Monday, June 21, 2021

Rant: How To 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 most of those will only make incremental progress to the objective of mainstreaming Sake. Slow but steady progress. As we ponder this issue, we must ask what suggestion might have the greatest and quickest impact? 

Last week, I had reason to contemplate this question once again, and my answer is the same as it has been for quite some time. I think the greatest impact, the best way to make Sake more mainstream, is by getting more non-Asian restaurants to place Sake on their menus. 

Let's see a new Burger & Sake restaurant open, or a Pizza & Sake spot. Let's see a sommelier at an Italian bistro recommending Sake with a pasta dish. Let's see a seafood restaurant recommending Sake with fried clams or a lobster roll.  

Currently, Sake is mostly found at Asian restaurants, so the average consumer equates it only with Asian cuisine, from sushi to katsu. That misconception prevents Sake from becoming more mainstream, relegating it only to a certain type of cuisine, ensuring it remains more of a niche beverage. 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.

Sake can and should 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 PairingsPairing Cheese & SakeSlurping Oysters & Sipping SakeSake, Seafood & Lobster, and Sake For Thanksgiving. I've presided at Sake dinners at local restaurants, pairing it with Italian and French cuisine.

Locally, the Tasting Counter, in Somerville, is the only non-Asian restaurant to have any type of significant Sake program. With their dinner, you can opt for the Sake pairing, and get to taste ten different Sakes with their fantastic and creative cuisine. They've done an excellent job in showcasing the versatility and potential of Sake with all types of dishes. Why can't other local restaurants follow their example and institute their own Sake programs?

We need many more non-Asian restaurants to put Sake on their drink lists, to follow the lead of the pioneering 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?


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dr. Ensang Cheng: Boston’s First Chinese Licensed Physician

The first Chinese doctors in the U.S. were herbalists, following an ancient tradition, and there are still Chinese herbalists today, including in Boston’s Chinatown. In the late 19th century, a handful of Chinese chose to attend American medical schools, to receive a degree as a M.D. Surprisingly, the first Chinese person to attend a U.S. medical school was a woman, Jin Yunmei, who graduated in 1885. The first male Chinese to receive a degree was Joseph Chak Thoms in 1890.

In New England, Ensang Waniella Cheng became the first male Chinese to graduate from Harvard Medical school, and was the only licensed Chinese doctor in New England for about the first half of the 20th century.

Dr. Cheng was a native born American citizen, born in Hawaii in 1877, and eventually entered the University of California. In his senior year, he moved to Boston, transferring to Harvard University, and then the Medical school, graduating in 1909.

The first mention of Dr. Cheng in a magazine or newspaper was in The Chinese Students Monthly, January 1911, which briefly noted, “The November meeting of the Harvard Chinese Club was held at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Ensang Cheng, Cambridge, where there is a piano.”

During his school years, around 1908, Dr. Cheng married Evilda C. Nielson, a white woman and socialite from California. However, the marriage only lasted for about five years, as in 1913, Evilda filed for divorce, alleging her husband choked and struck her. She asked the court for $200 a month in alimony and to retake her maiden name, Evilda C. Nielsen.

Evilda claimed that Cheng earned about $500-$1,000 a month (about $13,500 to $27,000 in today’s dollars), which was certainly a lucrative practice. In China, it was common practice to pay doctors only while you were well, but Cheng preferred the American way of paying when you were sick. Throughout the years afterward, his medical practice would remain quite lucrative.

Around March 1914, Evilda was granted a divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty, which Dr. Cheng didn't contest. The Boston Globe, March 21, 1914, quoted Dr. Cheng as stating to the court “that so far as she was concerned intermarriage of the white and yellow races was a failure.” Evilda receoived only  $100 a month in alimony.

In 1914, Dr. Cheng had his office at 7 Tyler Street in Chinatown, and he was the only licensed Chinese doctor in New England. His waiting room occupied the first floor of a small brick building, and also evolved into a gathering place for the better educated in Chinatown. To enhance this, Dr. Cheng ordered a significant number of books from China, starting a free Chinese public library, the only one outside of San Francisco. As Chinese books in the U.S. were rare, this free library was quite valuable.

The Boston Herald, April 12, 1914, also alleged that Dr. Cheng came to the U.S. 17 years ago, about 1897, after graduating from Pey-Yang University in Southern China. However, this was the only mention I found of his attendance at this university, and based on the other references, this might have been an error. The newspapers also noted that Dr. Cheng had worked in a number of Boston hospitals, thus not just treating those in Chinatown.

There was a brief mention in the Boston Globe, January 23, 1917, that during Chinese New Year, numerous Chinese gathered at Dr. Cheng's offices on Tyler Street. What this meant would be explained four years later, and this could have been an annual activity during Chinese New Year.

In the Boston Post, September 12, 1918, it was reported that Dr. Cheng, of 25 Tyler Street, was appointed an assistant to the registrars of the Selective Draft Board No.5 of 42 Court Street, so that he could help to register over 100 Chinese for the draft call. The article also mentioned that Cheng was born in Hawaii 31 years ago and came to Boston on 1906. Cheng is a native born American citizen; born in Hawaii 31 years ago; educated at Harvard and graduated from Harvard Medical School; came to Boston in 1906;

Chinese New Year once again. There was a curious article in the Boston Post, February 7, 1921, which discussed Chinese New Year and Dr. Cheng, stating, “Dr. Cheng is Chinatown’s official physician. He is paid by the year to keep them well.” So, it seems that some official Chinatown body likely paid his salary, although it wasn't identified.

The article also mentioned that many Chinese in lodging rooms didn’t have bathrooms, and that it was primarily the wealthy that had bathrooms in their residences. In what might have been an annual New Year’s tradition, numerous Chinese went to Dr. Cheng’s office to take a bath! That's probably why they were gathering at his home back in 1917 too.

Unfortunately, Dr. Cheng would have a series of legal entanglements throughout the next twenty years. The beginning was reported in the Boston Globe, February 4, 1923, where Dr. Cheng, who was still the only licensed Chinese physician in Boston, was charged with selling two packages of morphine, containing 40 grains, to a unnamed girl. Federal agents also searched his office and found another 20 grains of morphine. Dr. Cheng was ultimately fined $200 for this offense. 

In 1926, Dr. Cheng was living at 58 Oak St, Boston, and owned a summer home, for the past three years, at Shore Acres, Egypt Beach (in Scituate). He made extensive improvements to his cottage there, using Chinese mechanics, and it was considered to be an odd design. During the summers, he entertained lavishly.

However, in August 1926, Dr. Cheng was arrested, charged with performing an illegal operation, an abortion, upon Erma Warfield Sawin, a 21-year-old undergraduate of the Sargent School of Physical Education in Cambridge. She was also an instructor of athletics at Andover playground and the niece of Judge George Warfield. The girl's health was initially in serious condition at a hospital, although she recovered.

At this time, abortions were illegal although there were a number of doctors who would covertly perform the operation. Cheng denied any involvement and, initially, Sawin refused to identify the boy responsible, or the doctor. However, she later identified Cheng as her doctor and it was learned the young man responsible was a Harvard student who had fled the state and was with his parents in Indianapolis or Minneapolis.

The ultimate resolution wasn’t mentioned in the newspapers but, a later police record of Dr. Cheng made no mention of this incident. Thus, it's possible that the charges against Dr. Cheng has been dropped for some reason.

There was an intriguing, brief article in the Boston Globe, June 5, 1933, titled, “Enraged Cat Bites Three in Chinatown.” An alley cat severely bit 2 children and a man, and then was hunted by nearly a score of police for 4 hours, from 6pm-10pm, before the cat was finally cornered and shot to death in a dark cellar at 18-20 Oxford Place. Dr. Cheng treated all three of the cat's victims.

More legal woes for Dr, Cheng. In December 1934, Dr. Cheng and five other men were arrested, with Cheng being chased with receiving stolen property and being an accessory after the fact of robbery. A 700 pound safe was stolen from the home of Thomas Le Torney of the South End of Boston. The safe was taken to a barn on the estate of Dr. Cheng in Reading, where it was opened and allegedly found to contain $150 in cash and $5000 in jewelry.

Dr. Cheng claimed that he had innocently rented the barn to the other five men, and had no knowledge of the theft of the safe. Fortunately, in January 1935, Cheng was found not guilty of all charges. 

By March 1937, Dr. Cheng was remarried, to Linda Basse, the owner of a large chicken farm on West Street, Reading. In March, Linda had a cousin from Italy who had been told she might soon be deported. Linda went to a fortune-teller for advice, a "gypsy couple" with an office on Stuart Street, Boston. She alleged they assaulted her and stole $3500. The police noted Linda had facial bruises and a bit mark on her left arm. She also required stitches for a wound on her head.

The couple tied up Linda, taping her mouth shut, and left her in a locked, second-floor room. Linda was able to break a window and call for help. It was later learned the couple escaped in a taxi and an alert went out to the police stations in Boston. 

In May 1937, the couple, Rose Bimbo and her husband, James Miller, who ran a tea roman fortune-telling business on Stuart Street, were arrested in Indianapolis, Indiana. The article also noted that Dr. Cheng's wife was named Linda Vasse (different surname from the prior article). However, the Indianapolis police alleged that Rose and James didn't fit the description provided by the Boston Police. Mrs. Cheng was shown photographs of the pair and she identified them as her assailants.

At this time, the couple were identified as Rose Bimbo, age 26, and her boyfriend, Charles Pienton, age 24. They were extradited to Boston, and were to face trial at the end of May. They were convicted and Rose received a sentence of 15 years at the Sherborn Reformatory, the longest sentence ever imposed on a woman in Suffolk County, while Charles received five years in the Concord Reformatory. 

Four years later, Dr. Cheng was arrested once again, for performing another abortion, although the case this time was much more series. In October 1939, the police arrested Cheng and Henry McCue, a florist and state prison parolee, on the charges of kidnapping and illegal surgery, an abortion, on 16 year-old Catherine Theresa Dulong, who lived in Woburn. The police searched Dr. Cheng's 70 acre estate in Reading, including his 12 room house and poultry farm, in an attempt to locate the body of Catherine Dulong, as the police chief though she was dead.

Both Cheng and McCue initially denied any responsibility, with Dr. Cheng claiming the girl was brought to him with a sexually transmitted disease. Catherine's mother, Mary Dulong, alleged she had taken her daughter to see Dr. Cheng on September 3 and 19th, and that she last heard from her daughter, by telephone on September 23. The Dulongs lived at 68 Park Street, Woburn, and the family included father John Dulong, a WPA worker, and eight children.

Henry J. McCue, age 34, lived at 164 Waverly Road, Woburn, and had been working as a florist since his release frm state prison. In March 1931, McCue, with another man, was sentenced to 15-20 years for attacking two girls. However, a few months later, the girls went to court and recanted their story, getting charged with perjury. The Governor then commuted the sentence of the two men to 5-7 years. McCue was paroled 2 years later, although his record indicated he had been previously arrested 20 times for various offenses.

Catherine Dulong was described as being 5 feet, 4 inches in height, and weighing 110 pounds. She had black hair, brown eyes and “...said to be extremely attractive, appearing more as a young woman of 19 or 20 than one of 16." 

Mary Dulong said that when her daughter called her on September 23, Catherine stated she was still at Cheng home and wanted her mother to pick her up. For some reason, her mother didn't go to Cheng's that day to pick up her daughter. When Mary called Dr. Cheng on September 25, he claimed that Catherine was no longer at his game. Mary allegedly knew of her daughter’s pregnancy early in September and that a married man, possibly McCure, encouraged Catherine to get an abortion.

In November, McCue was allegedly being cooperative with the authorities and told them that he had heard from Catherine on October 18. It was possible that she was still alive and just ran away from the area. The newspapers never mentioned that she was found. 

Despite McCue’s cooperation, both men were tried in this matter and in January 1941, they were both found guilty for conspiracy to commit an illegal operation. They received a sentence of 2 years in the house of correction. Cheng also temporarily lost his license to practice medicine.

In January 1946, Dr. Cheng, now of 79 Harrison Avenue, had his physician’s license restored, and he returned to running his private medical practice. He was actually appointed by Mayor Curley to be the director of a tuberculosis program for the city health department but Dr. Cheng resigned within 24 hours of his appointment. He said the pressure of private practice made him impossible to carry out his duties in the official post. Dr. Cheng remained free of legal entanglements after this point. 

As of April 1956, there was a second licensed Chinese physician in Boston, Dr. Stanley L.F. Chin of 92 Hudson Street. 

Unfortunately, two years later, in June 1958, Cheng, at age 81, passed away due to a heart ailment. It was noted that he had been a staff physician at the Boston City Hospital for many years and also briefly taught at Harvard Medical school. In addition, he was long active in civic and charitable circles. He was survived by his wife Linda and two adopted children, William and Lana.

Cheng was a pioneer in New England, the first licensed physician, and had a successful practice for many years. He was well loved in Boston, heavily involved in supporting the community. His legal troubles didn’t appear to hurt his reputation, and he was likely one of numerous doctors who performed similar operations, albeit illegally.

My Research resources for this article included:
Biddeford Daily Journal (ME):
January 31, 1941
Boston Herald (MA): April 12, 1914; October 27, 1939
Boston Globe (MA): March 21, 1914; January 23, 1917; February 4, 1923; August 7, 1926; June 5, 1933; January 25, 1935; March 12, 1937; May 6, 1937; May 12, 1937; May 22, 1937; November 3, 1939; November 10, 1939; January 24, 1941; January 25, 1941; January 29, 1941; June 25, 1958
Boston Post (MA): September 12, 1918; February 7, 1921
Boston Traveler (MA): May 21, 1946; April 19, 1956
Chinese Students Monthly, January 1911
Elyria Chronicle Telegram (OH): August 6, 1926
Evening Gazette (MA): June 11, 1937
Evening Star (D.C.): August 6, 1926
Hammond Times (IN): August 6, 1926
Honolulu Advertiser (HI): October 29, 1939
Jefferson City Tribune (MO): August 11, 1926
Lowell Sun (MA): August 6, 1926; December 14, 1934; October 27, 1939; October 28, 1939
Medford Mail Tribune (OR): December 16, 1934
Naugatuck Daily News (CT): August 7, 1926
Patriot Ledger (MA): November 6, 1925
San Francisco Call (CA): August 31, 1913
Springfield Republican (MA): December 16, 1934

Monday, June 14, 2021

Rant: How Many Restaurants Have Closed Due To the Pandemic?

We're well aware that the pandemic significantly impacted the restaurant industry. As the states start to lift pandemic restrictions, these restaurants can start to recover as more and more customers can dine-in rather than just obtain take-out and delivery. 

One question that comes to mind is: How many restaurants permanently closed due to the pandemic?

It's estimated that pre-pandemic, there were about a million or so restaurants nationwide. Normally, about 50,000 restaurants close each year, due to a myriad of reasons. Some of the latest data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that about 90,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long-term, which would be about 9% of all restaurants, and only 40,000 more than usual. 

In Massachusetts, it's been alleged by the MA Restaurant Association, since at least June 2020, that about 20% of local restaurants closed. However, no breakdown of those numbers, such as by city/town, have been provided, and the alleged numbers haven't changed or been adjusted in the past year. National numbers have certainly changed since last June, so it makes sense that local numbers would have changed as well. So, the MRA numbers may not be accurate as of time. 

During the pandemic, numerous new restaurants have also opened. A CBS article, from May 2021, discussed some recent statistics concerning new restaurants. For example, in the last three months of 2020, Yelp added 18,000 new spots to their platform. And according to the Census Bureau, in January and February 2021, there were about 50,000 applications for new food businesses. 

In the end, the pandemic has hurt the restaurant industry, in the number of closings, far less than the direct predictions from a year ago. Roughly, about an additional 4% of restaurants closed above the usual annual number of closings. For those closed restaurants, this was definitely a terrible occurrence, and should not be dismissed. However, if we just look at the overall industry, it has struggled but it could have been far worse.

More restaurants could still close, which is why restaurants need our support now more than ever. Even those restaurants who haven't closed, have often faced a significant loss of income. Some are clinging to existence, hoping that the lack of restrictions will save them. Just because the worst case scenarios didn't occur doesn't mean the impact hasn't been significant. 

We need to patronize restaurants now, as much as possible, to help them survive. We should also tip well. Every restaurant that must close adversely affects so many people, from the owners to the servers, from the suppliers to the customers. Fortunately, the pandemic wasn't as devastating to the restaurant industry as it could have been, but the industry definitely still needs our assistant and patronage. We have the opportunity to patronize our favorite restaurants, so we need to take that opportunity. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

New Sampan Article: An Early History of Chinese Laundries in Boston

"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 twenty-three articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, An Early History of Chinese Laundries in Boston, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. During the 19th century, the most prevalent occupation for Chinese men who settled in the Boston area was being a laundryman. This was also true for many cities across the country, especially as Chinese had few available options, being barred from many other occupations. Let's explore these early Chinese laundries in Boston, from the first in 1875. 

I'm currently working on a new article for the Sampan.

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!  

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well. ****************************************************** 
1) Celebrating Boston-area culinary talent, over-the-fire cooking, and the defeat of a global pandemic, Blue Barn Outdoor Living will be hosting a special culinary event, The Landing, featuring food and drink from Boston’s top chefs at Chef Will Gilson’s The Herb Lyceum at Gilson’s, in Groton, on Sunday, June 27, from 4pm-8pm.

The Landing features a celebration of beer, spirits, fire, food, and live music. The event will feature six local chefs using their creative culinary (and pitmaster!) chops to prepare signature tasting dishes on the new UFO firepit and cook system by Blue Barn Outdoor Living alongside a cocktail to complement their offering; live music; drinks; and more.

Participating chefs include:
Will Gilson (Puritan & Co. and The Lexington)
Daniel Bojorquez (La Brasa)
Peter Ungar (Tasting Counter)
Douglas Williams (Mida)
Patrick Basset (Forge & Vine)
Colin Lynch (Bar Mezzana and Black Lamb)

Featured live musical acts include:
Romance Novel
Moe Poper & Christopher Talken As “Lethal Weapon”

Tickets cost $140 and include all food, cocktail samples, two drink tickets, and performances. Attendees must be 21+ and are respectfully requested to be vaccinated as this will be a mask-less event designed to recapture the norms the culinary world has all worked hard and waited a long time for.

Please visit HERE for more information or to purchase tickets.

2) On Thursday, June 24, from 7pm-10pm, join Pedro Martinez, Carolina Martinez, and other special guests on Casa Caña’s courtyard patio for the fiesta of every foodie and Red Sox lover’s dream! Raising critical funds for The Pedro Martinez Foundation’s community center in the Dominican Republic, the exclusive event will feature live music, passed bites from Casa Caña’ delicious taqueria-inspired menu, drinks, and of course.... Pedro himself.

Ticket packages begin at $95 with all proceeds benefiting the Pedro Martinez Foundation. To purchase tickets, or to learn more about the event, please visit HERE.