Thursday, January 28, 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 & 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.
1) Red 8, the traditional Chinese restaurant within Encore Boston Harbor, will be offering a Lunar New Year Feast on February 11-21 for four guests. This feast is only available for dine-in only guests. 
This will be the first Lunar New Year where the new Red 8 Executive Chef, Richard Chen, will be at the helm. Chef Chen came from Wing Lei inside Wynn Las Vegas where he earned a Michelin star in both 2008 and 2009.

There are two Lunar New Year Feasts available, one for $188 for a table of four people (with $48 more per extra guest) and another for $288 for a table of four people (with $72 more per extra guest). Some of the dishes include Braised Fish Maw Soup, Braised Sea Moss with Golden Oysters, Crispy Chicken, Steamed Fresh Whole Fish, Red Bean Jelly Cake, Wok Tossed Lobster, and Sampan Dungeness Crab.  

To make reservations, log onto For additional questions, please call (857) 770-3388. 

2) Oysters are delicious, but at $3-$4 each, they are often more of a luxury item. However, when you find $1 Oyster specials, then it's often the time to splurge on a dozen or more. Grill 23 & Bar, located in Boston's Back Bay is now offering Island Creek Oysters for just $1 each every Tuesday through Thursday, from 5pm-7pm. Island Creek Oysters are one of my favorites, and I love their briny taste. I'd recommend stopping by Grill 23 soon to savor some inexpensive and delicious oysters.

3) Local non-profit Rodman for Kids purchased $50,000 worth of gift cards from restaurants and culinary partners including Davio's, the Smoke Shop, Legal Seafoods, Flour Bakery, and more to be distributed to Rodman for Kids affiliate charities for families in need. After a year that hit the restaurant industry hard, Rodman for Kids sought to give back to the many Boston area chefs and restaurants that have supported the organization for years through their annual holiday gala, Celebration for Kids.

We at Rodman for Kids believe in community, collaboration and supporting organizations that care for and nurture youth, especially those most in need,” explained Rodman for Kids President Joe D’Arrigo. “We foster working together to achieve individual goals rather than competition. Through the years the restaurants and chefs of Boston have worked together collaboratively to support us. This was a perfect year to support them and in doing so feed families that our partner organizations care for. We believe in creating win-win scenarios." 

Rodman for Kids Executive Director Amy Rossman expressed the toll the pandemic has taken on the community, saying “Kids and families are facing unprecedented challenges as we navigate the pandemic. We could not let a cancelled gala stop us from supporting organizations who help kids overcome these challenges, and fortunately our sponsors and donors shared our resolve. We look forward to a time when we can gather for a Celebration for Kids again, but in the meantime we’re immensely grateful for a community of supporters who are committed to making a difference.

Rodman for Kids works year-round to raise funds for youth-focused social-service organizations supporting positive youth development and knows their work is a group effort amongst donors, sponsors, chefs, and more, making this latest initiative all the more important. While continuing their core-mission of helping kids and families, Rodman for Kids is excited to be able to expand their support by helping out the restaurants that have helped them make Celebration for Kids such a resounding success in the past.

4) Celebrate Valentine's Day, February 14,  from 5:30pm11:30pm, this year at Zuma, located in the Four Seasons One Dalton. Zuma will transform Valentine’s night into a Coney Island-themed getaway complete with a special omakase offering, champagne packages and special Valentine’s Day cocktails. From popcorn and snow-cones to psychic and tarot card readings, expect the unexpected as you strike a pose at the photo booth and score prizes from carnival-inspired games. 

In addition to serving up its signature menu, Chef Helmy Saadon has created a 13-course omakase experience that is as extravagant as the night’s theme. After supping East and West Coast oysters, indulge in a watercress and avocado salad, rock shrimp with lime and chili tofu, and sliced seabass sashimi with truffle. The next course includes grilled scallops and a chu toro tartare with ponzu, saikyo miso bun and caviar. For raw offerings, there is a selection of chef-selected sashimi and sushi and a fatty tuna roll with scallion and caviar. The entrée course comes fourfold with a Boston lobster served atop a miso bun, miso-marinated black cod, shiitake mushrooms with garlic and soy butter, and a US beef tenderloin with truffle ponzu and fresh shaved truffle. The culinary ride ends with a Valentine’s-themed dessert platter. 

Cost: Omakase: $135 per person; Tax & gratuity not included. A la carte items and supplemental items are priced separately.
Reservations are available by contacting (857) 449-2500 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Yuki Otoko "Yeti" Honjozo Sake: Like Melting Snow

What is that hairy creature on the label? 

It is the Yuki Otoko, the Snow Yeti. The illustration is from a 19th century book, the Hokuetsu Seppu, Snow Stories of North Etsu Province, written by Suzuki Bokushi. This book was an extensive work on the life in the snowy southern region of the Niigata region and became extremely popular. Bokushi was a textile merchant and author, and also is an ancestor of the Aoki Shuzo, the Sake brewery which now produces this Sake. The Yuki Otoko is alleged to inhabit the snowy mountains of Niigata, and sometimes helps travelers who are lost or in need of assistance in the mountains. 

The Aoki Shuzo was founded in 1717, making it over 300 years old, and it is located in Shiozawa, an area well known for both its quality rice and well water.  They are a very traditional brewery, and only produce Sake during the cold months rather than year round like some other breweries. The Niigata region is famous for producing a certain style of Sake, known as Tanrei-Karakuchi, which is light, crisp and dry. However, Aoki Shuzo aims for a slightly different style, what they call Tanrei-Umakuchi, which is crisp and dry but with more umami. 

It's also interesting to note that Aoki Shuzo donates part of their proceeds to support rescue efforts for hikers lost in the snowy mountains. emulating the Snow Yeti who was also said to assist hikers.

The Yuki Otoko "Yeti" Honjozo (about $28) is a premium Sake, made from only five ingredients: rice, water, yeast, koji-kin, and a little distilled alcohol. It was made with Gohyakumangoku and Koishibuki rice, polished down to 65%, a bit more than what is required to be a Honjozo. The Sake also has a 15.5% ABV, a SMV +8 (meaning its generally dry), and an Acidity of 1.2. It is said to be "Dry, light and clean like melting snow."It also can be served chilled, warmed, or at room temperature. 

I drank this chilled, and found it to be a clean and refreshing Sake, with a savory kick of umami. Subtle melon and citrus flavors with the umami taking center stage. This would be excellent for seafood, mushrooms, or truffle dishes. The umami of the Sake makes it even more food friendly. Or you can just enjoy this Sake on its own, slowly sipped and enjoyed. Highly recommended. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Rant: How Much Should A Bánh Mì Cost?

In general, restaurants operate on very small profit margins. That's a fact that many people need to understand. Their menu prices are not intended to gouge your wallet but rather to support the functioning of the restaurant, to pay the bills, to pay their employees, and to hopefully give at least a small profit to the owner. Those are the same basic objectives of any for-profit business. 

Some people seem to believe that if they can find a food item for a cheap price somewhere, that the same item should be priced similarly everywhere. However, just because you might be able to get a cheeseburger for $1.00 at a large chain restaurant doesn't mean all restaurants should charge that price. There are numerous factors to consider in evaluating the price of a burger and whether it's reasonable or not. 

The same applies to the famed Vietnamese sandwich, the Bánh Mì. Some local Vietnamese restaurants have offered very inexpensive Bánh Mì, from $4-$5, and that has led some to believe that Bánh Mì, at any restaurant, shouldn't cost much more than that, and especially not over $10.  

I know two newer, suburban Vietnamese restaurants which charge $11-$12 for their Bánh Mì. I consider both to be reasonably priced and I don't see any reason to complain about the prices. Both places have received some feedback from others that their prices are too high, and I've also personally heard from a few people complaining about their prices. These complainers are failing to properly take into consideration all the factors going into pricing. 

For example, what is the cost of their ingredients? If they are using higher quality ingredients, then their costs are higher so they have to raise their prices. Would you rather that they used cheaper, lesser quality ones? Are they using just any baguette, or do they have a bakery especially making baguettes for them? How much work goes into the preparation of their Bánh Mì? Are they slow cooking their meats, marinating them over the course of a day or so? Are they making their own pickled vegetables? Are they using house-made sauces?

Consider as well that these Vietnamese restaurants are generally small businesses, not some large chains. They need to price their items appropriately so that their business can survive. In addition, they are often run by passionate people who want to serve their communities, to share their love for their native cuisine. Their goal is not to become wealthy but rather to make enough to live. If you speak to these owners, you won't get the impression they are trying to gouge or overcharge their customers. They are trying to fairly price their items.

Consumers need to start paying the true value of the food they consume. They shouldn't expect that certain types of food must always be cheap. They should think about their own business, and whether they would be happy charging the lowest price in the market for their services or products. Stop complaining about  Bánh Mì prices and simply enjoy that delicious sandwich.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

New Sampan Article: A Boston Origin of Duck Sauce?

"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 fourteen articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, A Boston Origin of Duck Sauce?, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Duck sauce is ubiquitous at most Chinese-American restaurants, and you can even find it at non-Asian restaurants. However, what is its origin? Was it an American invention? Is duck sauce just a renaming of plum or hoisin sauce? I explore the origins of duck sauce and find evidence that Boston could potentially be where duck sauce acquired its name. 

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!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Soall Viet Kitchen: A Bright & Tasty Spot in Beverly

Beverly continues to become a compelling culinary destination, and a few of my favorite restaurants there include A&B Burgers, Ellis Square Social, and Frank. I'm adding a new restaurant to my list of favorites, Soall Viet Kitchen, a Vietnamese spot which is located on Rantoul Street and open for lunch and dinner, from Tuesday to Sunday. 

This is actually a second location, the first being the Soall Bistro in Marblehead which opened in March 2012. The two owners are Sa Nguyen and Mia Lunt, close friends who desired to offer authentic Vietnamese cuisine, to highlight the culinary delights of their homeland. The name "Soall" is connected to their families, a combination of Nguyen's mother's name, Soa, and the first letters of Lunt's sons' names, Logan and Liem. As their website states, "Fresh herbs & vegetables, quality ingredients and minimal use of oil make Vietnamese one of the healthiest cuisines." 

I've had lunch three times at Soall (once comped by the owners), and intend to return to try more of the menu, as well as to enjoy some of my favorite dishes again. I've met and conversed with both Sa and Mia, who are very personable and obviously passionate about Vietnamese cuisine. They want to show their customers more than just Bahn Mi and Pho, to let people experience all the other culinary treasures to be found in Vietnamese cuisine. Even though this is their second location, they still have the difficulty of opening a new restaurant in a different city. In addition, opening any restaurant during the pandemic has plenty of its own obstacles. In short, I've generally been impressed with the quality and taste of the dishes I've eaten. 

The restaurant has indoor dining, and the tables are well spaced, and as soon as the Spring weather arrives, they will open their patio. Take-out and delivery are also available, and during my visits, take-out seemed popular.  They have future plans to open a small market within the restaurant, selling Asian items as well as some of their prepared foods. I'm eager to see this market come together.

Besides the regular tables, they have several seats at a small bar adjacent to the counter where you order your food. 

The Menu has plenty of options, and though much is authentic, they also allow themselves room for some creative takes. There are five main sections to the menu, such as Snacks & Salads (12 options, $5-$9), Bowls (vermicelli noodles, jasmine rice, or greens with 2 toppings, meat, poultry, seafood, veggie, $17), Noodles Soups (5 options, $14-$15), Bahn Mi (6 options, $11 each), and a few Special items like a Caramelized Pork Chop ($19) and Shrimp Tamarind Soup ($16). Prices are reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients, the work that goes into the creation of each dish, and their taste. 
They also sell wine, beer, and hard seltzer, and there appears to be some good choices available. Would be nice to see some Sake available, as it would pair very well with the cuisine. 

The Pork & Prawn Egg Rolls ($6) are also made with carrot, onion, taro, and glass noodles. An excellent, crispy and thin skin, with a tender, flavorful filling. Much lighter than the typical Chinese egg roll. 

The Spring Roll ($4) is available with shrimp, beef, chicken or tofu, and I opted for the Shrimp. As can be seen through the thin rice paper, the roll contained three good-sized shrimp, as well as a spring mix, cucumber, and mint. It was accompanied by a hoisin sauce and sriracha. Very fresh and light, with plump and tender shrimp. And that sriracha is hot! 

One of my favorite dishes was the Sweet Potato & Shrimp Fritters ($7), with sweet chili sauce. It was as if they made crisp noodles, though still with a touch of softness, out of the sweet potato and molded them together around a couple plump shrimp. A fine blend of flavors and textures, these fritters were excellent comfort food and the chili sauce was a nice accompaniment. I actually ordered these on two of my visits as I enjoyed them so much. Highly recommended.

I received a couple of the Braised Pork Ribs ($8) to sample, and the sweet sauce on the ribs was quite compelling, with a definite Asian flair. The sauce wasn't overly sweet, and possessed a savory element that helped balance the sweet. The ribs themselves were meaty and tender, and it was easy to clean them down to the bone. 

The Grilled Beef Skewers ($8), made with garlic, soy, lemongrass, and honey, were also very tender and flavorful, again not too sweet. In addition, they possessed a very pleasing and enticing aroma. 

The Steamed Bao ($8), which you can order with shrimp or pork, is also made with cucumber, pickled veggies, and Vietnamese mayo (though I omitted the mayo on mine). I opted for the pork and as you can see, they well filled the two soft bao. The tender pork was very thinly sliced and burst with flavors that reminded me a bit of the ribs. The pickled veggies added a crunchy aspect, as well as some different flavors, to the softer meat and bao. Also highly recommended. 

They serve six different types of Bahn Mi ($11), made with cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, Vietnamese mayo (again omitted for me), and I chose the Roasted BBQ Pork for my main filling. This pork may be the same as in the Bao, and definitely is very tender and possessed of much delicious flavor. The baguette is nice and crunchy on the outside, and much softer inside. An excellent choice for lunch.

I was thoroughly impressed with the Clay Pot, which is made with either Salmon ($16) or Chicken ($14). I chose the chicken, which was cut into small chunks and prepared within a caramelized sweet and savory sauce, which is served bubbling hot. To accompany the dish, you have your choice of jasmine rice, vermicelli noodles or salad, and you also received cucumber, pickled daikon, and carrot. The chicken was moist and tender, and the sauce possessed a great depth of flavor, which you were supposed to pour atop your accompaniments. The sauce was nicely balanced between sweet and savory, and I could easily see this sauce atop seafood, beef, or basically any protein. The veggies kind of acted as a nice palate cleanser to the richer sauce. Highly recommended. 

Overall, Soall Viet Kitchen earns my hearty recommendation and I'm eager to return to try more of their menu. The food was fresh, well-prepared, delicious and reasonably priced. Service was very good and everyone who works there is personable and professional. Soall is still relatively new to Beverly, so it will be intriguing to see how it develops, including when they eventually open their market. I wish Sa and Mia much luck in this new endeavor. Beverly has a new culinary gem, enhancing its growing reputation for excellent restaurants. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Historic Look at Chinese New Year in Boston (1870-1890)

“‘Our annual nuisance’ is the affectionate pet name bestowed by the California papers upon the Chinese New Year festival.
--Boston Daily Globe, February 8, 1873

This year, Chinese New Year starts on Friday, February 12, beginning the Year of the Ox. This is an extremely important holiday for the Chinese and there are many customs and rituals associated with this holiday. In the late 20th century, Chinese New Year has also become known as the Spring Festival. The Chinese use a lunar calendar, and the start of their New Year generally ranges each year from January 21 to February 20.

When was Chinese New Year first celebrated in Massachusetts, and more specifically when was it first celebrated in Boston’s Chinatown

I'll begin with a hint for you. This year is the 150th Anniversary of the first public celebration of Chinese New Year in Massachusetts

The first public Chinese New Year celebrations in the U.S. occurred in San Francisco, likely during the early 1850s, though there's a possibility they might have also been held at the end of the 1840s. In Massachusetts, the first local newspaper to reference these celebrations in San Francisco was The Pittsfield Sun, March 31, 1853. It was only a brief mention and didn't describe any of the ways the holiday was celebrated. 

Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Boston area newspapers published additional articles about Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco. One of the most prevalent threads through these articles was the use of fireworks, and the loud noises they caused in the city. For example, the Cape Ann Advertiser, March 4, 1859, discussed the San Francisco Chinese New Year celebrations, noting, “The quantity of fire-crackers already exploded has been immense, and the smell of burnt paper and gunpowder pervades the whole city.”

As for Massachusetts, prior to 1870, there were only a handful of Chinese living in the state and any celebration of Chinese New Year was more personal and individual, making little, if any impression on the non-Chinese. In the 1870 census, Boston, with a population of 250,526, was alleged to have no Chinese. The communities of Brighton, Cambridge, West Roxbury and Charlestown also didn't have any Chinese. Somerville and Brookline each had a single Chinese person listed in their census results. There were a handful of Chinese scattered in other communities, such as Chelsea and Malden, but overall, the Chinese were clearly a rarity in most of Massachusetts.

In June 1870, 75 Chinese workers travelled from San Francisco to North Adams, Massachusetts, to work in a shoe factory owned by C.T. Sampson. This was the first major influx of Chinese into the state. Over the next several years, Sampson hired more Chinese to work at his factory, and nearly all of the workers remained for at least five years.

It would be these Chinese workers who would hold the first significant celebration of Chinese New Year in Massachusetts, during the first holiday they were within the state. Friday, February 19, 1871 was the first day of the Year of the Goat, and the Chinese shoe workers would end up celebrating the holiday for four days.

A couple local newspapers provided only brief mentions of the festivities. The Fall River Daily Evening News, February 20, 1871, stated “The Chinese at North Adams celebrated their New Year, Friday afternoon, with a concert.” The Boston Herald, February 20, 1871, expanded just a little, writing, “The Chinese at North Adams celebrated their new year on Friday afternoon with a grand concert and dinner.”

However, the Springfield Republican, February 20, 1871, provided much more detail. First, Sampson generously gave the workers four days off for their celebrations. Second, the band, which played the concert, had practiced for only two weeks before the event but were said to sound quite professional. The orchestra was composed of seven instruments, including three drums of different sizes, three gongs, and cymbals. Third, the Chinese invited a large number of guests, including clergy, Sunday school teachers, and others who had been kind to them over the past year, to a special dinner. About 200 people were served dinner, which was mostly American dishes cooked by the Chinese workers.

After dinner, once all the guests had departed, the Chinese workers returned to their own mess hall to have their own feast, which probably included primarily Chinese dishes. They also set off some fireworks. “Fire crackers thickly strung on long poles were thrust out of the window and touched off making such a display…”  On Saturday, they had intended to hold a parade, marching through the streets with their band, balloons and lanterns, but it was too rainy and they hoped to reschedule the parade for Monday.

That didn’t happen either. The Springfield Republican, February 21, 1871, noted that the Chinese plans for Monday had fizzled. The article also mentioned that the four days of celebration had been “merely a suggestion of the festival which they celebrate at home, where fifteen days are given to get acquainted with the new year,..”

Some more details of their celebration were provided. It was mentioned that on Saturday evening, the Chinese had consumed a considerable amount of California wine, as well as some other type of unidentified alcohol. On Sunday, the Chinese were excused from attending Sunday school, and instead, they had their first experience on ice, and were said not to be too graceful on the slick surface. They apparently didn't have ice skates, and walked upon the slick surface in their own shoes. Finally, on Monday, they created presents of fruits, flowers, cake, and more, at the different residences of their friends. 

Thus, this first public celebration occurred 150 years ago, making the forthcoming Chinese New Year even more of a historic event.   

In 1872, Chinese New Year began on February 9, ushering in the Year of the Monkey. However, the Chinese workers in North Adams didn’t celebrate to the same extent as they did the prior year. Both the Springfield Republican, February 9, 1872 and The Pittsfield Sun, February 15, 1872, noted that though the workers were given some time off, much of their celebration was simply “…visiting friends, and having pictures made to send home.”

It’s interesting though that these workers had originally planned to have fireworks for this celebration, but they didn’t receive them in time. When the fireworks finally arrived, the Chinese found a holiday to use them. According to the Fall River Daily Evening News, February 29, 1872, “The only celebration of Washington’s birthday at North Adams was carried on by the Chinese shoemakers. In the evening they entertained the shop girls by treating them to refreshments at the shop, and had a display of fireworks which was immense. The crackers were set off in the Chinese manner, several hundred at a time, making a fearful din. The fireworks were ordered for the New Year celebration, but failed to reach them in time for that event.”

In 1873, Chinese New Year began on January 29, ushering in the Year of the Rooster, and once again it was celebrated in a rather sedate manner. The Springfield Republican, January 29, 1873, stated “the shoemakers will celebrate the festival in a quiet way.” In 1874, Chinese New Year began on February 17, ushering in the Year of the Dog, and it seems like it was another quiet celebration. The Pittsfield Sun, February 18, 1874, merely noted that work was suspended at Sampson’s shoe factory on Monday for the holiday.

In 1875, Chinese New Year began on February 6, ushering in the Year of the Pig, and once again, their celebrations were smaller than what occurred in 1871. The Springfield Republican, February 9, 1875, reported that the Chinese workers didn’t celebrate New Year’s as usual, giving only two days to it. It was said that “most of which time they were on the streets in holiday attire, or partaking of those peculiar dishes the composition of which is so much a mystery. No especial form was observable in their exercises, which were few, and, to the uninitiated, uninteresting in the extreme.” There was an explanation given for the lesser celebration, alleging that “these “Americanized Celestials…are fast giving up the traditions and customs of their countrymen and adopting the ideas of our own people.”

In 1876, Chinese New Year began on January 26, ushering in the Year of the Rat, and it seems it was celebrated for only a single day. The Springfield Republican, January 26, 1876, reported that the Chinese workers “… celebrated their New-year’s day, yesterday, with fire-crackers, games and feasting. Tables were spread with fruits, flowers and sweetmeats from China, of some of which they invited their visitors to partake.

In 1877, Chinese New Year began on February 13, ushering in the Year of the Ox, once again had a single day of celebration. The New England Farmer, February 24, 1877, printed that “The Chinamen in Sampson’s shoe shop at North Adams were allowed a full holiday, Monday, 12th, to celebrate the Celestial New Year, and spent the time in playing games, visiting each other and regaling themselves upon the fruits and confections which had been sent to them by their friends in China.” And in 1878, Chinese New Year began on February 2, ushering in the Year of the Tiger, and the celebration by the Chinese workers didn’t even warrant a newspaper mention. It’s important to know though that the number of Chinese workers had been declining over the last couple years, so it seems logical that the celebrations were smaller.

In 1879, Chinese New Year began on January 22, ushering in the Year of the Rabbit, and once again, there was a small celebration. The Springfield Republican, January 24, 1879, noted, “The Chinese celebrated their new year Tuesday, with fire-works and crackers, and hospitably kept open house to all their friends.” The Fall River Daily Herald, March 8, 1879, added, “..they invite their teachers and acquaintances to their apartments, which are beautifully decorated with flowers and Chinese ornaments, and here an elaborate collation is spread, and the time devoted to festivity and mirth.”

In 1880, Chinese New Year began on February 10, ushering in the Year of the Dragon, but this is also the year when all of the Chinese workers left the shoe factory, some moving to different regions of Massachusetts, while others moved to different states, or even back to China. Any celebration this year was very minor.

This year was also notable in New York City, as mentioned by the Fall River Daily Evening News, February 10, 1880, which printed, “The Chinese new year was publicly celebrated for the first time in this city and Brooklyn, yesterday.” So, the North Adams celebrations predated those in New York City. And what about Boston at this time?

As previously mentioned, the 1870 census showed no Chinese living in Boston at that time. However, within the next five years, a number of Chinese would immigrate to Boston, with the first Chinese laundry opening in 1875. By 1877, the Boston Globe, December 22, 1877, stated that there were about 150-200 Chinese, however Chinatown hadn’t been established yet. Most of these people were laundrymen, living in their shops, which were scattered across Boston.

Two years later, an article in the Boston Globe, March 25, 1879, mentioned that there were about 100 Chinese laundrymen in Boston, and a few other Chinese in other occupations. The Boston Weekly Globe, September 9, 1879, also printed that the Chinese population in Boston was estimated at about 120, who were generally aged from 12-40 years, with an average of 25 years. During the 1870s, the local newspapers didn’t discuss any Chinese New Year celebrations in Boston, so it’s likely the celebrations were quiet and more personal. It wouldn’t be until 1881 that Boston newspapers would mention Chinese New Year within the city.

In 1881, Chinese New Year began on January 30, ushering in the Year of the Snake, and the Boston Globe, January 30, 1881, published an article about the celebrations, providing some general information about its practices. “The Chinese new year began yesterday, and will continue for three or four days. The season is one of general festivity among the Celestials. In cities where there is a large Chinese population the festival is observed in a variety of ways.” The article continued, “,…while the new year is beginning, the Chinese quarter, wherever situated, resounds night and day with the most unearthly sounds. Tom-toms, one-string fiddles and a variety of other instruments, elaborately designed to produce most uncelestial strains, are vigorously worked, while fire-crackers recklessly discharged in every spot add to the general din.

It was then mentioned that “The rich Chinamen in San Francisco spread sumptuous feasts and attire themselves in gorgeous garments of many colors. The guests drop in, give the host a peculiar shake of the hand and then partake of the feast.” In addition, it was stated that, “The season is also made an occasion for paying off old debts, those which may be settled with money and, those, too, which John thinks he can best pay with his favorite weapon, a hatchet.”

Near the end of the article, Boston was specifically referenced. “In Boston, where the number of Chinamen is small, no attempt, of course, is made at a celebration of the day, its observance mainly confined to a general “visiting round,” the peculiar hand-shaking, and perhaps a little extra allowance of opium.” This article, which is tinged with racism, doesn’t explain why the Chinese celebrations were more muted beyond the small size of the population. We know that in North Adams, where the Chinese population was even smaller than in Boston, they still were able to hold a public celebration.

However, the North Adams Chinese all lived together, so it was easier to arrange a spectacle. The Chinese in Boston were still spread out across the city, probably making it more difficult to organize any type of larger celebration.

In 1882, Chinese New Year began on February 18, ushering in the Year of the Horse, and celebrations in Boston received only a passing mention. The Boston Journal, February 28, 1882, simply stated that Chinese New Year had been celebrated a week ago by the Chinese laundrymen.

In 1883, Chinese New Year began on February 8, ushering in the Year of the Goat, and a little more detail was provided about local celebrations. The Boston Globe, February 7, 1883, ran an article on Chinese New Year, noting, “New Year’s is the greatest festival on the Chinese calendar, …” The article continued, “Another feature of the New Year’s Eve among the Chinese is the paying of debts and returning borrowed money. This custom, according to tradition, is several thousand years old.” It went on, “If a man cannot pay the entire sum he owes he secures a renewal of the loan for another year.

In addition, it was said that, “But it is only in San Francisco that the celebration is observed on a large scale. In Boston the work about the laundries is not suspended for any length of time. The proprietors of many of our laundries have prepared feasts of Chinese food, and the days is largely spent in visiting about.” So, the celebrations were still more personal, without any significant public display.

In 1884, Chinese New Year began on January 28, ushering in the Year of the Monkey, and the Boston Journal, January 28, 1884, reported that, “Yesterday was Chinese New Year’s Day, and it was quietly observed by the Chinamen of Boston.” It was in 1884, that the earliest reference to a Boston Chinatown occurred. The Boston Daily Globe, March 13, 1884, mentioned the existence of Chinatown. "The Chinese settlement on Harrison avenue is called by that name. The Chinese there occupy several blocks. They have their own stores, their own gambling houses, and their own opium joints." So, despite the creation of this community, this New Year was still quietly celebrated.

The Boston Herald, January 27, 1884, provided some additional details of the celebration. First, the article stated that Gung Ee Far Yoy was Chinese for “happy new year.” And on Chinese New Year, the Chinese “…does not work, but spends the day in making calls upon his fellow-countrymen. At the dwelling of each he finds a small spread, usually consisting of cigars, prepared cocoanut, ginger and other delicacies dear to the Chinese heart, but impossible to describe in the English language.”

In addition, the Boston Globe, January 29, 1884, provided even more details. The article began, “It is, of course, well known to all our readers that the Chinese New Year is the great national festival, held as a high holiday alike by rich and poor. Some of their curious observances at this season are also too well known to need more than a passing mention.” Much of this information was previously provided in articles about the celebration of Chinese New Year in San Francisco, where grand celebrations occurred.

The article mentioned, “All businesses must be closed up at the end of the year and accounts squared. The merchant who has not paid all his debts is not allowed to sell goods until he has done so, and accordingly traders vie with each other as to which shall make the first sales after the new year, as this is a proof of solvency. So important is this first business transaction of the new year considered that the merchant usually goes himself with the parcel to the house of the purchaser, where mutual congratulations are exchanged.”

It then continued, “The last supper of the old year is eaten with regularly prescribed ceremonies, and early on the morning of New Year’s day every member of the household is attired in the best clothes possessed, the house is put in order, refreshments spread out and everything is then in readiness for the ceremony of making and receiving New Year’s calls.” There was then a brief mention the Chinese in Boston were seen on Sunday, “.., dressed in his best clothes with a face more smiling than is his wont, hurrying to pay his respects to his friends.”

In 1885, Chinese New Year began on February 15, ushering in the Year of the Rooster, and it was the first year that the celebration in Chinatown was more of a public event.

Prior to February 15, the Boston Globe, January 24, 1885, ran an article, titled Sooee Sin Far. The Flower Which Blooms for the Chinese New Year, about a plant with a strong connection to Chinese New Year. The Sooee Sun Far, known as the water angel plant, was important and “without it no Chinaman’s New Year season is quite complete.” At great expense, the plant was imported into the U.S. and it could be seen in nearly all of the Chinese laundries and supple shops. It was “a simple flower that has no commercial value” but it reminded the Chinese of home.

The water angel plant; received its name because “of its manner of growth, its appearance, and its miraculous origin.” The article continued, “In China it is found growing in running water, which keeps the bulb and the pebbles to which is attaches itself by its roots perfectly clean.” Commonly, the bulbs were planted about four weeks before Chinese New Year and given plenty of fresh air and sunlight. It was supposed to bloom by Chinese New Year and possessed a cluster of blossoms, “…something like the narcissus in shape and size, but pure waxy white with a crown of gold, and very fragrant…” It was also stated that cuts of the blossom, known as ho-ee-far, were sent “as a choice gift to the friend whom he loves best.”

When Chinese New Year arrived, the Boston Globe, February 14, 1885, discussed some of the festivities, in an article titled Gung He Far Toy. The article begin, noting the start of Chinese New Year, and that the Chinese, “If they were in their own country they would begin today with much pomp and ceremony a celebration that would be kept up for a month.” It continued, “Many are the mysterious rites to be observed, unintelligible to foreign and profane eyes, but to them full of meaning, sentiment and enjoyment.”

More specifically about Chinatown, the article stated, “Here in Boston and its vicinity, although many calls, feasts of Chinese dainties appropriate to the season, congratulations, good wishes and gifts will be exchanged among the Chinamen, yet there will be little done which is peculiar or much different from the celebration of our own New Year’s Day.”

However, for what appears for the first time, the Chinese had sought permission to use fireworks and firecrackers for their celebrations. In San Francisco, Chicago and New York Ciry, firework displays were large and prominent. In Boston though, “A delegation of ‘influential citizens (from the Chinese quarter), and their friend, Major Jones, and even a sympathetic teacher from the Mission school pleaded with the fire commissioners and Mayor in vain,..” They were denied a permission, putting a bit of a damper on their holiday.

The next day, the Boston Globe, February 15, 1885, printed more details about local Chinese New Year celebrations, concentrating on some of the foods consumed. “A very important feature of the Chinese New Year, the celebration of which began yesterday, is the feasting upon dainties peculiar to the season. Everybody makes calls, everybody receives calls, and every Chinese laundry, shop or other establishment of any sort in the city has its ‘sideboard,’ bearing the Chinese equivalent of our New Year’s cake and wine.”

The article continued, “When a caller enters, he is immediately assailed by a shout of “Gung he! Gung he far toy!” The caller responds in kind and is then invited for a very tiny cup of tea. There are polite inquiries about health, business, and more, and then the guest can partake of a variety of refreshments. The writer of the article visited a Chinese supply store on Harrison Avenue, and was able to sample a number of refreshments, some he recognized and others which were completely foreign to him. The writer enjoyed many of the treats, even some that he didn’t recognize.

There was some good news in March, at the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. The Boston Herald, March 10, 1885, reported that yesterday was the last day of the Chinese New and that “In China it is customary to usher in the advent and the departure of the new year season with salvos of fire crackers,…” As I mentioned above, Chinatown was refused a permit to use fireworks to celebrate the start of Chinese New Year. However, near the end of their holiday period, “...having gained the aid and influence of American friends, they succeeded in obtaining the desired permission, and accordingly made arrangements to celebrate the end of the new year holidays,..”

The Chinese set up on the rooftop of Sam Sing’s grocery store at 118 Harrison Avenue. They extended long poles over the side of the building, and attached long ropes to the poles, reaching to the street. At 2pm, on the last day of their celebrations, Sam and his assistants appeared with a large amount of firecrackers. They attached some to the ropes, as many as 40 bunches at a time, and then ignited the bunches, quickly pulling the ropes up to the end of the poles. Then, they would replace each rope and do it all over again. Some firecrackers were also just dropped off the roof. The fireworks display continued for two hours, taking an occasional pause to allow horse-pulled cars to pass.

A detail of police officers were on hand to keep order while there were firemen present to ensure no fires went out of control. Fortunately, there weren’t any problems in either regard. The total cost of the fireworks was $1400 (worth about $37,500 in today’s dollars). The Chinese obviously went all out for this display. After the fireworks, the Chinese adjourned to the second story of the grocery store where a lavish banquet took place. And later that night, the Chinese played a variety of games while a Chinese orchestra played.

In 1886, Chinese New Year began on February 4, ushering in the Year of the Dog, and there wasn’t any mention of fireworks this year. The Boston Herald, February 3, 1886, noted that “In China the celebration occupies three days, but in this country circumstances will not permit of its extension to that period, and, therefore, the first day is made the gala one.” Then, the Boston Herald, February 9, 1886, mentioned that “Sam Sing, the popular Chinese grocer, gave a New Year’s party and supper at his home, No. 118 Harrison avenue, last evening, to some 20 invited…” American friends. A regular Chinese dinner was served to the guests. It seemed to be a more sedate celebration, but bringing in non-Chinese to celebrate.

A reporter for the Boston Globe, reported on February 4, 1886, that he was invited to a Chinese New Year celebration. His first stop was at a Chinese laundry, where all the men present were dressed in fancy costumes. A musician sang and played some type of Chinese instrument, which the reporter found quite enjoyable. A Chinese feast was then held in a dining room in the laundry. He drank an unknown red spirit, which had a very piquant flavor, and which the Chinese said is similar to whiskey. Other liquors were also served during the feast. The reporter didn’t like all of the food that was served. For example, he tried a dish that was allegedly rice flavored with candy, but what he said tasted like “sweetened tobacco.”

In 1887, Chinese New Year began on January 24, ushering in the Year of the Pig, and there wasn’t much written about the celebrations. The Boston Herald, January 23, 1887, reported that, “The Chinese of Boston will celebrate the event more in accordance with the habit of those at home than ever before.” Part of this included, “In addition to visiting countrymen from adjacent towns, there will be present numerous friends from New York and western cities; a number will even be present from San Francisco.” Two days were being set aside for the celebrations.

In 1888, Chinese New Year began on February 12, ushering in the Year of the Rat, and the Boston Globe, February 13, 1888, mentioned that Chinatown had been in a furor for two days, celebrating Chinese New Year. The article stated that “...will account for all of the unseeming noises which disturb the habitual tranquility of the Chinese quarter.” Chinese music could be heard from various buildings in Chinatown and the famed Moy Auk band had been engaged to play in Boston for this event. It was also noted, that “Of course there cannot be such great public demonstrations in the Hub as in New York and San Francisco, where there are hundreds of Celestials,..” However, it was also noted that what Boston’s Chinatown lacked in numbers, they made up in enthusiasm, stating, “...eating, drinking and making merry are the three things in order for the entire week.”

In 1889, Chinese New Year began on January 31, ushering in the Year of the Ox, and fireworks were mentioned once again. The Boston Herald, January 30, 1889, printed that “Chinatown, located on Harrison avenue, between Essex and Beach streets, was a blaze of light this morning, the occasion being the ushering of the Chinese new year, which began at 1a.m. Under permission of Capt. Harry Dawson of station 4 a faint attempt at a fireworks display was made and numerous side feasts indulged in, preparatory to the more extensive demonstrations which are to follow.”

Several months later, an intriguing article appeared discussing one of the customs of Chinese New Year, the use of the water angel plant. The Boston Globe, June 9, 1889, reported that. “Another superstition which is almost universal among my countrymen is the belief that the hooll sin fah will bring good luck to them. The hooll sin fah is a slender lily-like plant which grows from a bulb closely resembling an onion and in the early spring some of them may be seen in almost every laundryman’s window, where the bulbs are embedded about one-third in clean pebbles placed in a bowl. No soil whatever is required for the growing of the plant, but dozens of tiny roots force themselves down between the pebbles and into the water with which the Chinaman has about half covered the pebbles. The hooll sin fah takes about 30 days to come to its maturity, and during this time the water on the pebbles must be changed every day. When full grown the plant consists of half a dozen or more bright green stalks, with blossoms which somewhat resembles the narcissus in shape, but they are of a pure waxy whiteness, with a small golden crown in the centre. The plant, the name of which signifies water angel, is thought by the Chinese to have had a miraculous origin, from the fact that it is found growing in the clear water of running brooks where it apparently lives without sustenance.”

And as for its importance. “The flowers of the water angel are very fragrant, and are almost reverenced by the Chinese, for a towering Hooee Sin Fah is esteemed the choicest gift that one Chinaman can give to another.

In 1890, Chinese New Year began on January 20, ushering in the Year of the Tiger, and the Boston Globe, January 20, 1890, noted “The Chinese colony in Boston is larger this year than ever before, and consequently the rejoicing will be on a much large scale, for it must be known that the celebration of the Chinese new year is not over with in a day, but is kept up among the middle class of people for a week, and some of the wealthy ones, both in American and in the Celestial land, keep up their merrymaking for a full month, winding up with a grand festival at the Feast of Lanterns, a holiday fixed upon as the termination of all new year’s festivities.”

The article continued, mentioning that anyone who visited Chinatown yesterday would have heard the “…beating of gongs, blowing of horns, scraping on ear-splitting Chinese fiddles, picking on odd looking banjos, and late at night not a few firecrackers were exploded in celebration of the coming of the New Year.” These larger, more public celebrations would continue in the years to come. 

The first public celebration of Chinese New Year in Massachusetts occurred in 1871, in North Adams, and the first large, public celebration in Boston's Chinatown took place in 1885. The celebrations were no where as large as they would have been in China, but the local Chinese communities were also much smaller. The local Chinese generously invited some non-Chinese friends to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. The main complaints voiced by non-Chinese about the celebrations were the loud noise they sometimes generated, primarily from fireworks and Chinese music. There weren't any complaints about excessive drinking or crime, and Americans had no problem with loud fireworks on their own holiday, the 4th of July.

Gong hei fat choy! Happy Chinese New Year and hopefully the Year of the Ox brings you health, prosperity, and much happiness.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The First Vietnamese Restaurants in the U.S.

What were the first Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S.? In Massachusetts? In Boston's Chinatown?

Prior to 1975, there were likely less than 1,000 Vietnamese living in the U.S., scattered across the country. After the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, large amounts of Vietnamese began coming to the U.S., seeking refuge from the dire problems and threats in their country. The first Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. were established nearly fifteen years before the Fall of Saigon, though they proliferated greatly after the Fall.

Today, the Bánh mì sandwich and Phở are well known specialties of Vietnamese cuisine. However, there is still plenty of Vietnamese cuisine which is not as familiar to many people, and which should be. Fortunately, there are some newer Vietnamese restaurants which are trying to showcase these other aspects of their cuisine, offering delicious and more unique dishes which please the palate and soul. For example, two Vietnamese restaurants which do so opened in 2020, including Viet Citron in Burlington and Soall Viet Kitchen in Beverly.

In the beginning though, it was the Chả Giò, also referred to as the Imperial Roll, which seemed to be the most famous item of Vietnamese cuisine in the U.S.

The first Vietnamese restaurant in the U.S. appears to have been the Viet Nam, located at 1245 Amsterdam Avenue in New York City, which was established in 1961. In the New York Times, August 15, 1961, Craig Claiborne provided a review of the small spot, noting it is an "...unpretentious place with an interesting cuisine modestly priced." He also added, "It is reputedly the only Vietnamese restaurant in America.” Some of the dishes he mentioned included Four-Style Beef (four courses of beef prepared in different ways), Chả Giò (rice paper roll filled with & deep fried), Thit Nuong (beef smoked & grilled), Chao Tom (ground shrimp balls on a skewer), and Tom Rim (braised pork with shrimp). One of Claiborne's major points was that the cuisine was very inexpensive. 

Starting in the Columbia Daily Spectator, September 28, 1961, this newspaper ran a series of regular advertisements for the Viet Nam restaurants. Initially, the ad stated it was “The only Vietnamese restaurant in the U.S.A. serving renowned “Pho”—noodles; Cha Gio—rolls, first-prize winner at International Food Contest in Tokyo; Saigon-style “Bi Bun;” and Hanoi-style “Banh Cuon,” etc.” Prices were listed as Lunch from 95 cents and Dinner from $1.25-$3.75. In the Columbia Daily Spectator, January 9, 1962: the ad was shortened, primarily mentioning it was “The only Vietnamese restaurant in the U.S.A.” The last advertisement was in the March 1, 1963 issue, which could indicate the restaurant closed soon after that date. 

There was apparently another Vietnamese restaurant in New York City around this time, though I haven't been able to discern its name. It apparently was located in Hell’s Kitchen on West 44th near the southeast corner of 9th Avenue. All that I've been able to find is that by 1963 this restaurant closed, and became the home of the famed comedy club, The Improv.

The next Vietnamese restaurant to open in the U.S. appears to have been the Rama Oriental in 1966 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. As noted in The News & Observer (NC), December 16, 1966, the restaurant owners, Nguyen Minh Tri and Hgoan Van Dao, both taught the Vietnamese language at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg. Working with all those soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Tri and Dao, figured that a Vietnamese restaurant might do well with the more than 12,000 soldiers passing through Fort Bragg. Initially, the restaurant consisted of only a single room but they eventually expanded to three rooms.

Their chef was from Saigon, and they hired two American and two Vietnamese waitresses. Their supplies were both imported and local. “Tri’s family ships rice paper, shrimp chips and tea from Vietnam. The bamboo shoots, shredded and served with beef, pork or chicken, comes from Hong Kong. Most vegetables are grown in the Fayetteville area.” The favorite appetizer on the menu was Chả Giò, stated to be, “It is a crunchy rice-paper roll, filled with meat, crabmeat, mushrooms and bean threads.” A couple other popular dishes included Mein Ga, a Vietnamese-style bean thread chicken soup, and a Vietnamese shishkabob, served with Vietnamese vermicelli salad.”

The Greensboro Daily News (NC), December 17, 1966, provided more information, mentioning that this might be the only Vietnamese restaurant in the country. It's possible that the Viet Nam in New York City might have closed by this time. This article also stated the Chả Giò was a favorite, adding that it was served with Nuoc Man sauce. It was also noted that “Tables in the restaurant are padded so elbows rest comfortably while soup is drunk Oriental-style.”For dessert,  "...there is lychees, long nhan in syrup or just ice cream and fortune cookies.” The restaurant was also said to be inexpensive,  at "North Carolina prices," including --$3.75 for a five-course dinner and $2-$2.50 for an entrée.

According to the Quad City Times (Iowa), October 7, 1971, Nguyen Minh Tri sold the Rama Oriental around 1969 to another language instructor, who also later sold it to someone else. Tri then opened another restaurant, The Saigon, which was a larger location and as it was within the city limits of Fayetteville, they could serve beer and wine. The Rama Oriental was situated in a dry area. The Saigon was noted as having an excellent Tom Rim (seasoned shrimp and pork).

A little more information was provided in the Charlotte Observer (NC), May 5, 1975. The Saigon opened in 1970, and in the downstairs, below the restaurant, was their Underground Bar, which apparently offered topless dancing, as the article noted, “...a jukebox blared rock and a topless dancer churned industriously for a solitary GI sipping beer at the bar.”: The article also said about The Saigon, “It’s a kind of bizarre souvenir, a museum where GIs homesick for Vietnam go.
The first Vietnamese restaurant to open in California was mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1970. “The city’s first Vietnamese restaurant, Cordon Bleu, opened this wk. on Calif. Near Polk, and it’s run by Anthony Dang, who was born in Hanoi. The cuisine is North Vietnamese—” The San Francisco Examiner, January 3, 1971, expanded a little, claiming it was the only Vietnamese restaurant on the West Coast, and noting it served Imperial Rolls (pork, shrimp, eggs, & mushroom wrapped in rice paper and deep fried).

Their claim to being the only such restaurant on the West Coast wasn't fully accurate. The Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1970, stated that Le Relais (which means "relay station") was the first restaurant in Los Angeles to serve Vietnamese food. It was owned by Andre and Germaine Gevrard, and Andre was a Frenchman who spent time in Vietnamese with the French army. Germaine was the daughter of the former president of the University of Saigon, had studied at the Cordon Bleu in Saigon and Paris, and was the restaurant's chef. Though their main menu was French, they would prepare Vietnamese dinners with 24 hours notice.

The article reviewed some of the cuisine, both the French and Vietnamese. The writer stated that the most unusual dish of the evening was Chả Giò ("Crab, shrimp and chicken had been finely chopped, rolled in a clear sheet of rice dried in the sun, then deep fried until crispness."). A couple other dishes included Tom-Hum-Xao Chua-Ngot (Lobster cooked in milk, served with pea pods) and Gaxao-Gung (Chicken with ginger). The Vietnamese dinner cost $6.50.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 1971, discussed Khanh Phoung Huynh, who immigrated from Saigon, and was now working as a waitress at the Cordon Bleu restaurant. The article made a few comments about Vietnamese cuisine, including, “Vietnamese food offers new tastes to San Francisco palates. Where the Chinese use soy sauce, the Vietnamese use fish sauce for marinating and dipping. The sauce is imported from Vietnam as is the rice paper used to wrap the egg rolls, which are otherwise similar to Chinese egg rolls.” It continued with a comment about the Cordon Blue, that, “Vietnamese eat their food with rice noodles, but since San Franciscans are used to eating Chinese food with rice, the restaurant makes that one compromise in its otherwise traditional meals."

The Cordon Bleu must have been a great success, at least according to an advertisement in the San Francisco Examiner, September 24, 1971. It read, “Now being Translated into English: How to open 3 Vietnamese Restaurants in S.F. within a year, with a thousand dollars, by A. Dan-Tran, founder of the three “CORDON BLEU” on California, Columbus, Broadway. (a 4th is coming)." A minimal investment leading to three restaurants, with a fourth on the way? Impressive. However, this claim would be later contradicted.

There was a brief note in the Next Quad City Times (Iowa), October 7, 1971, that San Francisco had at least 3 Vietnamese restaurants (which might all be Cordon Bleu locations), Annapolis had 1 Vietnamese restaurant, and there were none in New York City (which indicates the Viet Nam was no longer in existence and hadn't been replaced).

Curiously, the San Francisco Examiner, June 9, 1972, published an ad for the Cordon Bleu, “now at 1574 California,” noting that a second location would open on June 12 at 2227 Polk Street. This was confirmed by the San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 1972: Had the prior locations of Cordon Bleu, on Columbus and Broadway, closed? It appears so based on these new advertisements. 

However, owner Anthony Dang-Tran opened another Vietnamese restaturant. The Santa Maria Times (CA), August 4, 1972, noted that Dang-Tran had opened the Vietnam-France restaurant at Divisadero and Pine. The San Francisco Examiner, April 27, 1973, published an ad for this restaurant, noting they served North and South Vietnamese delicacies as well as French specialties.

Another new Vietnamese restaurant. The San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 1973, had a brief ad for the Que Huong, located at 438 Eddy Street, and with the caption, “Tranquil—Ethnic—Nourishing."

Vietnamese cuisine comes to Washington, D.C. The Evening Star (D.C.), April 15, 1973, first discussed Vietnamese cuisine in general, noting, “Vietnamese food comes with good credentials. John F. Kennedy hired a Vietnamese chef to run the White House kitchen. Frenchmen in Paris support dozens of Vietnamese restaurants (started after their war in Vietnam), and this continent’s restaurant mecca, Montreal, has for several years had two. As an aside, it doesn't actually appear that JFK hired a Vietnamese chef. During his time in the White House, the chef was René Verdon, a French-born American chef. There were some rumors that JFK tried to hire a Vietnamese chef in London, but the rumor appears to have been untrue.

The article continued, "Vietnamese food is very good." and also noted, “The Vietnamese are the only Southeast Asian people who use chopsticks.” There was then a description of the elements of its cuisine, from nuoc mam to their spices. And of course, Chả Giò received a mention, which "combines meat, seafood, noodles and vegetables in a paper-thin rice dough like Middle-Eastern phyllo."

It was then noted the burgeoning trend of Vietnamese restaurants. “Three years ago the trend began with the opening of the tiny Cordon Bleu in that culinary bellwether city, San Francisco. The following month the East Coast for the Oriental Garden in Annapolis. Each year has seen more Vietnamese restaurants opening in California. Now one has opened in the District.

This new restaurant in D.C. was Haichiem, located at 1509 16th St, NW in the Christian Inn. It was initially only open for lunch, though planned to open in the near future for dinner with a larger menu, created by the cook Miss Chac. The lunch menu wasn't fully Vietnamese, as though they offered Chả Giò, you also would find hamburgers.

The newspaper claimed that “Easily the best Vietnamese restaurant in the country is the Oriental Garden (Forest Plaza Shopping Center, Annapolis) which mixes in Chinese cuisine." Owned by Mr. Loc, some of their dishes included Dau Dong Phuong (fritters of rice flour & pork), Bo Nuong Xa (beef skewers), Pho Xao (beef with noodles), and Chien Chua Ngot (fried shrimp balls). And if given several days notice, you can order a special, nine-courseVietnamese feast, which costs $12, but is said to be well worth the price.

Washington had their first Vietnamese restaurant. The Seattle Daily Times (WA), April 27, 1973, presented an ad for  the Viet Nam Dynasty,The Northwest’s Only Vietnamese Restaurant,” located at 914 East Pike, and which served lunch and dinner.

Another Vietnamese restaurant came to San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 1973, briefly mentioned that the Thanh Long Vietnamese restaurant served Cua Rang Mouoi, roast crab ala Green Dragon. The San Francisco Chronicle, February 2, 1974, added that this dish consisted of a live whole crab that was baked and then roasted with butter and spice.

And another new spot. The San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1974, mentioned the new Gargantua restaurant in the California Hotel, where you could get a combination plate of Imperial roll, pork shishkebab, rice and salad for $2.70. The San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 1974, also mentioned their Five-Spice Broiled Chicken, with rice and bean sprout salad, for $3.25.

Vietnamese restaurants kept appearing across the country. The Oregonian, July 7, 1974, wrote about a new spot, Tu-Do on SW Powell, which was a small and authentic Vietnamese restaurant run by a young Vietnamese couple. Although the restaurant served American cuisine for lunch, they served "full course dinners at night in the Vietnamese manner. 

A couple years later, the Oregonian, January 16, 1976, provided more information about this restaurant. The Tu Do, probably the only Vietnamese restaurant in Portland, was operated by Tinh Truong Ngoc and his wife Oanh (both from Saigon), and it specialized in multicourse dinners. The restaurant's name is pronounced “Dug zaw” and means “freedom” in Vietnamese. Some of the menu items included: Ga Za (lemon grass chicken), Tom Sot So (shrimp with clam sauce), Ga Thao Qua (cardamom chicken), Heo Dong Cue (country pork), and Chuoi Chien (bananan fritters). probably only Vietnamese restaurant in Portland 

The San Diego Union, October 13, 1974, stated that Nguyen Huu Dan owned the green Bamboo, a Vietnamese restaurant at 904 E. Washington Avenue. The San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 1975, briefly mentioned the Cherry Flower, a Vietnamese restaurant on Columbus Avenue.

It was during this time period that a significant number of Vietnamese refugees began entering the U.S. The Evening Star (D.C.), June 15, 1975, discussed their plight, and stated, “The most promising Vietnamese business is the Vietnamese restaurant business. Prototypes of Vietnamese restaurants, complete with architecture, dining room decoration, menu, prices, should be set up and if one works, it can be duplicated in other localities.” Vietnamese restaurants had been popular in the U.S. for over ten years, although there might have only been a dozen or so around the country at this point. Certainly plenty of room for new Vietnamese restaurants to start up all over the country.

More Vietnamese restaurants in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1973, mentioned that the Le Relais, which had opened in 1970, was closed. A new Vietnamese spot had now opened, Vietnam in Hollywood, which was owned by Nguyen Van Ung and Mme. Luong Thi Sinh. They also have a restaurant in San Francisco. Their chef is Mme. Lena Nguyen and the restaurant serves a special dinner called Seven Ways with Beef, and it must be ordered two days in advance for at least four people. The article describes the various dishes in detail. It also noted that, "The Vietnamese feel that soup and salad served at the end of a meal are an aid to digestion.

The State Journal Register (CA), August 17, 1975, briefly noted that there was only one Vietnamese restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, which served Imperial Rolls, North Vietnamese noodle soup, and steamed mixed rolls. Strangely, the name of the restaurant wasn't provided though it appears they are referring to the Vietnam. The Los Angeles Times, August 29, 1976,  reported that the Vietnam had moved and changed its name, becoming Vietnam Pearl at 1461 S. La Cienega. 

More details were provided in the Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1977, which noted the move was to a large space. There was a brief review of some of the available dishes, such as Tom Lui Minong, a broiled shrimp and pork brochette, and Ginger Beef, with mushrooms, ground peanuts, carrots, cabbage, and vinegar. 

In follow-up, the Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1979, provide more details of Vietnamese cuisine, as well as more on Vietnam Pearl, such as mentioning Nguyen Huy Loc, the owner of the restaurant. The original Vietnam restaurant opened in 1973 on Hollywood Boulevard, becoming Vietnam Pearl in 1976.  The article also mentioned a bit of Vietnamese lore, that "The ability to make a proper chả giò is a qualification for a proper bride,..."

A couple other Vietnamese restaurants in Los Angeles were mentioned in that same article. Than Phong (sometimes known as Mekong) was located at 5051 Hollywood Boulevard. It was a tiny, new spot, owned and operated by Huang Dung (the chef)and his wife An Nguyen (the hostess). The other place was the Saigon Flavor, at 1044 South Fairfax, which is the largest of the three restaurants. 

The Cordon Bleu was still in existence and the San Francisco Chronicle, November 15, 1975, noted that the original owners were now back. There was no indication though how many locations of the Cordon Bleu were still around. The San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 1975, then noted that the Aux Delices Vietnamese restaurant had just opened at Potrero and 22nd Street, serving complete dinners for $2.60-$4.00.

A new Vietnamese restaurant opened in Washington, D.C., with a name that didn't evoke the nature of the spot. The Evening Star (D.C.), December 11, 1975, discussed the Top O’ Georgetown restaurant,  located just off the lobby of the Wellington Apaicious. It was owned by Mrs. Thu Linh, who had been a restaurateur and grade school principal in Saigon, and came to the U.S. in April. The menu is divided into French and Vietnamese dishes, and there are two different chefs. Chef Eugene Jones creates the French entrees while Linh’s sister, Chef Nyguyen (Nancy) Ngan, creates the Vietnamese ones.

This wasn't an inexpensive place, and was considered pricey, with entrees costing $5.95-$9.50. They served dishes including Chả Giò,; Pho Bo (beef soup supreme), Flower of Corn Soup (“an ambrosial corn ‘chowder’ laced with lobster and lump crab"), Kim Tien Ke (a chicken dish), and Thit Kho Nuoc Dua (pork dish with tiny amounts of sugar and coconut milk).

The San Antonio Light (TX), April 9, 1976, had an advertisement for Lien’s San Antonio Café, the only Vietnamese restaurant in San Antonio, located at 143 E. Houston at the River. Interestingly, besides food, they also sold ceramics, porcelin, buffies, vases, dolls, coins, and more.

The first Vietnamese restaurant in the greater Boston area. The Berkshire Eagle (MA), April 14, 1976, printed that Ton That An, the former South Vietnamese ambassador to Burma, opened Rendezvous on Sunday, April 11, in Cambridge. This was said to be the first Vietnamese owned restaurant in the Boston area. 

The Boston Herald, May 27, 1977, presented an ad for Rendezvous, located at 24 Holyoke Street, Harvard Square, The ad mentioned their “Famous Vietnamese Dishes” and that it was “Very cozy, relaxing atmosphere. Excellent choice of imported wines.” The restaurant was also only open for dinner. The last advertisement was this restaurant appeared in January 1982, which might mean it closed around this time. 

The Chicago Daily News, April 26, 1976, noted that the first Vietnamese restaurant had just opened in  Chicago. Lan's Vietnam, at 512 S. Wabash, was managed by Lan (who was Vietnamese) and Bill Pilot  (who served in Vietnam), of Maywood. They planned to host a series of Vietnamese singers at the restaurant.

The Evening Star (D.C.), July 11, 1976, discussed that at the time of the Fall of Saigon, there were only two Vietnamese restaurants in the Washington area. Since then though, there are at least 10 such restaurant, with more to come. The article stated, “…Vietnamese food—as a cuisine—is of a high order.” It then continued, “Above all, it is marvelously refined, due in part, perhaps, to 100 years of on-the-spot French influence. It is a finely honed, even, delicate style unmatched in many countries.” In addition, it was noted, “...the seasonings, which run to garlic, ginger, lemon, clove and anise, are never overemployed. They never offend; they tempt, they fascinate, they give rise to guessing games.

It was then reported that two more Vietnamese restaurants had recently opened, the Vietnamese-Georgetown Restaurant and the Viet Huong Café, which were actually located next to each other. ; The V-G restaurant wasn't actually new, as it had moved from another location, and was owned by An Duong Quang, a chemical engineer who came to the U.S. from France, and Nguyen Hy Quang, a native of Hue. The Café  was owned by the Hoang Minh family, some who had fled Saigon just before the fall.

The first Vietnamese restaurant in New Orleans was forthcoming. The Times-Picayune (LA), July 11, 1976, reported that Hong-Lan would soon open. The Evening Star (D.C.), June 5, 1977, reported that the Saigon Inn, a Vietnamese restaurant had opened in Fairfax County, Virginia. The owner was Bui Van Anh, the former South Vietnam ambassador to Switzerland.

More news about the Cordon Bleu. The San Francisco Examiner, July 1, 1977, briefly mentioned that the Nine Spice Roast Chicken, at Cordon Bleu, had received 4 stars from restaurant critics. The San Francisco Chronicle, July 2, 1977, mentioned that the Exceutive Chef at Cordon Blue was Ms. Huong Phan, who once owned the Myvan restaurant in Saigon. It was noted that her Vietnamese-style beef stew sold very well. It was also mentioned in the San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1977, that the owner of the Cordon Bleu was Hien Phan, who speaks English, French, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. It is unclear whether Hien and Huong were related or not.

More new Vietnamese restaurants. The San Antonio Light, July 17, 1977, stated that a small Vietnamese restaurant, at 3244 Broadway, had been in business for about seven months. It was owned by Mrs. Cuc Nguyen Eisenhauer, who was from Vietnam and had 12 children, a couple of her sons helping her out at the restaurant. The Seattle Daily Times, September 21, 1977, had an ad for the Saigon, located in the Soames Dunn Buildin, which mentioned, “Broiled Ginger Chicken—a house specialty. Kentucky Fried was never like this!

The San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 1977, discussed the Saigon Vietnamese restaurant on Geary, noting its Ho Chi Minh Steak was a featured dish, The restaurant was a favorite hangout of  the famed writer Fritz Leiber, who lived nearby.

Besides restaurants, there were a few Vietnamese night clubs starting to appear across the country. The State Times Advocate (LA), November 10, 1978, reported that Huang Nam was the owner-manager of Vietnam Bistro; an "elegant Saigon-style supper club," also referred to as a night club, located in in Arlington, Virginia. It was said to be the only Vietnamese nightclub in the Eastern U.S. and that the only other Vietnamese nightclubs were in Houston, Los Angeles and San Jose, cities with the largest Vietnamese communities.

The Evening Star (D.C.), December 31, 1978, reported on a new Vietnamese restaurant, Germaine’s, which was sad to be a dressy place, and not an inexpensive little spot. It was also noted that the restaurant was“an effort on the part of management to show how superbly light and elegant Vietnamese cuisine—with all of its French influence—can be.”

A new restaurant from Anthony Dang-Tran, who started the original Cordon Bleu. The San Francisco Examiner, May 4, 1979, mentioned the opening of Le Bigamist, new Vietnamese/Laotian restaurant. The article gave a small biography of Dang-Tran, who was now 45 years old and had left Vietnam in 1948, spending a number of years on France before coming to the U.S. Dang-Tran told the writer that when he opened his first Vietnamese restaurants, “In those days, he says, he was a ‘playboy who liked to travel.’ After a restaurant was well launched, he’d sell it and take off.

In 1976, Dang-Tran got married to Diem, the sister of a brother-in-law, and within the next three years, they had four little girls. Le Bigamist is named after the pet bull on the family's farm in Vietnam. The chef Kin was once the cook for President Phouma of Laos. The article also stated that “Dang-tran, who must be regard as the local father of Vietnamese cuisine.

One of my favorite restaurant names. The San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 1979, mentioned that Bo Bay Mon, Seven Jewel Beef, was a specialty of Golden Turtle, a Vietnamese restaurant on 5th Avenue near Clement. The Evening Star (D.C.), July 19, 1979, noted that the , in Arlington; a review; in which opened three years ago was one of the finest restaurants in the area.

Maybe the second or third Vietnamese restaurant in Massachusetts, the Springfield Union, October 7, 1979, briefly noted the new Orient Express in West Stockbridge. Unfortunately,, the Springfield Union, May 26, 1980, reported that the Board of Health obtained a Superior Court restraining order which resulted in a temporary suspension of the Orient Express. It was alleged that Trai Thi Duong, the restaurant owner, was allegedly operating a sit-down restaurant but only had a permit for a takeout restaurant. In addition, the restaurant only had a single bathroom although two were legally required.

Probably the first Vietnamese restaurant in Boston was mentioned in the Boston Globe, October 18, 1979, and it was opened by Ton-That-An, who had previously opened Rendezvous in Cambridge. The restaurant was named Hen Ho (Vietnamese for “rendezvous”) and it was located in the Back Bay, at 266 Newbury Street. The article mentioned that much of the cooking was very traditional and hands-on, such as marinating shaved veggies for three days to make traditional Vietnamese pickles. 

The Evansville Courier and Press (IN), November 13, 1979, reported that four partners had opened the Saigon, the first authentic Vietnamese restaurant in the Tri-State area.  The restaurant was very small with limited seating.

The Cordon Bleu back in the news. The San Francisco Examiner, August 31, 1980, published that the Cordon Bleu had a new location at 771 O’Farrell. The article also mentioned that San Francisco might have more Vietnamese restaurants than any other U.S. city.  “Among the more commodious are the Saigon, on Geary, with its extensive menu of festive Vietnamese dishes, and the Golden Turtle on Fifth Avenue near Clement…It excels in pungently marinated grilled meats.” The article also mentioned two small places,  the old Cordon Bleu on California (which was still small and cheap), and Mai’s, a a storefront restaurant on Clement at Fifth Avenue, which had opened "a spiffier branch "at Clement near 24th.

Another Vietnamese spot in Boston. The Boston Globe, October 5, 1982, had a brief ad for the Viet-Nam Restaurant, located at 38 Boylston Street. As for Chinatown, the Boston Globe, October 9, 1988, reported that the Viet Restaurant was one of the city’s first Vietnamese restaurants. The owners,  Muoi Phan and his wife Puyet Nguyen, were teachers before the fall of Saigon. Phan claimed that they were the first Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown (though no date was provided). The restaurant included Chinese dishes on their menu as Phan and was worried Americans would be unfamiliar with the Vietnamese cuisine.

As I mentioned previously, New York City had the first Vietnamese restaurant in the country, but by 1971, there were none. The Daily News (NY), July 14, 1982, noted that in 1975 there hadn't been any Vietnamese restaurants in Manhattan. However, over the course of the last seven months, four such spots had opened, and there had been one other in existence for longer than seven months. The new restaurants included the Paris Saigon Restaurant at 252 W. 43rd St, which opened in December 1981, Saigon at 60 Mulberry Street, Viet Huong at 64 East Broadway, and Vietnamese Restaurant at 11 Doyers. Those last three were all located in Chinatown. The oldest Vietnamese restaurant in New York City was Suzanne, at 313 E. 46th Street, which opened in November 1980.

In the 1980s and beyond, many more Vietnamese restaurants began to open in every part of the U.S. And it was during the 1980s that the Bánh mì started to become popular, though in the Boston area it seemed to be first known as the "Saigon Sub" around 1984. Phở was around from the beginning, since the first Vietnamese restaurant opened in New York City in 1961, and its popularity has only grown. 

We can see that the first Vietnamese restaurants opened in the early 1960s, when there was only a small amount of Vietnamese living in the U.S. In general, the cuisine was thought to be inexpensive and delicious, though there were a few attempts to elevate the cuisine, to a pricier level. In general, Vietnamese cuisine seemed to have been well received and had very little negative publicity, unlike when Chinese restaurants started in the 19th century.  

Please note that this extensive article, of about 5000 words, is still a work in progress as there is definitely more research warranted. I especially want to find more information about the first Vietnamese restaurants in Boston's Chinatown. When I do update this article, I will be sure to let everyone know.

What are some of your favorite Vietnamese restaurants?