now has reopened, offering take-out, delivery, and patio dining. I've been a regular, eating there about once a week, and I've been impressed with its fresh and delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Pork Belly Bahn Mi, Beef Pho, Chili Lemongrass Ribs, Bo La Lot, and more. Read my review for more details about this excellent new spot, and I hope you'll check them out.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which should be published near the start of October. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!