Friday, July 10, 2020

Việt Citron: Fresh & Tasty Phở, Bánh Mi & More

A number of restaurants opened during the beginning of 2020, and then the pandemic struck, temporarily closing these spots and then eventually allowing them to open with significant restrictions. One of those new spots is Việt Citron, a Vietnamese restaurant located on the Middlesex Turnpike in Burlington, near to H-Mart. I dined there once before the pandemic struck, and I've since dined there several times once it reopened. Overall, it's an impressive restaurant with very fresh and delicious Vietnamese food, and I highly recommend it.

The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team, Howard Lee and Tran Lee (also known as Ngoc Lee), and this is actually their first restaurant venture. They want to being authentic Vietnamese food to the area, choosing to offer a small, selection of dishes, made from scratch and using many local ingredients. An admirable objective and it's certainly the type of restaurant which appeals to me.

Chopping some Crispy Pork Belly!


Prior to the pandemic, the restaurant seated about 30 people in a very casual setting, though there isn't any interior dining right now. Currently, the restaurant has limited hours of operation, from Thursday to Sunday, 11am-7pm, so you can stop by for lunch or dinner. They offer take-out, delivery, and have a few outside tables in their parking lot, where I've dined several times. The menu is also currently limited, and there are some minor changes week to week.

The Menu has four Lunch Deals ($13-$16) on Thursday and Friday, from 11am-2pm, such as Bánh Mi & a Fresh Drink and Wicked Rice Bowl & a Fresh Drink. There is a Seasonal Special, Bò Lá Lốt ($14), and Specialities, including Bánh Mi ($12)Wicked Rice Bowl ($12) and Bánh Hỏi Bowl ($13.50). There are a number of Sides, such as Summer Rolls ($6.50), Mama Tran's Chả Giò ($7.00), and Grilled Asian Eggplants ($13.50). There is usually a Soup choice, which changes on a regular basis, and currently they offer three types of Beef Phở ($13-$15).

In addition, they offer several Pound/Bulk Order products, great if you are having a group of people at your home. You could get an order of 20 Frozen Mama Tran's Chả Giò ($38), 16 Summer Rolls ($49), 1 pound of Salt Roasted Crispy Pork Belly ($16.95), or Grilled Garlic Tiger Prawns ($24). I haven't ordered any of these items yet, but their Pork Belly is on my short list.

Prior to the pandemic, I enjoyed an ample bowl of their Tru-Việt Phở Gà: Hà Nội Style, which is made with 12 hours chicken bone broth, Phở rice noodles, chicken, cilantro & scallions, and served with bean sprouts & fresh herbs and a chili lime sauce on the side. They offered three different types of this Phở, including Tru-Việt Phở (local cage-free chicken), Naked Phở (boneless chicken), and Plain Phở (no meat).

During the winter, this was the perfect dish to warm the belly. There was a freshness to the ingredients which appealed to me, and that has remained a significant aspect of all their dishes. Everything tastes so fresh, and it's clear their vegetables haven't been sitting around wilting. The Phở broth was complex and flavorful, relatively clear, and each spoonful was pure hedonistic pleasure. The chicken was tender and meaty, and the noodles had just enough firmness to them. It was also an aromatic dish, the smells delighting you even before you take a taste. I need to check out their Beef Phở.

Mama Tran's Chả Giò are crispy fried egg rolls wrapped with ground pork & shrimp and seasonal vegetables, and accompanied by a chili fish sauce dip. Unlike the egg rolls you might be used to at Chinese restaurants, these wrappers are made from rice paper and are much thinner and lighter, though with a pleasant crunch. The interior is tasty, with a nice blend of meat, seafood and veggies, that works harmoniously together. The sauce has a mild heat which compliments the egg rolls.

The Summer Rolls are made from fresh rice paper rolls wrapped with pork, shrimp, herbs, lettuce, and vermicelli, and come with a peanut sauce dip. Instead of the pork and shrimp, you could select tofu or grilled sirloin. The translucent wrappers show off the plump shrimp inside. Again, the summer roll has a delicious blend of flavors with an emphasis on freshness. The peanut sauce added another level of complexity to the flavors.


Their iconic Bánh Mi is made with an artisan Vietnamese baguette, pickles, jalapeños, cilantro, signature aioli, garlic soy reduction, and you get a choice of a protein, including lemongrass sirloin, Big A** chicken, grilled prawns, crispy pork belly, or crispy tofu puffs. I opted for the pork belly and it was an excellent choice. The pork belly was tender and crispy, with crunchy bits and soft fat, and there was an ample amount within the sandwich. The freshness of the other ingredients, including the baguette, stood out and each bite beckoned you to have another. Again, the blend of flavors and textures worked very well together and I look forward to enjoying plenty more of their Bánh Mi in the future.

The Bánh Hỏi Bowl ($13.50) comes with square rice noodles, lettuce, fresh herbs, cucumbers, pickles, scallion oil, ground peanuts, and a choice of protein, along with a side of chili garlic fish sauce. I chose the lemongrass sirloin, tender and aromatic beef, enhanced by the crunchy peanut bits and fish sauce. The square rice noodles are little light packages of noodles, and can easily be dunked in the sauce. Freshness is the rule here as well.


Bò Lá Lốt is basically Grilled Lolot (also known as Betel) Leaf Beef, where the tender beef is wrapped in the thin leaves and then grilled. They can be added to a Bánh Hỏi Bowl or a Wicked Rice Bowl, which was my choice. This was another aromatic and delicious dish, and each beef roll was flavorful, moist and compelling. There were also slices of cucumber and Asian pear, and the pear was a slightly sweet and pleasant addition to the dish.

This dish is traditionally paired with Mam Nem Sauce, a pungent fermented fish sauce (usually made from fermented anchovies) and mixed with chili, lemongrass, and pineapple. It is not recommended for beginners, who might want to stick with their regular chili garlic fish sauce instead. Personally, I quite enjoyed this sauce, and didn't find it to be overly pungent bur rather had an intriguing and rather alluring aroma. I also loved the umami of this complex sauce, which had elements of both heat and sweetness. It enhanced the flavor of the Bò Lá Lốt and I could see it working well with other dishes too.

If you want a hot and spicy sauce, you could try their Mama Trans Chili Garlic Paste, which possesses an intense heat, as well as a nice depth of flavor.

Service has been excellent, as well as personable and accommodating. Việt Citron is still a new restaurant and it certainly needs your support in these troubled times. Your support is completely justified as they offer fresh, delicious Vietnamese food, a welcome addition to the Burlington region. I've thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Việt Citron and will be returning regularly. Check it out, get Phở, Bánh Mi, or another dish and you'll understand why I'm impressed.

What are you waiting for? Việt Citron is open all weekend.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) Uni, on Commonwealth Ave., has now opened the Uni Clam Shack! From Tuesday through Sunday, from 12pm-4pm, their Takeout Window will be open for a special Summer lunch. You can order items including Fried Clams and three different types of Lobster Rolls: Classic (with celery, Japanese mayo, lemon), Warm (butter poached), and Chilled Brown Butter (brown butter mayo, bacon). You can order online at Toast for a quick pick-up or visit them to order in person. You can also order from their usual Take-out menu as well, from Sushi Wagyu Beef Dumplings.

2) Woods Hill Table in Concord has launched a special BBQ menu that they will offer, for take-out or outdoor dining, every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer from 5pm-8pm. Woods Hill Table has added picnic tables for outdoor dining, and seating will be on a first come, first serve basis. Take out orders can be placed HERE or by calling 978-254-1435.

Chef Jesse’s Famous BBQ Menu (Pick 2 protein, 3 sides $55)
Proteins
--Smoked Grass Fed Beef Brisket
--Pulled Woods Hill Table Pork Shoulder
--State Fair BBQ 1/2 Chicken
Sides
--Chef Matt's Mac and Cheese (Elbow Mac, Aged Cheddar)
--"Boston" Baked Beans (Woods Hill Farm Bacon, Brown Sugar)
--Red Potato Salad (Whole grain mustard, Scallions)
--Cole Slaw (Celery Seed, Buttermilk)
--Uncle Jesse's Cornbread

Woods Hill Hot Dog Plate $22
2 grass fed all beef hot dogs (cheddar aioli, bacon bits, scallions)
pick 2 sides

Dessert
Pier 4 Chocolate Cake (Vanilla Icing) $4

3) Puritan & Company’s Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury have worked with the team at Cambridge Crossing to create a new outdoor dining experience for the Summer months. Starting Thursday, July 16, Will Gilson and his team will debut “The Lexington at Picnic Grove in Cambridge Crossing”. It will be a new outdoor dining venue at the soon-to-open Cambridge Crossing development.

A completely outdoor venue, The Lexington at Picnic Grove by the Puritan & Company team is going to be a max of 80 guests, seated at socially distanced tables. The menu will include beer and wine, along with summertime favorites like burgers, hot dogs, lobster rolls, etc. There will also be some special menu items through the season that they will be testing out for The Lexington menu. Reservations will be required and can be made through opentable.com.

The name “The Lexington” came from one of Will Gilson’s three venues opening up at Cambridge Crossing in Early Fall 2020. The venues will be named The Lexington, a rooftop bar; Geppetto, an approachable Italian concept; and Café Beatrice, an all-day café.

The menu will include:
Appetizers including Oysters, Grilled chicken wings, Grilled bacon wrapped scallops, Potato chips & za’tar onion dip, and Buttered lobster toast
Grill including Wagyu hot dog, Grilled burger, Tacos (Fish, chicken, or impossible), Spice-roasted Cauliflower quesadilla, Lobster roll, and Chopped salad
Dessert including Sundae cup, Pistachio rice krispie treat, and Cookie bag (assorted 3)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Rant: Losing Taste & Smell

At this point, in less than six months, approximately 132,000 people in the U.S. have died from the Coronavirus, and of that amount, about 8,200 people have died in Massachusetts alone. Some people think our fears of the virus are irrational, and have even made silly statements such as you have a greater chance of dying from food poisoning than the virus. Such a load of BS.

In the U.S., about 3,000 people die each year due to food poisoning. In half that time, the coronavirus has already killed 132,000 people, about 44 times the amount who die annually from food poisoning. Just consider that statistic. It would take 44 years of food poisoning deaths to be equal to the amount of people who have already died from the coronavirus.

However, though death is the worst result of the coronavirus, we cannot ignore that the survivors may also acquire permanent and debilitating side effects. Just because you survived the coronavirus doesn't mean you have returned to your pre-virus health condition. Specifically, I want to address the matter of losing your sense of taste and smell. There isn't sufficient data yet about this problem, but the evidence does show it's very common for those who get the coronavirus to have a diminished sense of smell and taste. That diminishment remains with some people even after the coronavirus is gone.

A person close to me, who had the coronavirus about three months ago, still has a diminishment of their smell and taste. They might never regain their pre-virus smell and taste. And that is a scary and terrible situation! Would you want to lose your sense of smell and taste? Would you want a loved one to lose those senses? I very much doubt it.

For a food and drink writer like me and many others, that could be devastating. For chefs, cooks, wine makers, distillers, and those in similar positions, it would also be devastating. Even the average person would likely feel devastated if they could no longer taste their food, or if it tasted strangely different than it once did. It's not just some minor side effect of the coronavirus. This is a worrisome side effect that we must also consider when evaluating coronavirus risks.

There are other potential permanent effects from the coronavirus which could adversely affect your health. I just concentrated on one in this article. I know other people with other lingering conditions, which pose serious health threats. We can't just evaluate the danger of coronavirus by how many people it kills, even though that number is high. We have to also consider all of the potential risks to those who survive the disease as well.

Would you want to lose your sense of smell and taste?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

After a hiatus, due to many restaurants having been closed, I'm back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.

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1) Davio's is now offering a special New England Clambake. This classic summer meal includes Maine Lobster, New England Clam Chowder, Little Neck Clams, local corn, baby creamer potatoes, and blueberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream - all for $65 per guest. It's available for patio or in-door dining at the Seaport, Chestnut Hill, Lynnfield, Braintree, and Foxborough locations. Or you can order this spread to-go for any summer celebrations at your home.

2) The Tasting Counter, led by Chef Peter Ungar, is one of my top favorite restaurants, will be opening next week, at 50% capacity, meaning they will go from a 20-seat restaurant to a 10-seat restaurant. Their first dine-in service will be Friday, July 10. They will offer 2 seatings on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Between services, they've built in a 30-minute buffer to mitigate congestion with guests coming/going, as well as to ensure adequate time for their staff to completely sanitize and clean the restaurant before and after each service. You may purchase tickets online here.

3) Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano has recently reopened three of his restaurants, and his fourth will open very soon. Prezza, Tonno Wakefield, and Tonno Gloucester are now open, with both outside and inside dining available. The Blue Ox will reopen on July 8, apparently for inside dining only, and they will also have a new menu incorporating the signature dishes of The Blue Ox. Reservations for all four spots are strongly recommended and can be made online.

4) Puritan & Company, led by Chef Will Gilson, has just reopened their interior dining room and they also have a small patio. Check out their list of some of the safety precautions they have taken to enhance the safety of their customers. Take out will still be available during this time, and they will be offering their famed Brunch on Sundays. Reservations must be made.

5) Tambo 22, led by Chef Jose Duarte, is located in Chelsea and opened just a short time before the pandemic so I haven't dined there yet but I'm excited to check it out. It offers Peruvian cuisine, from Ceviche to Paiche, and the Menu looks exciting. They are now open for patio dining or inside dining,  with all of the proper safety precautions.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Rant: Dining Out This Holiday Weekend

During the last few weeks, the weather has been usually pleasant, making outside dining even more attractive. With the dangers of Covid-19 still facing us, some restaurants have chosen to provide outside dining, from patios to tents. Although restaurants can also provide some limited inside dining,  many consumers are wary about doing so, especially considering that issues about HVAC systems have not really been resolved.

I've been dining outside at several different restaurants, such as Prince Pizzeria, District Kitchen and Feng Shui. So far, I've felt safe at all of the places where I've dined and these restaurants seem to be following proper safety precautions. The food has been delicious, and the experience almost seems normal once again. None of these restaurants were especially busy when I dined there, and they certainly deserve more patronage, which they could still handle properly.

We all have seen how initially outdoor dining in the North End raised some concerns, but the state quickly took action to remedy the situation.  And since that time, I haven't seen any additional concerns raised, and possibly all of the North End restaurants are now taking the proper precautions. And if they don't, they could lose the ability to offer outside dining.

With the July 4 weekend upcoming, and the weather looking like it will be quite nice, outdoor dining might be on the agenda for many people. In general, that is a very good idea, helping restaurants which have endured harsh financial issues during the last several months. It can be a pleasant experience, enjoying the summer, dining on tasty food and maybe having a refreshing cocktail, beer, wine or nonalcoholic beverage.

However, the beautiful weather and holiday could bring out large crowds of people, and some restaurants might be tempted to bend safety precautions to cater to all of these potential customers. I understand their desire, wanting to earn as much money as they can, but they MUST still follow all proper safety and health standards. We do not want a new surge of Covid-19 cases, which might lead to people dying as well as businesses being shut down once again.

In addition, customers must play their part, following required safety precautions and not trying to bend the rules. Don't be selfish! Think about everyone else dining near you, and the danger you place them in if you refuse to follow safety precautions. Wear a mask when required, and wear it properly, covering both your mouth and nose. Socially distance when necessary, and don't crowd other people. Restaurants and customers both must work at making outdoor dining safer for everyone.

We can safely enjoy excellent experiences while dining out this holiday weekend. Don't be part of the problem!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Prince Pizzeria Under The Big Top

Now that some of the Covid-19 restrictions have been loosened, a number of restaurants have been offering outside dining, and inside dining has also recently begun in some places. I've dined at some outdoor spots during the last few weeks, including a few times at Prince Pizzeria on Route 1 in Saugus.

For 59 years, Prince Pizzeria has been serving pizza, pasta and more. If you grew up in the area like I did, you probably visited Prince as a child. I've never stopped going there either, and still regularly dine there for lunch. I used to especially go for their pizza & pasta buffet, though that may not return because of the virus and safety concerns. However, there are plenty of reasons to still dine at Prince, and their new exterior tent offers increased safety while dining there.

The large tent is set in their parking lot, to the left of the restaurant, and seats about 90-100 people. Two of the sides are open, allowing plenty of fresh air to circulate. And with a closed side facing Route 1, you don't have to watch the passing cars as you dine.

The interior of the tent is spacious, with all the tables properly spaced apart. And when they seat people, they have tried to keep a good distance from others already there. All the servers wear masks, and guests must wear masks unless they are sitting at their table.

On one of the occasions, I received an Italian flag, which is supposed to be used to summon one of the servers if you need anything. A nice little addition.

Prince currently offers their entire menu, from pizza to pasta, steak tips to chicken marsala. Plenty to choose from and all reasonably priced. As I was there for lunch, pizza was my choice, such as the basic Cheese. Sometimes simplicity is what you desire, especially when it is done well. Prince's pizzas are their own unique style, reminiscent in some respects to Greek pizza but with their differences as well. The cheeses, sauce and crust form a delightful combination, pleasing the senses, as well as the soul. It's just pizza but then it's also so much more.

The Scampi Pizza is made with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, a blend of cheeses, and no sauce. Again, it's a relatively simple pizza but well executed, with a rich garlic flavor, tender shrimp and lots of tasty cheese.

Owner Steven Castraberti has been at the restaurant every time I have recently dined there, and he has been ensuring everything runs smoothly. He's not some absentee owner, but a man with a passion for his restaurant, a man who takes an active role in its success. The longevity of the restaurant, when so many other restaurants on Rt. 1 have closed over the years, is a testament to the family's dedication.

I'll also note that Giggles, Prince's comedy club, is being moved outside as well, with weekend shows planned. This will help to ensure proper social distancing, rather than trying to space everyone in a small room within the restaurant.

If you haven't been to Prince Pizzeria in a long time, if at all, then please check it out. Dine outside, under the tent, and you should feel relatively safe. They are working hard to make a safer environment for all and are worthy of your patronage. It's a difficult time for all restaurants right now and they need our support. Get some pizza and pasta, maybe wine or a cocktail, and enjoy a pleasant lunch or dinner at Prince Pizzeria.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The First Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown: A Deeper Look Into Two Restaurants (Part 8)

As I've mentioned before, my series on the First Restaurants in Boston's Chinatown began as a single article and eventually expanded to a seven-part series as well as two other related series and a number of additional articles. I consider it all to be a work in progress, as I continue to conduct new research, seeking other resources and information. Over time, these articles will continue to grow, becoming more and more comprehensive.

My newest article here takes a deeper look at two Chinese restaurants, one located in Boston's Chinatown and the other in Cambridge. These restaurants might share much in common with other Chinese restaurants of this time period, and thus present us with a better overall understanding. In addition, the information I consulted for this article points to a new source of untapped information which could provide even greater insight into the history of Chinese restaurants in Boston's Chinatown and Chinese restaurants all across Massachusetts.

Recently, I was contacted by Dr. Raymond Douglas Chong, who had read some of my Chinatown articles, and he shared some information about members of his own family who had once been involved in Boston's Chinatown. Dr. Chong also previously wrote an essay about his family in Boston's Chinatown. Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea: Chinese and Japanese Restaurants in the United States, edited by Bruce Makoto Arnold, Tanfer Emin Tunc, and Dr. Chong. In addition, there's information about his family in Sweet and Sour: life In Chinese Family Restaurants by John Jung.

Most enlightening though was that Dr. Chong sent me a copy of the Immigration & Naturalization file of Chung Moi, his grandfather. That file contained plenty of fascinating information about two Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts, an intriguing insight into the workings of these restaurants. It also indicated that the Immigration & Naturalization files of other Chinese who worked in restaurants in Chinatown could possess valuable information. I owe Dr. Chong a debt of gratitude for sharing this file with me.

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Dr. Chong's great grandfather, variously named Zhang Pei Lan, Pui Lan Chung and Hoy Lun Chung, came to Boston around 1892, and was the owner of a gambling hall and opium den in Boston's Chinatown, and possibly part of the On Leong Tong. At a later date, he also became a silent partner in the Imperial Restaurant in Cambridge. He might also have been a silent partner in a dry goods and food products store in San Francisco. In various newspaper archives, I was unable to find any additional information about his great grandfather.

Various sources provide numerous different names for Dr. Chong's grandfather, including Zhang Xi Shou, Zhang Yang Shou, Jung Thlick Sue, Chung Thlick Sue, Moi Chung, Chung Moi, and Chung Moy. And he is at the center of this article, and the subject of Immigration & Naturalization file, No. 2500/3190, which contained documents dated from 1921 to 1940.

As a bit of legal background, 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.

If a Chinese merchant, who was legally in the U.S., wanted to return to China for a visit, he might have difficulty returning to the U.S. unless he acquired a re-entry permit. To obtain such a permit, he had to prove that he qualified as a merchant. In early 1921, Chung Moi filed an Application of Lawfully Domiciled Chinese Merchant, Teacher or Student, for Preinvestigation of Status, as he wished to visit China. In addition to his application, he also had to undergo a verbal examination, and his file contained a transcript of that examination.

The application indicated that Chung Moi, who lived at 21 Harrison Avenue, was a partner in the Royal Restaurant, having acquired a $1700 interest in 1918. The names of some of the other partners were provided, though as they were written in cursive, it's not easy to decipher the names. Chung signed the application in both Chinese and English, giving his name in English as Chung Moy.

The transcript, dated May 13, 1921, provided a wealth of details. His "given name" was stated to be Chung Moi and his "school name" was Jung Thlick Sue. He also stated, ” I am of the Jung family.” At this time, Chung was 26 years old and worked as a manager at the Royal Restaurant in Boston's Chinatown.

As for Chung's history, he was born in China and came to San Francisco in 1912, where he stayed for about 3 years in a grocery & jewelry store. In Sweet and Sour, it was claimed that Chung's father was a silent partner in this store. Chung next moved to Boston, where he worked as a manager at the Imperial Restaurant in Cambridge for two years. On December 1, 1919, Chung began working at the Royal Restaurant, which had opened over ten years prior.

Kee Yow had been the manager at the Royal but sold his $500 interest to Chung. This amount is different than the $1700 listed in Chung's application, so it's possible that Chung acquired a larger interest some time after 1919. The restaurant actually had 42 partners, although only five were active, which now including Chung. The additional active partners included Ng Chung, who worked as a cashier and had a $1400 interest, Wong Foon, who worked as a cook and had a $300 interest, Lang Yow, who worked in the kitchen and had a $200 interest, and Quong Kwok Kee, who worked as a waiter and had a $100 interest. The total interest of all of the partners was $15,490.

The Royal restaurant, which occupied two floors, could seat over 100 people, and was protected with about $12,000 in insurance. They paid a monthly rent of $275 to the building owners, the S.Y. Tank Co. The restaurant made over $6,000 a month and in the previous year paid 10% in dividends to the partners. Chung originally received $90 a month in his position as the manager, but that amount had recently decreased to $70 as business had been dull.

A letter from the Commissioner of Immigration in East Boston, dated May 14, 1921, noted that “The Royal Restaurant is a first-class restaurant occupying two floors at 16 Harrison Ave., and is a reputable establishment.”

According to a letter from Chung Moy, dated June 16, 1923, he previously left the U.S. on June 16, 1921, traveling to the Man Yuen Lung & Co. in Hong Kong. He was now preparing to return to the U.S., having left Hong Kong on July 9, 1923 on the S.S. President Grant. According to Sweet and Sour, while Chung was in China, he married Huang Qin Chun and they had a son, Zhang Bao Shen, aka Chung Gim Suey, in 1922. When Chung returned to the U.S. in 1923, leaving his family behind in China, and then became a partner in the Imperial Restaurant.

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Let's divert for a moment to discuss the Royal Restaurant. The Boston Globe, August 18, 1899, mentioned a Chinese banquet that was held at the Royal Restaurant on Harrison Avenue. The exact opening date of this restaurant is unclear but the Boston Globe, October 24, 1900, provided a notice that the partnership of the Royal Restaurant Company, located at 19 Harrison Avenue, was dissolved by mutual consent and the business sold to the Hong Kwai Hong Co., who would continue to operate a Royal Restaurant at 19 Harrison. It is also unclear if this restaurant was connected to the Royal Restaurant which would eventually be located at 16 Harrison Avenue. The last mention I found of a Royal Restaurant at 19 Harrison Avenue was in 1904.

The Boston Register and Business Directory (1914), compiled by Sampson & Murdock, had a listing for the Royal Restaurant at 16 Harrison Avenue. This is the first reference I found of the Royal at this address.

The Boston Globe, February 17, 1917, presented the advertisement above for The Royal Chinese American Restaurant, located at 16 Harrison Avenue. The restaurant apparently felt the need to indicate its independence from any other restaurant. It's possible this meant it wasn't connected to the Royal Restaurant that was at 19 Harrison.

This was also one of the first newspaper ads to reference “Chinese American” as nearly all of the previous restaurant ads referred only to “Chinese” restaurants. Many of the advertisements that now started being published combined the two cuisines, Chinese and American, likely trying to draw in more non-Chinese customers.

The Boston Herald, June 8, 1927, published a notice that Ming Toy, of Boston, bought the “good will and business” of the Royal Restaurant, at 16 Harrison Avenue, from Ng Chong


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Chung's Immigration & Naturalization file also had a transcript, dated August 29, 1929, of his examination for another re-entry permit. It was noted that Chung Moi bore Certificate of Identity #7951, issued on July 6, 1912 in San Francisco when he was 17 years old, and admitted into the U.S. as a Section 6 Hong Kong student. Chung's given name was Chung Thlick Sue and he was born in the Yoong Lo Kong village, Hoy Ping district, China. At the time of the examination, Chung was described as 34 years old, 5' 5", and his occupation was a merchant, the manager of the Imperial Restaurant at 2 Central Square, Cambridge.

The transcript also revealed that Chung Moi was an active partner in the Imperial Restaurant, with a $700 interest which he purchased from Jung Hoy Lan on December 1, 1923. It seems very likely, based on his name, that this was his father, who had been a silent partner in the restaurant. Chung also replaced Howard Chew as the manager.

There were 33 partners in the restaurant, though only 7 were active. The active partners included Howard Chew (also known as Ju For), who worked as a cashier and buyer and had a $500 interest, Chu Chung (also known as Phillip Chu), who worked as a cook and was in charge of the kitchen, and had a $500 interest, Chu Jung Yu, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest, Quan Chuck, who worked as a waiter and had a $500 interest, Ling Gim, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest, Chu Yick Yin, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest. The total capitalization of the restaurant was $13,500.

The restaurant's partnership book was submitted as evidence, and there was a question as of November 16, 1923, there were 34 partners listed. However, the extra partner was Ung Shu Hung, who was a silent partner with an interest of $200, and he sold his interest back to restaurant on February 3, 1929.

As the manager, Chung earned a salary of $100 per month, which was verified by the restaurant's salary book for the last 12 months. The restaurant, which sat about 170 people, leased their second-floor location, and their lease was set to expire in 1931. The premises had about $18,000 in insurance, including fire, plate glass and liability. It was also claimed that the restaurant did about $4,000 a month in business and the books showed that the restaurant made an average of $3500 a month for the last 12 months. This is significantly less than the $6,000 a month that the smaller Royal Restaurant had made when Chung was the manager there.

It was also mentioned that Chung had a wife, blood son, and two step sons, though their names was not provided. The reason Chung had applied for this re-entry permit was that he intended to visit Hong Kong again, leaving from Seattle, Washington.

A few witnesses also testified on behalf of Chung Moi. The primary question put to these witnesses centered on the following issue,  “The Chinese Exclusion Act defines a merchant as one engage in the buying and selling of merchandise at a fixed place of business, which business is conducted in his name, and who during the time he claims to be so engage, does not perform any manual labor except such as is necessary in the conduct of that business. In the case of a Chinese person claiming to be a merchant because of being connected with a restaurant, that he has performed no manual labor whatsoever during the material period, which is 12 months, just past last.”

One of the witnesses was Herbert Potter, a coffee and tea salesman, who sold his products to the restaurant. Another witness was Freeman Emerson, who worked at General Insurance in Boston, and had been involved in the insurance industry for about 25 years. Interestingly, he claimed to handle the insurance needs of about 90% of the local Chinese. He had known Moi since when he worked at the Royal Restaurant. The third witness was William Toohey, the sole white man employed by the restaurant. He was variously described as a porter, janitor and floor washer, and had worked at the restaurant for 12-14 years, earning $40 a month.

All three witnesses testified that they had only known Chung as the manager of the Imperial Restaurant, and had never seen him working as a waiter or in the kitchen. It was also noted that Chung, along with Phillip Chu, were the only ones who signed checks for the restaurant.

In a letter, dated August 31, 1929, from the U.S. Chinese Inspector to the Commissioner of Immigration in East Boston, Massachusetts, it stated,  “The Imperial Restaurant No.2 Central Square, Cambridge, Mass., accommodates about 170 people, is nicely fitted up and caters to a good class of trade and occupies the whole of the second floor at that address, which is divided off into three dining halls, kitchen and storeroom.” The inspector was also satisfied that “Chung Moi has maintained a mercantile status in accordance with the requirements during the material period.”

For unknown reasons, Chung Moi never traveled to China in 1929, and documents from 1940 indicated that Chung was requested to surrender his unused re-entry permit for his Certificate of Identity. At this point, Chung had moved from Massachusetts and lived at 339 ½ East First Street, Los Angeles, California. He surrendered the re-entry permit, and there was nothing else in his file.

************
Let's divert for a moment to discuss the Imperial Restaurant. Though the restaurant opened in October 1915, it encountered some obstacles, primarily due to racist fears that young women would be corrupted. The Boston Globe, June 23, 1915, noted that the Cambridge board of Aldermen engaged in considerable debate about whether to transfer a common victualler’s license to the proposed new restaurant. The license was to be transferred from James Ort's restaurant at 545 Massachusetts Avenue to his new spot at 2 Central Square, Cambridge. The board though just recently learned the proposed new restaurant was to serve Chinese cuisine.

Alderman Thomas Kennedy, the chairman of the committee, opposed the idea of having a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge and stated there was also opposition from local clergymen and others. Two other Aldermen spoke out in opposition while four Aldermen favored the license. However, the matter was tabled.

The Cambridge Sentinel, June 26, 1915, provided some more details, such as that James Ort previously ran Loud’s Lunch at 545 Massachusetts Avenue. The article also mentioned the opposition to the granting of license, stating “A number of the Aldermen claimed that it would be conducive to immortality, as young girls would most likely be enticed to up there.” The same, unfounded racist fears propagated in numerous cities and towns across the country. Two backers of the new restaurant, Elmer H. Bright and Harris Ginsberg, stated they would ensure it was properly conducted. It was also noted that the new rent for the premises would be six times the present rental.

The primary owner of the new restaurant was mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle, July 31, 1915. Chin Fook & Co., merchants and bankers located on Harrison Avenue in Chinatown, took out the long lease on the Cambridge property. They took out the victualler's license in the name of James Ort, who was part of the company. The license had originally been taken out for a property at 545 Massachusetts Avenue, but that spot proved to be too small for their plans for a grand Chinese restaurant.

The Cambridge Tribune, October 2, 1915, had an advertisement for the Grand Opening of the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, offering Chinese and American foods. There would be “Special Table D’Hote Dinners, 25 cents to $1.50 per plate” and "A La Carte Bill-of-Fare", including "Chinese Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Soups, Candies, Nuts and Preserves--Chicken, Lobster and Oysters Served In All Styles.

In describing the Grand Opening, the Cambridge Sentinel, October 9, 1915, stated that the Imperial Restaurant was “one of the most elaborately equipped Chinese restaurants in the State." In addition, the article mentioned that “James Ort, the manager, has created a favorable impression on Cambridge people already, and will undoubtedly prove a popular man.” Elmer Bright, who was previously mentioned to be one of the restaurant's backers, was noted to be one of the owners of the building.

The restaurant proved to be quite popular, as noted in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 6, 1915, which also stated, “Perfect cooking is the policy here.” The photo above from that newspaper showed some of the typical guests at the restaurant. Plus, the article stated, “James Ort is the manager of the dining room, and shows that he is one of the shrewdest men of his native land.”

The restaurant was also said to be run quite well, and in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 27, 1915, it was noted that one of the aldermen who had previously opposed the transfer of the victualler's license, now was supporting the idea. The Boston Globe, December 1, 1915, then reported that the Board of Aldermen met the previous night and finally granted James Ort a common victualler’s license for the Imperial Restaurant. As I've mentioned in prior articles, a restaurant could open without such a license except they needed the license to operate on Sundays, open considered one of the most profitable days.

As a follow-up, the Cambridge Sentinel, December 4, 1915, received a letter to the editor from Alderman Thomas Kennedy, who had led the initial opposition to the granting of the license. He stated that the original application had been made about 7 months ago, but was denied about a month later.  Kennedy had generally been opposed to Chinese restaurants, worried that they led to immorality and would be a detriment to the community.

However, he noted in his letter that “...the Imperial Restaurant has been in business a sufficient time in which to demonstrate its character and to prove the assurance of its proprietor. It has been visited by the best people in the city, and I have heard nothing but praise alike for its clean character and its excellent service; Mr. Ort has renewed his petition for a license; no reason now to refuse it a license." This paved the way for the license to finally be granted.

A couple months later, it was stated in the Cambridge Chronicle, February 12, 1916, that the partnership of Chin Fook and James Ort had been dissolved by mutual consent.  James Ort was now a partner in the restaurant, with Quan Soon You and others, after they bought our the interest of Chin Fook, who had previously been the controlling owner. Ort was going to continue to work as the manager.

The Cambridge Chronicle, January 4, 1919, stated that the new Strand restaurant, at 575 Massachusetts Avenue, over the entrance to the new Central Square theater, was opening with James Ort as the manager. So, it appears that Ort had left the Imperial Restaurant. So, in 1923, Chung Moi was able to come to the Imperial, become a partner and the manager of the restaurant.

For about the next twenty years, ads for the Imperial Chinese Restaurant would be regularly printed in various newspapers, though the restaurant didn't appear to be mentioned in many articles. There didn't appear to be any significant problems with crime, or any issues about morality.

The Boston Herald, April 1, 1927, did report on a large fire that started on the 3rd floor of the four-story brick block at 1-5 ½ Central Square, where the Imperial Restaurant was located. 11 Chinese, employees of Imperial restaurant, were asleep in a dormitory on the 4th floor but they were awakened and no one was injured. The restaurant underwent some repairs and the Boston Herald, May 1, 1927, had an ad mentioning that the Imperial was open again and newly renovated. And during this time, the Cambridge Tribune, April 30, 1927, mentioned that the Imperial had received permission to allow dancing.

The Cambridge Sentinel, August 11, 1934, reported that the Imperial Chinese Restaurant was still as popular as ever. Chop suey remained very popular, as was take-out. The restaurant also offered music, both from a piano and the radio. The newspaper also stated, “The same high grade management continues.” However, in 1936, Chung Moi decided to sell his interest in the restaurant and move to California.

The end of the restaurant was sometime in 1948, as noted by a Boston Herald, August 1, 1948, publishing an ad for an auction sale of the equipment of the former Imperial Restaurant. However, I didn't find the reasons for what was likely the bankruptcy of the restaurant. It's possible they weren't able to weather the travails of World War II, and couldn't come back once the war ended. However, they thrived for over thirty years, solidifying a spot in the history of Chinese restaurants in Cambridge.

************

In comparing the Royal Restaurant and Imperial Restaurant, we see that the first one had a seating capacity of about 100 while the second count seat about 170 people. These were both larger-sized restaurants and required a fair amount of capital to establish. The Royal had a capitalization of $15,490 while the Imperial had $13,500, garnered from 42 partners and 33 partners, respectively. This can provide some foundation for speculation as to other Chinese restaurants during this period.

The five active partners at the Royal had interests ranging from $100 to $1700, while the seven active partners at the Imperial averaged at $500 interest each. It generally cost about $500 to start a Chinese laundry, and starting a restaurant was more expensive, and beyond the means of many Chinese. That is an important reason why so many Chinese started laundries rather than restaurants. However, by forming larger partnerships, Chinese could become part of a restaurant for a similar investment to starting a laundry.

As for the active partners, they all worked in the restaurant, occupying positions from waiter to cook, cashier to manager. How many waiters in modern restaurants are active partners in a restaurant? Very few. Little was said about the silent partners in these restaurants, except the one time they received dividends of 10%.

We also got a small glimpse into some of the monthly wages of the restaurant workers, such as Chung who received a salary ranging from $70 to $100 a month as a manager. We also noted that a janitor/porter was paid $40 a month for his services.

As for the restaurants' incomes, the Royal was earning about $6000 a month while the Imperial only earned about $3500. Considering the low cost of much of the Chinese cuisine, these restaurants were likely doing a very good business, especially the Royal. Today, that monthly $6,000 would be equivalent to about $86,000, equating to about $1 Million a year. And the monthly $3500 would be equivalent to about $52,000, equating to about $624,000 a year.

************

This has been a fascinating and deeper dive into the history of the local Chinese restaurant industry. More research is certainly warranted into other Immigration & Naturalization files of Chinese restaurant merchants. It would help to build a more comprehensive view and history of Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts, and elsewhere. And I'll continue to expand these historical articles. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

New Sampan Article: Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur (Part 2)

"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 mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. I've previously written three articles for Sampan, including, In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in ChinatownMalden’s First Chinese Restaurant, Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants, and Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur (Part 1). My newest article, the second of two parts, is now available, Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur (Part 2).

Around 1929, an enterprising and pioneering Chinese woman, Ruby Foo, seized an opportunity, thwarted norms, and opened a Chinese restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. Her story is fascinating though unfortunately her life was far too short. Despite dying too early, Ruby made a significant impact, and her legacy is and should still be cherished.

This second part of my article discusses the success of Ruby Foo, from Chinese food delivery to expanding her restaurant empire to other parts of the country, from canned Ruby Foo's Den food to her eventual acquisition of a liquor license. Two of her children continued to operate the restaurant after the passing of Ruby Foo, earning accolades from the press for their excellent management of this iconic Chinese restaurant. Ruby's tale is fascinating and her endeavors helped to define and shape Boston's Chinatown.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which will be published next month.

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!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rant: Nothing Wrong With Hot Dogs & Ketchup

In the movie Sudden Impact, Inspector Harry "Dirty Harry" Callahan stated, "Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog." When Anthony Bourdain asked President Barack Obama whether you should put ketchup on a hot dog, he replied, “It’s not acceptable past the age of 8." The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council also has declared that, "Don't...Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18." In Chicago, they are especially virulent against the use of ketchup on hot dogs.

Start a conversation on social media about ketchup and hot dogs and you'll hear many adamant, and even vehement, admonitions that you should never put ketchup on a hot dog. It can be a divisive topic, one filled with emotion, and will likely come to the forefront once again as the summer season begins, and backyard grilling ensues.

Contrary to the haters, I like ketchup on my hot dogs and I'm here to defend my stance and shatter the myth. Some of the haters have no actual reason for their opposition to ketchup, simply taking it as an article of faith that it doesn't belong atop a hotdog. For those with a rationale, the primary reason for their opposition to the use of ketchup on a hot dog falls apart when the facts are properly considered and analyzed.

Why so much hate for ketchup on hot dogs? At its heart, the most commonly stated reason is that ketchup is too sweet. However, that reason fails to be convincing with further analysis. First, there are numerous different types of ketchup on the market, with varying degrees of sweetness, including some which are far more savory. Thus, you can't generalize about ketchup because of its diversity. Second, many people approve of chili on hot dogs, yet they don't seem to realize that ketchup is an  ingredient in a number of chili recipes. You might then have ketchup on your hotdog and not even realize it. However, chili is considered an acceptable hot dog topping, despite potentially containing ketchup.

However, for the most compelling argument, we must look at the famous Chicago-style hot dog, especially that the city is so strongly anti-ketchup. Their hot dog is topped by a mound of ingredients, including yellow mustard, chopped white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomatoes, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt. With all those ingredients, can you really appreciate the hot dog itself? The numerous condiments seem to be the star of such a hot dog.

In addition, and most importantly, this Chicago-style hot dog generally contains more sugar than a hot dog covered with just ketchup! It seems rather disingenuous for Chicagoans, and others, to complain that ketchup is too sweet yet their own famous toppings present even more sugar.

Let's consider the sugar levels of a few toppings. In general, ketchup contains about 3.5-4.0 grams of sugar while sweet relish has about 4.0-4.5 grams of sugar. So why is sweet relish acceptable, despite its high level of sweetness, while ketchup is disdained? It makes no logical sense and destroys the argument that ketchup is too sweet for a hot dog. In addition, the average tomato contains 3.0-3.5 grams of sugar, making it the second sweet ingredient on the Chicago dog. Plus, Vienna sport peppers have about 2 grams of sugar and dill pickles have about 1 gram of sugar.  meaning there are three sweet ingredients. That means a Chicago dog could possess three times the amount of sugar found in ketchup alone.

The opposition to ketchup as being too sweet on a hot dog clearly falls when you look at it rationally. The famous and well-accepted Chicago-style hot dog is much sweeter than a hotdog merely slathered with ketchup. Since the sweetness argument has been put to rest, what other complaint can you have about the use of ketchup?

In the end, we also have to remember that this is just a simple hot dog. It isn't haute cuisine. It commonly includes meat trimmings and fat, spices and preservatives. So what's the big deal about what some people choose to put on it? Why be a snob about putting ketchup on such a plebian food? Get off your high horse about what you think is an acceptable condiment for a hot dog. Ketchup isn't the villain so many claim it to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Happy National Iced Tea Day

"Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths.”
--John Egerton

Today is National Iced Tea Day, a holiday I fully embrace. Every day, year round, I drink unsweetened iced tea. I'll drink iced green tea, black, tea, white tea, flavored teas, and more. It's simple, refreshing, and only has about 2 calories.

Iced tea was invented in the U.S., likely sometime during the 1800s in the South. There is a legend that iced tea was created in 1904, during the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, by an Englishman Richard Blechynden. However, there is clear evidence iced tea existed before 1904, so Richard may be considered more the popularizer of iced tea rather than the actual inventor.

After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. But, in the U.S., tea occupies the sixth position, after water, soda, coffee, beer, and milk. About 50% of Americans drink tea daily but not as many cups each day as coffee. The greatest number of tea drinkers are located in the South and Northeast regions.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, "In 2019, Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of tea, or more than 3.8 billion gallons. About 84% of all tea consumed was black tea, 15% was green Tea, and the small remaining amount was oolong, white and dark tea." And who is drinking this tea? "Approximately four in five consumers drink tea, with Millennials being the most likely (87% of millennials drink tea)."

A fascinating fact is that approximately 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced. That certainly shows the vast popularity of iced tea, which in its sweetened version is a staple in the South. Despite this popularity, iced tea can be difficult to find in restaurants during the winter months, though those same spots offer still have iced coffee available. Iced tea should be a year round drink, and not just a summer special.

Do you enjoy iced tea? If so, do you prefer it sweetened or unsweetened? Have you used iced tea in cocktails?

Monday, June 8, 2020

New Sampan Article: Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur

"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 mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. I've previously written three articles for Sampan, including, In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in ChinatownMalden’s First Chinese Restaurant, and Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants. My newest article, the first of two parts, is now available, Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur.

Around 1929, an enterprising and pioneering Chinese woman, Ruby Foo, seized an opportunity, thwarted norms, and opened a Chinese restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. Her story is fascinating though unfortunately her life was far too short. Despite dying too early, Ruby made a significant impact, and her legacy is and should still be cherished.

At the time she opened her restaurant, there were about 3000 Chinese men in Chinatown and only 150 Chinese women. And nearly all of those women were home makers so it was revolutionary for Ruby Foo to open her own restaurant in such a male-dominated area. Ruby Foo's Den became immensely popular, especially with celebrities from all over the country. The restaurant also was likely one of the first Chinese spots to offer "take-out" food.

Ruby's tale is fascinating and her endeavors helped to define and shape Boston's Chinatown. I'm currently working on Part 2 of Ruby Foo's story, which should be published in the next issue Sampan, sometime later this month.

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!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Celebrating Local Diversity: People of Color Blogging About Food & Drink (Updated)

"So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
--American History X

In July 2015, I first published this post and considering recent events, the murder of George Floyd, the hate that is spewing from ignorant racists, the protests, the violence and more, we need to stand united against the forces that seek to divide our country. We need to embrace diversity, opening our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. Embracing diversity will only make us better human beings. And don't we all want to be better people?

As a tiny contribution to this issue, I want to once again showcase local people of color who blog/write about food & drink. I want to bring to the forefront all the valuable contributions and unique voices of these bloggers. And it is certainly time for an update. In light of recent events, it would likely benefit us all to post about it again.

I've been blogging about food and drink in the Boston area for over 14 years, and the vast majority of bloggers I've seen at local events have been white. I've spoken about this before, stating we need to find ways to attract more people of color to these events. An initial step would be to identify those people of color who blog, to showcase their talents. This could be a motivation for other people of color to get involved and start blogging too. It will also present blogs with different voices, a way for all of us to expand our own experience and knowledge.

The following is an initial list of people of color, living in New England, who blog/write about food and/or drink. This is by no means a comprehensive list but provides a starting foundation. Check out these food & drink blogs and I am sure you will like what you find.

If you are or know of any other local people of color with food & drink blogs in the New England area that are not on this list, please have them send me their info, including their name, URL and a brief description of their blog, and I will add them to the list.

Embrace diversity!

Bianca of Confessions Of A Chocoholic

Chanie of Life By Zen: Chanie shares her adventures and experience with delicious foods, drinks especially great wines, and life in Boston. She cooks and is always testing new recipes or looking for fun foods but prefer to talk about her food adventures and dining experiences.

D. of A Little Bit About A Lot Of Things: This is a food and lifestyle blog. D has been been writing since 2010 and her photos have appeared in Boston Magazine, Boston Common, Thrillist, BostInno and others.

Fiona of Gourmet Pigs; Gourmet Pigs was started in Los Angeles in 2007 and Fiona moved to Boston in 2014. The blog reviews restaurants, bars, and events in the two cities and wherever she travels to around the globe.

Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen

Korsha of Korsha Wilson

Kristina of Appetite For Instruction

Lisa of Anali's Next Amendment: Lisa writes about life, food and current events. She’s been blogging since 2006 and is a freelance writer and attorney. She regularly writes for LegalZoom and manages Free Yoga Boston. She’s also an organizer and contributing editor at Kwanzaa Culinarians, where recipes and food stories from the African Diaspora are shared.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

New Sampan Article: Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants

"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 mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. My first article for the Sampan was In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown and my second article was Malden’s First Chinese Restaurant. My latest article is now available, Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants.

Today, Quincy has plenty of excellent Chinese restaurants, as well as other interesting Asian restaurants, but when was the first Chinese restaurant founded in that city? In my new article, you'll learn about its first Chinese restaurant, established in Quincy in 1916. Its opening brought some controversy, primarily because it possessed a large, illuminated flag. The restaurant only lasted a year, when it was destroyed by fire.

The second Chinese restaurant opened in 1919, and it too had a controversy over signage. Both of these Chinese restaurants were rather unique in Massachusetts, because they were not founded by Chinese, bur rather by whites, though they did hire Chinese cooks. Learn more of the details about these early Chinese restaurants in Quincy in my full article.

In addition, in my article, I mention three Asian spots of note that currently exist in Quincy, including The China, maybe the only Chinese restaurant and Sports Bar in Massachusetts, MoMo Café, where you can find unique and delicious Durian Doughnuts, and Chili Square, where you can order Duck Wings, Heads and Necks.

I'm now working on my next article for the Sampan, and thinking of ideas for future articles.

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!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Rant: The Future of Restaurant Reviews?

Some restaurants will likely open in June, though at a limited capacity. Some might only offer patio dining at first. Others will wait until July or later to open. And when they open, all restaurants will institute significant changes, enhanced safety measures to protect their customers and employees. This will be new territory for everyone, trying to balance the new, enhanced safety concerns with the desire to provide a pleasant dining experience. It will seem, in some respects, like these are all new restaurants.

How should food writers review restaurants during this time?

There are many questions to consider concerning this issues and it might benefit food writers if they engage in conversations about these matters with their peers. I don't have all of the answers, especially as I've just started conceiving of the questions. Sure, some of the basics of restaurant reviews will remain the same, although there might be a need for some alterations. Let's consider some of the issues to ponder.

First, maybe we should consider when would be the appropriate time to review these newly opened restaurants. Do you give them three months before reviewing them, providing necessary time to adjust to all of the changes? Would it be fair to review them earlier than three months, especially when this is all so new to everyone? Maybe we should wait even longer than three months. If you do review a restaurant earlier than three months, your review should provide caveats about the shortness of the time frame, and that restaurant deserve time to adjust and work out all of the potential problems of this new paradigm.

Second, restaurants may only have limited menus at first, so that is something to consider. Should they be penalized for such a limited menu? Will it depend on how long that limited menu exists? Restaurants might initially have supply issues so that should be a consideration.

Third, how do you assess the ambiance of a restaurant under all of the new safety measures? It certainly won't feel as intimate as it once did. It also won't feel as lively and exciting, as when a restaurant was busy and crowded. Would you penalize the restaurant for lacking a proper ambiance when they are simply trying to make everyone safer? In one positive aspect, the noise level of restaurants, which has been a common problem for some places, should be alleviated at most spots.

Fourth, how do you assess service? Initially, service might not be up to par considering all of the new safety measures, such as the wearing of masks by employees. Why penalize the service when they are also trying to keep others safer? Restaurants might initially be under-staffed as well, so service might not be as quick as usual. It is a learning curve for all.

Fifth, how should pricing be evaluated? It is possible that some restaurants will raise their prices, trying to recoup money they lost during the pandemic, as well as trying to pay their employees better. Restaurants margins have been notoriously low and this pandemic pointed out the problems with such a system. Restaurants need to make more money to be able to survive, so we should expect higher prices, and we should be willing to pay them. As a corollary, I would suggest tipping well when these restaurants reopen.

Sixth, will reviews now include a section on safety measures, and how a restaurant measures up in this regard? Will these reviews criticize restaurants for failing in some safety measure? Does the public want such information?

There are certainly other questions that should be addressed as well. It's a complex issue and I'm sure there will be plenty of different opinions on the answers to these matters. At its most basic, I think food writers need to be fair in their reviews, to consider the uniqueness of the position of restaurants at this time. They haven't had to deal with a pandemic like this before, and all of the numerous changes required to increase the safety of their guests and employees. They will try to do their best, but some mistakes might be bad.

Plus, after being closed for these months, or doing only take-out/delivery, there's probably not a single restaurant that hasn't suffered significant financial difficulties. Some of these restaurants may have to close. They might not have sufficient resources to continue operations. And a bad review, within the first couple months of their reopening, could be a death knell. And it probably wouldn't be fair to review them so soon.

All food writers who write restaurants reviews should consider these questions. Talk with your fellow writers about these issues too. We shall soon enter a new world with our restaurants and we need to create new maps to navigate through all these changes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A History of the Sherry Cobbler (Early 20th Century)

Recently, I posted A History of the Sherry Cobbler (19th Century), exploring the origins and early history of this delicious cocktail. Now, I'm extending that exploration of the Cobbler into the 20th century. As the century began, Sherry Cobblers were still popular but that popularity would wane over the years, and as I said before, it's time for a comeback.

As the new century began, The Times (D.C.), January 20, 1901, published an article, Origin of Mixed Drinks, presenting origin tales for a number of cocktails, such as the Mint Julep, and related terms, such as "cocktail" (said to be of Mexican origin). There was also mention of the origin the “Cobbler.” It stated, “Very many years ago an ingenious shoemaker devised a warm drink compounded out of beer, spirits, sugar, and spice. This he called ‘cobblers’ punch,’ and the concoction becoming widely known and very popular, it was, in due time, carried into this country. Here, however, it was adapted more especially for warm weather in which form it was composed of wine, sugar, lemon, and powdered ice, imbibed through a straw. There are various kinds of ‘cobblers,’ but a ‘sherry cobbler’ is most frequently called for.”

The St. Joseph Gazette-Herald (MO), July 5, 1901, noted the popularity of Sherry Cobbler, especially during the summer. "There is a great demand for beverages of a light order and bartenders claim it is hard to say whether mint-juleps, sherry cobblers, lemon sours, or plain lemonade is the favorite." The article continued, "Light wines are also quite popular with sherry cobblers at the head of the list. The bulk of this liquid is simply plain water with plenty of ice and a few spoons of sherry floating on the surface." This seems to have been a much milder version, with far less Sherry, of the traditional Sherry Cobbler.

President Grover Cleveland enjoyed Sherry Cobblers. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 27, 1901, published an article by W.T. Sinclair, Steward for four U.S. Presidents, discussing some of the foods and drinks that were prepared for those Presidents. It was mentioned that Richard Watson Gilder, a poet and newspaper editor, was a great friend of President Cleveland and would always make him Sherry Cobblers when he visited. The recipe for his Cobbler is presented above, and that recipe would be reprinted in numerous other newspapers around this time period. For example, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (HI), June 20, 1909, stated, “President Cleveland was notably fond of sherry cobbler, the recipe for which he received from a friend.”

Sherry Cobblers beginning to wane in popularity? The Augusta Chronicle (GA), June 8, 1902, noted that "Mixed drinks have nearly gone out of fashion in New York. Visiting Englishmen, indeed, still call for the gin sling, the brandy smash, and the sherry cobbler,...but the every-day New Yorker seldom orders any such refreshment save for spectacular effect."

In addition, the Duluth News-Tribune (MN), July 6, 1902, had an article about a Philadelphia bartender who recently had a customer ask for a Sherry Cobbler. The bartender stated, "I don't know when I've had a call for a sherry cobbler before. I've almost forgotten how to make one. You see, we don't have the call for fancy drinks that we used to have even in warm weather. The high-ball, which is just whiskey and seltzer with a lump of ice, seems to have driven the mixed drinks to the wall."

Cobbler recipe. The Augusta Chronicle (GA), August 25, 1904, in an article on simple cooling drinks provided some instructions to make a Sherry Cobbler. "Cobblers are capital summer drinks and easy to make if one has a shaker or 'medlar.' Take a sherry cobbler, for instance. Put a tablespoonful of sugar into a glass, a slice of orange and a few bits of pineapple. Shaved ice is next added to nearly fill the glass, after which sherry--not too much--and shake thoroughly. Ornament the top with a cherry or berry and drink through a straw."

The New York Daily Tribune (NY), August 4, 1907, discussed some of the theaters in New York, including Niblo's Gardens, which had a theater and garden. In the garden, "one could eat a dish of ice cream or sip a sherry cobbler in luxurious shade,.."

Another recipe was provided in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (HI), May 9, 1909, in an article titled, Some Dangerous Punches. The recipe was “California Sherry Cobbler—Three tablespoonfuls of sugar, one pony pineapple syrup, fill glass with shaved ice, add one and three-eighths wineglass California sherry wine, then stir well; dash with port wine, serve with straws in large glass, and trim with California grapes.” This is a Cobbler variation, using such extra ingredients as pineapple syrup and Port wine.

There was an intriguing comment in the Oregonian (OR), May 29, 1910, which printed a fictional interview with Halley’s Comet, which has made its appearance in 1910, and its last appearance had been in 1835. “I might state that the same state of affairs prevailed when I was here back in 1835. The brandy smash and the sherry cobbler have been succeeded by the Thomas Collins and the Mame Taylor, by the cocktail and the highball,..” This passage indicated that Sherry Cobbler existed at least as far back as 1835, which certainly is a reasonable statement.

Sherry cobblers continue to wane. The Bennington Evening Banner (VT), June 8, 1909, mentioned that "Lemonade has almost ceased to be drunk as a beverage....The once much honored sherry cobbler has gone the same way, only more so."

The Calumet News (MI), July 8, 1911, published a recipe for Sherry Cobbler, which is pictured above. The fruit needed included pineapple, orange and lemon.

More origin tales. The Pittsburgh Daily Post (PA), September 12, 1911, published an interesting article, There Are Various Kinds of Cobbles, discussing the various uses and origins of that term. It stated, “A cobble means a lump. That is why some potatoes are known as cobbles. They are simply lumps. Up in Maine farmers plant anything that looks like a cobblestone and a cobble spud is grown. It cooked hard for a week the cobbles taste like real potatoes.” As for the Sherry Cobbler itself, the article noted, “The best and most popular cobbler is the sherry cobbler. It is made of sherry wine and cobblestone juice and is absorbed through a straw.” Unfortunately, there wasn't a definition of "cobblestone juice" or any indication of what it might mean.

Origin tales continued. The Boston Herald (MA), April 12, 1913, stated, “Then there is cobbler’s punch, warm ale, thickened, sweetened and mixed with spirits. Some say that ‘cobbler’ in ‘sherry cobbler’ is short for ‘cobbler’s punch’ and that it patches up the drinkers. We doubt this derivation.” It seems that no one actually knows the reason why it is known as "Cobbler" though there are plenty of theories.

Sherry Cobblers during the winter? The Evening Star (D.C.), January 11, 1914, ran an article about Winter Beverages, including recipes for drinks such as Temperance Julep, Cocoa Eggnog, Egg Milk Shake, Banana Cup, Victoria Punch, Ginger Ale Mint Punch, Pineapple Punch, and Strawberry Cocktail. Strangely, the Sherry Cobbler was also included, with the same basic recipe as the one pictured above from the Calumet News. Most commonly, the Sherry Cobbler has long been considered a refreshing drink for hot weather and this was the first time I'd seen it recommended as a winter drink.

Another Cobbler recipe. The Sun and New York Press, August 16, 1914, presented a summer beverage recipe for the Sherry Cobbler. "Place into each tumbler a wineglass of sherry, a tablespoon of Curacoa, a teaspoonful of raspberry syrup, a teaspoonful of sugar, and a strip of thinly pared orange peel. Full up each tumbler with finely crushed ice and decorate the top with a few raspberries. Serve with straws." I suspect the term "Curacoa" was a misspelling of "Curaçao," the liqueur.

The Boston Herald (MA), September 10, 1914, provided some information about an intriguing boo, The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of America Society By a New Yorker (1852) by Charles Astor Bristed. The article discussed the wealthy Harry Masters, who apparently had little to do but spend money. It also noted, "When Masters showed his guest how to make a sherry cobbler, he did not take Amontillado or Manzanilla. Either would have made the cobbler look too weak. The sherry was dark in color and high in flavor. The favorite sherry for ordinary drinking in those days was Manzanilla."

In The Upper Ten Thousand itself, there are multiple mentions of the Sherry Cobbler. For example, at one point, Masters stated, "To be properly appreciated it requires a hot day,..." Then, there was a description of his tools and ingredients that he used to make a Cobbler. "Four large tumblers, two wine-glasses, a couple of lemons, ditto of knives, a decanter of sherry (not Manzanilla, but dark in colour and high in flavour), a saucer of powdered sugar, and another of finely-pounded ice, were paraded on the table, and among them sat Masters, on the table also, examine a bundle of fresh straws."

Masters then gave a lesson to his guests in how to make the Sherry Cobbler, starting with the lemon peel, stating "...pare off the rind very carefully, taking only the yellow, and not cutting into the white at all." He continued, "Sometimes you will see slices of lemon put into a cobbler--nothing can be more destructive; avoid everything but the yellow peel. If you will have something more, put in a slice or orange or pineapple, or a few strawberries."

He even gave advice on how fast to drink the cocktail. "Now don't drink it too fast. You should take a quarter of an hour to each glass. Three glasses a piece will be enough, and we have an hour before us."

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Can Sherry Cobblers cure malaria?

The Rutland Daily Herald (VT), August 26, 1913, published an article noting that the Anderson Auction Company would seen offer up for sale the collection of John Boyd Thacher, a former mayor of Albany, New York who also wrote several books on the early history of the U.S. He collected numerous famous autographs and his collection was considered one of the most valuable in the country. The article also mentions many specific, rare autographs in the collection.

One of the letters in Thacher's collection was written by Dolly Madison, the wife of President James Madison. The Blackwell Daily News (OK), October 28, 1914, reported on the alleged circumstances surrounding this letter. It stated that Dolly had caught malaria from the Potomac flats and the Presidential physician prescribed quinine as the remedy. However, Mrs. Gouverneur Morris sent Dolly a Sherry Cobbler, recommending she try it as a substitute for the quinine. Dolly did so, and interestingly recovered. The letter, which sold at auction for $23, was a thank you from Dolly to Mrs. Morris, certifying to the positive effect of the cobbler.

This was supported in a similar article in the Brooklyn Citizen (NY), November 1, 1914. The Messenger & Intelligencer, December 10, 1914, also mentioned this matter, stating, “All this explains why Mrs. Madison was cured of malaria by a sherry cobbler.” The Chattanooga Daily Times (TN), January 6, 1915, also repeated much of the information, noting the buyer of the letter H.C. Hines. In American Book Prices Current (Volume Xxi, 1915) by Victor Hugo Paltsits, it was mentioned that this autographed letter was undated.

As background, we know that James Madison was the President from 1809-1817. Gouverneur Morris was one of the Founding Fathers, served in the Senate, and was a chairman of the Erie Canal Commission. His wife was Anne (Nancy) Cary Randolph Morris. They first met President Madison and Dolly when they visited the White House in December 1811. Gouverneur Morris died in November 6, 1816, and his wife never remarried.

I sought out a copy of Dolly's letter to Mrs. Morris, to confirm what was stated in these newspapers. The Dolley Madison Digital Edition claims to be "the first-ever complete edition of all of her known correspondence" and "As of May 2020 it is complete through 1849...." On this site, there was but a single letter from Dolly to Mrs. Morris, allegedly dated May 22, 1848. The letter is as follows:

"My very dear Mrs. Morris.
The gift from your hands is more precious than I can express—bearing in your good wishes for me healing on its wings—for these, as well as the beautiful shawl, I thank you. And—I must say that the countenance of your Husband, beaming with health & kindness, was delightful to me, on Annie’s lively eveg.
Constant affection
D.P.M."

If this letter referred to the Sherry Cobbler, it was very vague, referring to it only as a "gift." What stood out to me though was the date of this letter. The Cobbler letter was supposed to be undated, which would mean this letter wasn't it. However, the date on this letter cannot be correct. First, Mrs. Morris died in 1837, so Dolly wouldn't have sent her a letter in 1848. Second, her husband died in 1816, and she never remarried, so the letter had to have been much earlier than 1848, sometime likely during 1812-1816. The 1848 date is clearly an error, and we can only speculate as to how that occurred. Did someone read a date incorrectly? Was the date later added by one of the owners of the letter? Did another letter exist which this archive never found?

If the several newspaper references concerning the Dolly Madison letter sold from the Thacher collection were accurate, it would push back our known history of the Sherry Cobbler from the 1830s to the latter half of the 1810s. Based on our knowledge of the Thacher collection, it seems that there was no question of the authenticity of the items in that collection. So, the Dolly letter sold was most probably authentic. However, what were the actual contents of that letter? Did the newspapers create a fictional story around the contents of that letter? If so, why did they do so?

I haven't been able to confirm anything about the letter and the Sherry cobbler malaria cure in any other sources. That certainly raises the question about the credibility of the newspaper story about Cobbler as a malaria cure. There is an auction catalog detailing the Thacher collection however, it isn't readily available unless you want to spend several hundred dollars. The catalog would present more information about the letter, but it's unclear whether there would be a photograph showing the contents of the letter.

For now, this entire matter is intriguing, yet more evidence is needed to determine the truth behind all of it.

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The popularity of Sherry Cobbler continued to wane. The Boston Globe (MA), October 19, 1919, detailed the life of George Forbes, 71 years old, who had been a bartender for 44 years at the American House.  George stated, “Sherry Cobblers have been called for but little of late years, yet it used to be a favorite beverage. Catawba Cobblers also were often called for, but lately I have seldom seen the wine mentioned, even on wine lists.

Over the next few decades, references to the Sherry Cobbler diminished greatly, and most of the references were simply scattered recipes for the Cobbler. It no longer was one of the most popular drinks, and had been mostly relegated to an interesting drink of the past. In recent years, there has been some limited interest in bringing back Sherry Cobblers, but more is needed, especially as summer approaches. It's a delicious and refreshing cocktail, and relatively simple to prepare. Why not try a Sherry Cobbler, and share it with family and friends, this summer?