Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Peruvian Taste Restaurant: Compelling Chifa Cuisine & More.

Where can you go in the Boston area to taste a variety of Chifa dishes, that scrumptious fusion of Peruvian and Chinese cuisine? 

During the last couple weeks, I've been thoroughly impressed by the Peruvian Taste Restaurant, a new Peruvian restaurant located at 78 Arlington Avenue, Charlestown. The restaurant opened in September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, which was certainly a courageous act. It's located in an industrial/commercial area so it's not a place that many people might commonly drive by. You need to know about it, to seek it out, and it's more than worthy of your attention.

The restaurant is open seven days a week, generally 8am-8pm, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's a small, intimate spot, that seats about twenty people, and its busiest times are generally Friday through Sunday. I've dined there for lunch four times, with plans to return again very soon, drawn by the quality and flavor of their food. Plus, I've enjoyed exploring their numerous Chifa dishes. 

For breakfast, there's plenty of typical American items, like eggs, omelettes, and waffles, as well as a few Peruvian dishes, including Tamales, Pan con Chicharron, Peruvian Style Chicken Sandwich, and Belgium Waffles (with fruit and lucuma ice cream). For lunch, there are a small number of more American dishes as well, including Burgers, BLT, and Fish Tacos. However, your best option would be to select from their Peruvian and Chifa dishes. You can go anywhere to a burger or fish taco, so be adventurous and explore the more unique Peruvian and Chifa items on their menu. 

The menu has plenty of options, and you might have difficulty deciding which dishes to order, which just means you will need to dine there multiple times to sample all the dishes that entice you. The menu has Appetizers (about 9 choices from $2-$17.99), such as Guacamole con Yuca Frita and Ceviche de Pescado; and Lunch & Dinner Entrees (from $8-$18), such as Lomo Saltado (Filet Mignon , onions, tomatoes, sautéed in a special sauce rice and fries), several different versions of Chaufa (fried rice), Ceviche de Pescado, Aji de Gallina (Shredded chicken cooked in a flavorful cream sauce with milk cheese aji and pecans) and Jalea Peruana (Deep fried seafood).

There is a section of Chifa (about 9 dishes, from $5-$18), from Sopa Wantan (Wonton soup) to Chaufa Pequeno (small Chinese fried rice with chicken). I'll note though that some of their other Chifa dishes are only listed in the Lunch & Dinner entree section. Tuesdays are "Chifero" Tuesdays, and if you order 2 Chifa dishes, you get a free White Rice or Wantan Frito (opt for the Wantan!), and if you order 4 Chifa dishes, you get a free White Rice, Wantan Frito, and Inka Cola. 

They also have a list of New Dishes (from $10-$15.99); like Rachi (grilled cow tripe), Peruvian Street Sandwiches, and Trio de Causa (Ceviche, chicharron de pescado, octopus with shrimp). In addition, there are Weekend Only Specials such as the Trio Marino + Chicha Morada ($20), which includes Arroz chaufa de mariscos, ceviche, y chicharrón de pescado, and the Combo de Mar Bravazo ($60). which includes Jalea, Arroz con mariscos, ceviche de pescado, causa rellena de camarones con baby octopus, plátanos fritos, yuca, y camote. 

On the weekends, they sometimes have other specials. For example, they have previously offered Picante de Cuy, guinea pig.

The only caveat is that a portion of the menu, especially the Appetizers and Desserts, is only written in Spanish, so you might need use Google to determine the nature of those dishes. The Entrees and Chifa dishes generally have English translations. 

On one of my visits, I received a complimentary dish of Cancha, the Peruvian version of "corn nuts," with a salsa verde. This dish uses large-kerneled corn, called maíz chulpe or maíz cancha chulpe, which are tossed with oil and toasted in a hot skillet. Once done, a little salt is sprinkled atop them. I like these salty, crunchy pieces of corn. A great bar snack. 
 
On three of my other visits, I received a small bowl of fried Plantain Strips, another tasty treat with a nice crunch and slightly sweet flavor. 
 
From the Appetizers, the Yuca Frita ($2), are basically French fries made from Yucca, which means they tend to be a bit more starchy, and if not done well can be tough. However, these were fried just right, with a nice crisp to the outside, and a fluffier interior, though still with more substance than a potato. They came with a salsa verde for dipping. This dish is indicative of the culinary abilities within their kitchen, how they skillfully execute even the simplest of dishes. 


The Tamal Criollo ($7.50) is a Peruvian version of the Tamale, and comes with either chicken or pork. I opted for the pork, and the tamale contained a large piece of tasty and tender pork, as well as an egg, olive, and hot pepper. The corn "shell" was soft and sweet, and the whole dish worked well. 

The Papa a la Huancaina ($7) .00 is a Peruvian dish of boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called huancaína sauce. The potatoes were soft, with a nice firmness to them, and the sauce was excellent, with a touch of spicy heat and a delightful creamy texture, complementing the potato and egg.


The Choros a la Chacala ($12) is a Peruvian mussel dish, topped with corn, tomatoes, onions, and herbs. Like Ceviche, the mussels seem to "cook" a bit from the toppings, and this is a fresh and delicious dish, perfect for summer.  

From the New Dishes, the Anticuchos ($10.99) is a famous Peruvian dish, traditionally made from beef hearts, that are marinated in Peruvian aji panca and served with golden potatoes and corn. The meat was cooked just right, leaving it tender but with that firmness you get from beef heart, and the seasoning added a delightful edge to the dish. The golden potatoes were scrumptious, with a great crisp exterior, and a softer, fluffier interior. Those potatoes couldn't have been cooked any better, once again showing how the kitchen elevates even some of the simplest foods.  

Another of the New Dishes is the Pollada ($12), traditional fried chicken with boiled potatoes, rice and a side salad. First, the potatoes are similar to the golden potatoes in the Anticuchos dish, and are just as enticing. Second, the hearty piece of fried chicken was absolutely fantastic. The crisp coating wasn't too thick, was spiced just right, and had a compelling taste, complementing the tender, moist chicken within. I was enthralled with this dish and highly recommend it. 

Also on the New Dishes, is the Trio de Causa ($15), made with Ceviche, Chicharron de Pescado, and Octopus with Shrimp. A Causa is basically a potato "dumpling" with some type of topping, which can vary greatly. 

The Chicharron de Pescado was delicious, and the fried fish had a light, clean fried coating and plenty of moist, flaky fish inside. It made me want to order their fried fish entree, which I'll have to do on a future visit. 

The Octopus with Shrimp was also good, with an intriguing sauce, in both color and taste.

The Ceviche was a hit as well, with a creamy and bright aspect to the seafood. I haven't had their other Ceviche dishes yet, but this sample entices me. 

From the Chifa menu, the Wantan Frito ($5) are deep fried wontons filled with chicken and served with duck sauce. Great, crunchy wontons with a tasty chicken taste and the duck sauce was not your usual, but was nicely sweet without being cloying. 

Another superb dish was the Pollo Chi Jau Kay ($12), boneless chicken morsels battered, fried and topped with sesame seeds and scallions. This might seem similar to Sesame Chicken dishes you can find at many Chinese restaurants, but this dish was elevated above its competitors. The chicken isn't surrounded in thick batter, but rather just the exterior of the chicken was fried, giving a great crispy aspect to the chicken. It's as if they fried the exterior of the chicken and then tore pieces of meat off the bird. The sauce was more savory than sweet, and quite compelling, and much thinner than what you find on other Sesame Chicken dishes. Another highly recommended dish. 

The culinary hits continued! The Aeropuerto ($16) was a melange of fried rice, chicken, Char Siu pork, Lo Mein noodles, peppers, snow peas and scallions. And all of these ingredients worked well together, creating a delicious and intriguing dish. The Char Siu was especially tasty, and were very thin sliced pieces of barbecued pork. They have also recently introduced an Aeropuerto Especial, which adds shrimp and Chinese sausage to this dish. Highly recommended. 

The Chancho con Piña ($16) had slices of Char Siu pork, stir fried with snow peas and pineapples, and topped by a tamarind sauce topped with sesame seeds. Once again, the sauce was thinner than similar dishes, and was sweet, though not overly so. There was a nice tropical flair to this dish, all which complemented the thin slices of pork. 

This is a simple dish of Chaufa Pequeno ($8), a small Chinese fried rice with chicken. Tasty and fresh, it makes me question why Chifa cuisine isn't more available in the U.S. 

A variety of Desserts are available as well, such as Passion Fruit Ice Cream, Lucuma Ice Cream, Alfajores (cookies filled with dulce de leche), Leche Asada (crème brulee) and Mazamorra y arroz con Leche (Purple and rice pudding).

The Churros ($2.50) are covered in cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with chocolate, and filled with Belvedere cream. Hot, crunchy, sweet and creamy, such a nice blend of textures and flavors. I've had these twice because they were so good. 


A special dessert was the Picarones, basically donuts made of sweet potato, squash and spices, and accompanied by Chancaca syrup. This is even a vegan dish! I enjoyed these Picarones, a great crunchy coating and a slightly sweet and soft interior. he syrup was an intriguing addition, not overly sweet with a more unique flavor. 

The Piononos were similar to slices of a jelly/cream roll, but filled with dulce de leche. The roll was soft and light, similar to the consistency of a sponge cake, and the sweet dulce de leche complemented the light cake. They were quite tasty, and small enough that you won't feel bad about having some for dessert. 

The Peruvian and Chifa cuisine at Peruvian Taste Restaurant is authentic and compelling, offering different ingredients, unique combinations and great taste. The food is fresh, well-balanced, reasonably priced, and prepared well, with even the simplest of dishes well executed. It's excellent comfort food, in a homey atmosphere, and will appeal to lots of different palates. I give this restaurant my highest recommendation.

In the near future, they hope to obtain a beer/wine license. They will also add more Peruvian and Chifa dishes, and maybe some Nikkei dishes as well. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Short History of Peruvian Restaurants & Chifa in the U.S.

Have you ever tasted Chifa cuisine?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Peruvian cuisine lately, spurred on by my recent dining experiences at the Peruvian Taste Restaurant. I’ve long enjoyed my prior Peruvian meals, from the now closed Taranta to Alpamayo (out in the Lee), and have desired more Peruvian restaurants to open in the Boston+ area. I love Ceviche and Pisco Sours, Aji de Gallina and Chicha Morada, and I've even dined upon the famed dish Cuy, which is Guinea Pig (pictured above).

Let’s delve into the history of Peruvian restaurants in the U.S., as well as Chifa cuisine. We should begin with a little information about Peruvian cuisine itself. It’s a fascinating cuisine with numerous influences, a melting pot of cultural influences. There’s the influence of the Incas and other indigenous peoples, as well as the Spanish conquistadors. There’s the influence of African slaves who were brought to Peru to work on plantations. Chinese and Japanese influences are very strong as well, and there’s even Italian influences. And all those are only the main influences, omitting some of the other, more minor  cultural influences.

The country of Peru is also home to a bounty of fresh and native ingredients, from thousands of potato varieties to numerous unique peppers, from a number of indigenous fruits to abundant seafood from the Pacific Ocean and inland waterways. Such a wondrous palette of ingredients from which Peruvian cooks can create a myriad of appetizing dishes. This palette was complemented by an assortment of ingredients, from soy sauce to ginger, brought by the cultural influences mentioned above. 

Prior to the 1960s, references in the U.S. media to Peruvian cuisine were primarily in travel articles about Peru. For example, The Sunday News (NJ), January 20, 1946, had an article about Peru and some of its foods and restaurants. “Chirimoya, the luscious grapes of Peru, purple cucumbers, wild mint, string beans two feet long, turkey, guinea pigs, shellfish, and great baskets of seaweed have made these little eating places among the most interesting of their kind in the world.” Peruvian cuisine was already receiving raves in the U.S., even though it remained largely unknown to many Americans.

The article also offered a recipe for Estafado a la Arequipena, a type of stew made with beef, lamb, chicken, bacon, sausage, vegetables, and more. That might have been one of the first Peruvian recipes presented in an American newspaper. 

The San Bernardino County Sun (CA), June 4, 1950, described one woman’s travels in Peru, where she was impressed by two dishes. “One called ‘antecucho’ is almost as characteristic as the American hot dog for it too, can be purchased at roadside stands and carnivals. On investigation, ‘antecucho’proves to be a beef heart barbecued with a sauce…” The article continued, “Another delicacy that pleased her was ‘ceviche,’ raw fish cut in small pieces and covered with lemon juice and served with raw onion which is not as strong as ours, and with diced pepper.” 

Both of these dishes are still popular Peruvian foods, and ceviche has become popular even in numerous non-Peruvian spots. In some respects, it's a relatively simple dish, but it can be prepared in a variety of manners and can be absolutely delicious. And with warm weather returning, its an excellent dish to enjoy on a fine summer day. 

An interesting bit of trivia was presented in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (PA), November 5, 1959, which noted, “Peruvian restaurants serve a dish called ‘Mothers-in-law Eyes’ which consists of stuffed prunes. This is the ultimate insult we think.” In Spanish, this dish is called Olhos de Sogra and the prunes appear to be stuffed with a coconut mixture. 

In an article titled, titled Picturesque Peru Features Good Eating, the Chicago Tribune (IL), May 21, 1961, mentioned “…anticuchos—bits of hotly spiced beef heart grilled over an open fire—that are hawked at the bullfights here like hotdogs at a United States baseball game.” It continued, “Anticuchos are as characteristic of Peru as the native brandy that comes from the city of Pisco and bears its name. But both should be approached for the first time with caution. Pisco sours are stronger than you think. And anticuchos are made with fiery little peppers, so strong that their juice on your fingers can sting the skin.”

 
The first Peruvian restaurant to open in the United States appears to be Inca’s, located in Los Angeles, and established in 1963. However, there appears to be little information online about this restaurant. The main reference was in the Los Angeles Times (CA), October 22, 1967, which stated, “Inca’s was the first Peruvian restaurant in this country (four years ago) and is probably still the only one making a serious effort to introduce the authentic dishes. It is in an old Berendo St. House, comfortably converted into a red table-clothed restaurant. Carlos and Ofelia Binasa are in charge of the kitchens; son Gabriel manages.” 

The article also noted that they were open only for dinner and “The menu is a la carte but prices are moderate.” There was also another new restaurant, Inca’s at 1712 Sunset Boulevard, that served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The original Incas’s was located at 301 North Berendo, and was advertised as serving South American cuisine, and specializing in Peruvian dishes. 

Other Peruvian restaurants opened in the 1960s as well, primarily in California, Florida and Illinois. In May 1964, Rosita’s, a Peruvian & Mexican restaurant opened on 941 Kearny in San Francisco, and it was the first Peruvian restaurant in that city. The San Francisco Examiner (CA), May 30, 1964, published an advertisement for Rosita’s, which noted they served dishes including Anticucho, Papas Rellenas, Papas a la Huancayma, Seco de Carnero, Ceviche, and Peruvian Tamales. It was also noted that entrees cost 90 cents to $3. 

Sometime thereafter, The Times (CA), May 6, 1966, mentioned that Frank Torres, owned a Peruvian restaurant on Montara Beach. This was known as the Frank Torres Beach Hotel

The Miami News (FL), January 2, 1964, mentioned that the Machu Picchu del Peru restaurant and lounge had opened, in late December 1963, tat 732 Biscayne Boulevard. And around October 1969, a Peruvian spot opened in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 10 & 19, 1969, stated Piqueo, the first Peruvian restaurant in Chicago, opened at 5427 North Clark Street. It was operated by Moises Asturrizaga, who sang opera, and his sister, Juana, who did most of the cooking. 

Although these restaurants brought Peruvian cuisine to the attention of their communities, there was an event in October 1967 which brought it to the attention of people all across the country. In addition, this event led to the spread of a number of Peruvian recipes which newspaper readers could prepare at home. 

The 25th Annual Newspaper Food Editors Conference was held in Chicago in early October 1967. During this event, Braniff International hosted a “Flight to Peru,” a special Peruvian dinner that was held in the Drake’s Gold Coast Room. Over 150 food editors attended this dinner, many unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine, and the dinner earned many raves. The Tampa Tribune (FL), October 7, 1967, noted that 155 food editors gave a standing ovation at the conclusion of this Peruvian dinner. 

The Daytona Beach Morning Journal (FL), November 14, 1967, also stated, “It has been said that the food of Peru is the most interesting in Latin America, combining elements of ancient Incan and even earlier Indian civilizations with later Spanish and oriental influences.” The Evansville Press (IN), October 6, 1967, stated that “The Peruvian cuisine was selected because it is different, sophisticated and almost unknown in the United States,..” The article also noted that Braniff had started making changes to their service in 1965, including their food service, and were going to introduce some Latin American dishes on their domestic flights. 

The menu for this dinner was extensive, with a number of appetizers, an entrée, and dessert. The appetizers included Ceviche Peruano de Pescado, raw Corvina fish (flown from Peru) ‘cooked’ in lemon juice” and served with very thin, onion rings, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob, served at room temperature. The Tampa Tribune (FL), October 7, 1967, stated “the chef who prepared it said he prefers marinating the fish only 10 minutes.” 

There were also Anticuchos Mixtos, skewered cubes of beef, broiled over charcoal, speared with tiny squares of green and red peppers on a skewer, and served with a hot sauce. The Empanaditas were tiny turnovers, “filled with ground meat, finely chopped onion, green pepper, tomato, nuts, raisins, stuffed olives and hard cooked eggs.” The Alcachofa Limena were artichoke hearts, served Lima style, with one article stating they had a Bernaise sauce. 

The Conchitas Pavillon were small, very sweet scallops baked with butter and garlic in Conchita shells. The Sopa de Calabaza Fria, chilled pumpkin soup, was made with fresh pumpkin, cream and a dash of curry, garnished with tiny croutons atop dollops of sour cream. There was also Corvina Paracas, filets of corvina, the “great fish of Peru.” 

For the entrée, there was Arroz con Pato Chifa, duckling marinated in soy sauce, salt and seasoned pepper, then air dried before roasting. It was served with rice and a date, rice and walnut dressing, as well as cantaloupe and watercress. In the Plain Dealer (OH), March 8, 1968, it was said that, “The garnish, we were told, was supposed to be mango slices, which proved unavailable in Chicago in the fall. So the chef experimented with hot cantaloupe—and it was good!” The writer also started, this was “The best duckling we ever tasted…the duckling was superb! The skin was dark, but crisp, the meat moist and flavorful. And the accompanying Rice Date Dressing was marvelous too.” 

The ‘Chifa’ aspect of this dish is important, and I’ll explain more shortly. 

A Salad course was served after the entrée, and it was said to be, in the Tampa Tribune (FL), October 7, 1967, “…simply the most beautiful Bibb lettuce you can imagine dressed only with oil and vinegar blended with herbs and pimento bits.” 

Dessert consisted of Guayaba Machu Picchu that was described in the Tampa Tribune (FL), October 7, 1967, as “Guava shells filled with a mixture of cream cheese, cream, lemon and orange juice, grated rind and chopped bits, were served in stemmed sherbet glasses. Divine.” Pistachios may also have been added to this dish. Dessert also included a many-layered, flaky filled pastry, though little information was given about it. 

The drinks also had a Peruvian or South American flair. With the initial appetizers, three cocktails were served, including Pisco Sours, Margaritas and Algarrobina (another type of Pisco cocktail). With the Corvina, a Chilean white wine, Sauvignon Semillion, was served while a Chilean red, Santa Emiliana, was served with the Chifa Duck. A Chilean Sparkling wine from Valdivieso was served with dessert. Also with dessert, there was coffee and cappuccino, flavored with powdered chocolate and a healthy amount of Pisco. 

Several recipes for these various dishes showed up in a number of newspapers across the country, helping to give more publicity to Peruvian cuisine, making it accessible to home cooks too. 

The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 6, 1967, provided a recipe for the Peruvian Chifa Duckling while the Tampa Tribune (FL), October 7, 1967, gave the recipe for the Ceviche with its sides. In the Greensboro Daily News (NC), October 16, 1967, there were recipes for the Chifa Duckling and Rice-Date Dressing. The San Antonio Light (TX), October 19, 1967, also provided the same recipe for Peruvian Chifa Duckling. 

The Daytona Beach Morning Journal (FL), November 14, 1967, published recipes for the Sopa de Calabaza Fria, Conchitas Pavillon, Ceviche, Anticuchos, and Guava con Queso. The Augusta Chronicle (GA), January 11, 1968, printed recipes for the Chifa Duckling, Rice Date Dressing, Watercress with Mango, Alcachofa Con Conchitas, and Anticuchos. 

With all of these recipes, the Braniff Peruvian dinner could have almost been completely replicated. 

Back to the term Chifa. This word refers to both a fusion of Peruvian/Chinese cuisine as well as the restaurants which serve this intriguing cuisine. And the newspaper articles that detailed the Flight to Peru dinner probably were the first to introduce the term to most Americans. 

Around the 1850s, as many Chinese left China for the Americas, some traveled to Peru, many working on sugar and cotton plantations although a number moved to the cities, especially Lima. And as they did in the U.S., some of the Chinese opened their own restaurants. The Glasgow Herald (Scotland), July 15, 1868, reprinting a New York Times article of unknown date, printed, “Nearly all the families in Peru live from fondas. Fondas are Chinese eating houses, where meals are cooked and sent out. If a family has no ‘small servant,’ one of the Chinamen from the fonda carries the meals to the houses of his patrons.” 

Sometime during the 1920s or 1930s, these fondas became known as Chifas. It's alleged this word derives from the Cantonese words “chi” and “fan”, which may translate as “to cook or eat rice” or to “cook or enjoy a good meal.” The article La pasión por el «chifa» by Humberto Rodríguez Pastor (May-June 2006) stated, “Peruvians heard the Chinese pronounce the expression "chi-fan", which means to go eat rice, or simply a call to come to the table to have a snack, and that was the origin of the word that is used today.” 

A related term is Chaufa, which refers to fried rice, derived from the Chinese term chau fan. Interestingly, Americans might have been exposed to the term Chaufa before hearing about Chifa. The Daily News (NY), July 17, 1947, reported on the winner of their recipe contest. Margaret E. Randels, of Manhattan, won the $5 prize for her recipe for Chaufa. There wasn't any explanation about this dish, or reference to its Peruvian origins. The recipe was simply presented without any context or background. The main ingredients included rice, bacon, ham, green pepper, onion, and eggs. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some Americans started getting curious about Chifa. For example, the Atlanta Constitution (GA), February 3, 1972, briefly noted that a reader has requested a recipe for “…Chifa, a rice dish, or for Chaufi (if the spelling is correct) which it becomes when prepared with chicken.” 

A week later, the newspaper stated that the answer has been found in an article by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz in Gourmet Magazine in October 1969. “The cooking is known as Chifa, perhaps a corruption of chao fan—fried rice—which Peruvians always call “aroz chaufa” as if to say ‘rice fried rice.’ The main differences between this and classical Chinese cooking is the use of potato starch to thicken a dish and the employing of local ingredients.

And another week later, the Atlanta Constitution (GA), February 17, 1972, actually provided a recipe for Arroz Chaufa, and the basic ingredients includeed eggs (made like a tortilla), chicken, pork, green onions, and soy sauce.  

The San Antonio Light (TX), January 25, 1970, discussed their contest where a reader could win trip to Lima, Peru. The article stated, “No visit to Lima would be complete without a meal at a Chinese restaurant, called a ‘chifa’ by Limenos.” Continuing, it was noted, “The exuberant combination of the Cantonese cuisine, the art and delicacy of its preparation and the Oriental atmosphere are so popular with the Limenos that there is hardly a family that does not have a weekly reunion in a favorite ‘chifa.’” Plus, “There is a chifa for every budget. A good meal for a family of five, consisting of seven different dishes, will cost from four to ten dollars, depending upon the luxury of the establishment—or lack of it.” Finally, it was said, “The chifas vary from tiny, family ‘joints’ to big restaurants that can accommodate up to 400 guests.” 

Chifas expanded outside of Peru. The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), January 17, 1971, printed an article on travel to Ecuador, stating that the largest Chinese colony in Ecuador was in the city of Quevedo. “The chifa (Chinese restaurant) in Quevedo…The food is a marriage of Chinese and Ecuadorian cuisines, ..” 

Supply issues plagued the Chifas! The Arkansas Gazette (AR), March 13, 1971, reported that “Peru’s military government Friday banned the importation of bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, snow peas and black mushrooms. If Chinese food—known as ‘Chifa’ in Peru—is to continue a national favorite, the government said, restaurant owners will have to buy the prime materials in Peru. All the ingredients are available in domestic markets, it said.” 

More details were provided by the State Times Advocate (LA), March 23, 1971. Besides what was mentioned above, there was also a ban on importation of canned and prepared fish, crustaceans, and shellfish used in Chinese food. There wree over 200 Chifas in Lima, and “…the city’s better chifas import up to 30% of the food they serve.” 

The article also noted, “Lima boasts Latin America’s largest and oldest Chinese community. Most are descendants of Cantonese laborers who began arriving in 1849 to help build the port of Callao and the central railroad which crosses the Andes.” As was also noted, “Peruvians of Chinese descent today total an estimated 50,000. Almost half live in this capital city. They hold respected positions in many professions, particularly medicine and law.” 

In another article about Lima, Peru, the Los Angeles Times (CA), June 24, 1973, described Chifas in some detail, noting there were about 58 major Chinese restaurants in Lima, as well as another 100 or so minor eateries, “…ranging from five-table family operations to back-of-the-store wok-suey joints. They are called ‘chifas.” The article continued, “Once you get onto the chifa trail, of course you cannot stop.” In addition, it was mentioned, “If you want to start a real controversy in Peru, imply that one single chifa is superior to all the rest. For while everybody has a favorite, they’re all willing to concede that the next-best isn’t very far behind.” Finally, the article noted, “.., chifas are very much a part of the culture. Any big celebration—birthday parties, retirement dinners—just automatically takes place in a chifa.” 

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX), July 12, 1974, offered some Peruvian recipes, including Ceviche, Papas a la Huancaina, Anticuchos, and Arroz Chaufa (which was made with rice, bacon, cooked ham--or chicken, turkey, or pork--, green onions, eggs, and soy sauce.

Restaurants specializing in Chifa cuisine in the U.S. generally didn’t appear until the 1990s, although some Peruvian restaurants likely served a few Chifa dishes before this time. However, Peruvian restaurants are still relatively uncommon in the U.S. as there are only roughly 400-500 such restaurants and the number serving Chifa is obviously even smaller. As comparison, there are said to be over 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. So why isn't Peruvian cuisine, and especially Chifa, more popular in the U.S.? 

In the Boston+ region, there’s a small number of Peruvian restaurants, including Tambo 22 (Chelsea), Peruvian Taste Restaurant (Charlestown)Rincon Limeño (East Boston), Machu Picchu (Somerville), Machu Chicken (Somerville), Ruka (Boston), Celeste (Somerville), Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan (East Boston and Lynn), and Pollos a la Brasa Beto’s (East Boston). 

Of these restaurants, several have a couple Chifa dishes on their menus, mainly Lomo Saltado and Arroz Chaufa, with Peruvian Taste Restaurant having the most extensive Chifa menu of all of them, with easily over a dozen dishes available. 

Peruvian cuisine is diverse and delicious, and more Peruvian restaurants should open in the U.S., allowing more Americans to experience this fascinating cuisine. Chifa cuisine, that delightful fusion of Peruvian/Chinese food, also needs more attention, especially as it should appeal to most Americans. In the Boston area, we're fortunate to have the number of Peruvian restaurants that we do, but we could use more as well. 

What's your favorite Peruvian restaurants? What's your favorite Peruvian dishes? Have you tried any Chifa dishes? If so, which ones? And if you haven't experienced Peruvian cuisine yet, then now is the time to do so, to explore the myriad of culinary pleasures that can be found. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Rant: Stop Asian Hate!

"Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it."
--American History X

During the past year, there were about 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, and that number includes only those incidents which were reported. There were likely many thousands of additional incidents which the victims chose not to report. Of the reported incidents, Chinese were involved in about 42% of the cases, the most of any Asian group. The pandemic has led to a significant increase in racism and hate against Asians, especially the Chinese.

THIS HAS TO STOP!

I've written numerous articles about Asian food, drink, culture, and history, including a lengthy series of articles about the history of Boston's Chinatown. I contribute a column to the Sampan, New England's bilingual Chinese-English newspaper. Throughout my extensive research into Asian-American history. I've seen terrible racism throughout that entire history. For example, my latest article for the Sampan was about the first attempt, during the 1890s, to eradicate Boston's Chinatown, an endeavor fueled by ignorant racism. 

TOO MUCH HASN'T CHANGED!

You would hope that Americans had learned from the terrible sins of the past but for too many, they haven't. Asians continue to be targeted by ignorant racists, a repeat of a horrible history that we should have moved past. Hate is wrong and we must unite to battle it. This extends not only to Asians, but to any group which faces this irrational hate. We must stand up and support the victims of this hate. We must oppose this hate, doing whatever we can to help.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The Massachusetts Asian American Commission has a page of Anti-Asian Racism Resources, and it contains much valuable information. There is a Community Action Guide, a place to Donate to the Asian Community Emergency Fund, info on Bystander Intervention Training, how to Report racist incidents, and much more. You'll find more assistance at Anti-Asian Violence Resources. In addition, please listen to your Asian friends and colleagues, as they may have other ways that you can help.

DO YOUR PART!

If you have even an ounce of empathy, then this anti-Asian racism should greatly bother you, and cause you to take action. Asians have contributed so much to our country, and they have often persevered and succeeded despite great obstacles. America is a melting pot of peoples and cultures, and it's that melange that has made us great. Diversity is our wealth, and ignorance our poverty. We should not discriminate against any element of our wondrous melting pot.   

STOP ASIAN HATE! 
STOP ASIAN HATE! 
STOP ASIAN HATE! 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Rant: "Spring" To The Restaurants!

This isn't actually a Rant, but rather a joyous celebration of the start of Spring, the return of warmer weather, and Restaurants! 

Restaurants need our help and patronage, and now is an excellent opportunity to dine out. This past year has been rough on many restaurants, and unfortunately some had to close permanently. The survivors are still struggling and we can help them by dining out. Patios are open, or will be soon, in numerous cities and towns, and the weather will be pleasant this week. You have plenty of available choices, from long-time favorites to new spots. Where will you dine out this week?

Let me offer you some suggestions, restaurants I've patronized recently and which are more than worthy of your support. 

I'll begin with two Vietnamese restaurants, Soall Viet Kitchen and Việt Citron. Soall Viet Kitchen is located in Beverly (which is becoming a excellent culinary destination), and has both a patio and indoor dining. You can order Bahn Mi or Pho, though I'd recommend checking out some of their other dishes as well, such as their Pork Bao, Sweet Potato & Shrimp Fritters, and Chicken Clay Pot. Việt Citron, located in Burlington, also has patio and indoor dining, and is great for Bahn Mi (especially their crispy pork belly) and Pho, as well as their seasonal dishes and specials, from Chili Lemongrass Pork Ribs to Bò Lá Lốt.

Also in Beverly is Butter "UR" Biscuit, which sells a wide variety of Biscuit sandwiches, like the Cheesy Bird Biscuit pictured at the top of this post. Their food is prepared fresh, is quite delicious, and offers lots of diverse choices. They have both patio and indoor dining and I'd also recommend checking out some of their desserts, like the Raspberry/Lemon biscuit. 

I've only dined once at the Peruvian Taste Restaurant in Charlestown, but my experience was impressive and I'll be returning there this week. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you can dine-in or get take-out. There are a number of American dishes available, especially for breakfast, but the true highlight are all the Peruvian dishes, including Chifa, the famed Peruvian/Chinese fusion cuisine. I've long said we need more Peruvian restaurants in the area, and I'm so glad to see more opening in the Boston+ area. 

In Cambridge, I give a hearty recommendation to Bisq, which has both patio and indoor dining. Chef Alex Saenz is a talented chef, and I love his fried chicken. You can't go wrong with any of his dishes. Bisq also has an excellent wine list and some creative cocktails. I recently enjoyed the Shai Hulud (named after the sandworms in the book Dune), a savory Mezcal cocktail. 

Also in Cambridge, I give another hearty recommendation to Momi Nomni, where Chef Chris Chung creates some amazing Japanese dishes, as well as some Hawaiian inspired ones. His cuisine is available for take-out and dine-in, and dining indoors is special. With only two seatings each night, Chef Chung only books a single party for each seating. So, you essentially have the entire restaurant to yourself, and are waited on by Chef Chung himself. The sushi is top-notch and they have an excellent Sake list. 

I'll end with a huge recommendation for the Clam Box in Ipswich, which has some of the best fried seafood in the region, including sweet and succulent fried scallops and decadent fried lobster. Their clam chowder is also excellent. You can dine-in or eat at picnic tables outside. Plus, there's a number of farms near the restaurant where you can pick up locally grown and produced fruits, vegetables, and meats. 

What restaurants do you plan to visit this week?

Friday, March 19, 2021

New Sampan Article: The First Attempt To Eradicate Chinatown

"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 eighteen articles for Sampan, including:

Blob Joints: A History of Dim Sum in the U.S.

My newest article, The First Attempt to Eradicate Chinatown, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. From the time of the origin of Boston's Chinatown, around 1884, the Chinese have faced intense racism. Chinatown initially coalesced as a neighborhood and community, primarily on Harrison Avenue. Only seven years later, the first attempt to eradicate Chinatown arose, fueled by racism and propelled by businesses seeking to get wealthier. At this point, there were less than 1000 Chinese living in Boston, and 70% of those worked in laundries. The endeavor to eliminate Chinatown centered on a proposal to widen Harrison Avenue, the section between Essex and Beach Streets.

Today, the Chinese in Boston's Chinatown face some of these same problems. Racism continues, especially during these pandemic times, and business interests surrounding Chinatown have tried to make inroads, gentrification attempting to eliminate this wonderful neighborhood and community. Please check out my article to learn more about this first attempt to eradicate Chinatown. 

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!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Origin of Jimmies aka Chocolate Sprinkles

Growing up in Massachusetts, when I’d order an ice cream cone, I’d usually be asked if I wanted jimmies on top. Jimmies are basically tiny bits of chocolate-flavored candy, and are also known as “chocolate sprinkles” and “chocolate shots.” Many of the ice cream shops offered these jimmies as a free addition to your ice cream. They would also be sprinkled atop the whipped cream on your sundae. My mom sometimes bought jimmies at the grocery store so we could add them to our ice cream at home, or sprinkle them atop cookies and other desserts. 

When did jimmies, these sugary confections, originate? Who invented them? How did they acquire that name?

Many articles put forth the theory that jimmies were invented by the Just Born Co., a candy company originally located in Brooklyn, New York. This company claims to have both invented and named the product, sometime during the early 1930s. In 1930, they hired a new worker, Jimmy Bartholomew, who worked on their new machine, which basically produced chocolate sprinkles. At some point, the owners allegedly decided to name their "new" creation after this James, and thus “jimmies” were supposedly born.

However, this theory falls apart under closer scrutiny. First, chocolate sprinkles existed before their alleged creation by Just Born Co. So there's no way they could have invented them. Second, the term “jimmies” also appears to predate their alleged naming by Just Born. I also believe Just Born actually adopted the term “jimmies” from others when they relocated their factory to Pennsylvania. I haven't seen any other articles make this Pennsylvania connection before. 

Jimmies appear to first have been known as “chocolate shots,” at least as far back as 1915. The earliest reference I found was in The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), May 26, 1915, which had an advertisement for Almy’s,Montreal’s Largest Store.” The ad stated, “Ask for Chocolate Shots for covering cakes. ¼ pound, 15 cents.

The Dayton Daily News (OH), March 24, 1916, also had an ad for a Soda Fountain special “R-K Chocolate-Shot Sundae” for 10 cents.” With a little more detail, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (NY), April 13, 1916, printed a restaurant ad that noted, “Chocolate Shot is a delightful new form of pure chocolate which is used on the sundaes at the Fountain and Smith Brothers Restaurant.” So, we at least know they were once made from chocolate.

There was an intriguing ad in the Indianapolis News (IN), March 29, 1917, for Peter’s Candies, that highlighted, “The Latest War Craze. The Shrapnel Bon Bon” which was “Loaded with delicious Chocolate Shot” and sold for 15 cents. Obviously the tiny bits of chocolate within the bonbon would give the impression of shrapnel. The Indianapolis Star (IN), March 29, 1917, had the above ad for Shrapnel Bon Bons.

The term “chocolate shots” would continue to be used over the years, and still is sometimes used, but another term would start being more prominent, “chocolate sprinkles.”

The earliest mention appears to be in Chicago Tribune (IL), May 1, 1921, in a job listing for a salesman to sell products to soda fountains, confections and the drug trade. The primary product was “Chocolate Sprinkles,” noted to be “the newest and fastest selling specialty of large chocolate manufacturer.” The identity of that manufacturer wasn’t provided but later evidence will indicate it was the Stollwerck Chocolate Co.

There were multiple other listings during 1921, and it appears that this might have been the year the product was introduced into the market. The Sun (KS), May 19, 1921, briefly mentioned, “Special for Saturday at the 99 cent Store fountain—Chocolate Sprinkles.” The Brattleboro Daily Reformer (VT), June 3, 1921, had an ad for Wilbur F. Root & Son, noting they had Chocolate Sprinkles at their fountain.

Its use with ice cream was referenced. The Visalia Times-Delta (CA), June 4, 1921, published an ad for Valley Ice Cream Co., describing their new “Choc-O-Van ice cream”, which was “…made of Chocolate Sprinkles combined in just the right proportion with Vanilla Ice Cream.” The Cobleskill Index (NY), June 23, 1921, printed an ad for Vincent Florio’s, mentioning a new product, the “Combination Brick. Chocolate Sprinkle and Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream in Pints of Quarts.”

More details about the origins of “chocolate sprinkles” were provided in The Meyer Druggist, June-July 1921. The magazine stated, “For Your Fountain. Chocolate Sprinkles. Entirely new—the distinct novelty of the season—Increases trade and adds to your profit. What Are They? Highly finished particles of best quality vanilla chocolate—retaining their taste and appearance—and do not melt. Over sixty spoonfuls per pound. What They Do. Use as a topping on all kinds of sundaes—whipped cream—ice cream also as a decoration for candy, cakes, and various fountain dishes.”

This indicates the sprinkles were a new product, or at least under a different name rather than chocolate shots. We also see they were made of vanilla chocolate, although a description of what that constitutes wasn’t provided. It might refer to what we know better as white chocolate, although there is some ambiguity as to whether white chocolate existed at that point in time or not. Otherwise, it might just refer to vanilla-flavored chocolate. In addition, we see their versatility, from atop a sundae to its use as decorations for other treats.

The magazine continued, noting that a 5 lb. tin of chocolate sprinkles was available for $5.00, and it could be used to top 300 sundaes, which usually cost 5 cents. So, the business would sell those 300 sundaes for $15.00, making a $10.00 profit on those sprinkles. Although that profit wasn’t adjusted for the cost of all the other ingredients used for the sundae.

Finally, it was mentioned that these chocolate sprinkles were “Perfected and made solely by The Stollwerck Chocolate Co.,” which had offices in Stamford, Connecticut and Chicago, Illinois. With an office in New England, it makes sense why chocolate sprinkles would be so popular in this region. 

Stollwerck is a German chocolate manufacturer, which was established by Franz Stollwerck in 1839. It eventually expanded operations, becoming the second largest producer of chocolate in the U.S. by the start of the 20th century. Stollwerck appears to have been the company which invented the name “chocolate sprinkles,” and probably based them on the pre-existing “chocolate shots.” Better to differentiate their product from existing ones. 

More ice cream with sprinkles. The Times (IN), July 2, 1921, presented an ad for Summers Pharmacy and their “Hawaiian Beauty: Vanilla ice cream, crushed pineapple, pineapple ice, pink marshmallow, pecans topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.” It cost 25 cents plus 3 cents tax. The Oshkosh Northwestern (WI), September 30, 1921, had an ad for Carver Ice Cream Co. and their “Palm Beach. Layer Chocolate Sprinkles, Layer Orange Ice, Layer Vanilla Cream.”

During 1922, both chocolate shots and chocolate sprinkles were mentioned in a variety of newspapers across the country. The Hartford Courant (CT), April 8, 1922, printed a small ad mentioning the sale of Chocolate Shot, for “Use with desserts, ice cream, etc. 37 cents a can.” The St. Louis Star & Times (MO), June 2, 1922, posted an advertisement for the Famous-Barr Co. store, that now sold, “A New Marshmallow Package—containing fresh Marshmallow covered with chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, or toasted coconut.”

In the Star Tribune (MN), June 17, 1922, another ad mentioned Chocolate Shot, for cakes, ice cream, etc., at 89 cents a pound. The La Crosse Tribune (WI), November 12, 1922, referenced a “Sunday Special: Brick—Quaker Special. A solid brick of Vanilla imbedded with Chocolate Sprinkles. At all dealers. Tri-State Ice Cream, Corp.”

The North Adams Transcript (MA), November 24, 1922, noted “Chocolate Shot for Cake, Ice Cream, etc. Both these products made in Holland. Very fine.” We see then that some chocolate shots were imported from Holland, which could indicate that was a possible origin place for the chocolate shots.

The Chicago Tribune (IL), November 24, 1922, published an ad which stated, “Chocolate Sprinkle Slices—Saturday Only—The daintiest pastries, combining butter sponge, velvety cream and a unique overlay of chocolate ‘shots.’ Each 25 cents.” And the Bridgeport Telegram (CT), December 8, 1922, had an ad for the Grocerteria, “Something New!! Chocolate Sprinkles. 10 cents pkg. Made by Stollwerck Chocolate Co.” The ad continued, “This is decidedly something new and you will certainly like it. It is fine for Cakes, Puddings, Sauces and Candies.”

The Tyrone Daily Herald (PA), March 23, 1923, published an ad for the M&M Store, which sold Chocolate Sprinkles, “A Stollwerck product of dainty sweet chocolate bits, for sprinkling over ice cream, deserts, etc.” It was 10 cents a package.

The year 1923 is also important as that is when Sam Born, who came from Russia, established the Just Born Co., a small candy shop and factory in Brooklyn, New York. The “Just Born” name was intended to signify that their candies were made fresh each day. At this time, “chocolate sprinkles” already existed in the U.S. and it’s hard to believe that Born was unaware of them. They were a hot item in the couple years prior to the opening of his store. 

There's no way his company invented chocolate sprinkles. At best, he might be able to lay claim to naming them “jimmies” but that claim is suspect as well. The story told by Just Born is that in 1930, they hired James Bartholemew to operate their chocolate sprinkles machine. At some unspecified time during the 1930s, Sam wanted to create a new name for these sprinkles, probably to set his product apart from those being made and sold by Stollwerck. 

Sam allegedly decided to name the sprinkles after his employee James, and thus called them “jimmies.” It seems logical that this name change didn’t occur until James had been working at the candy factory for some length of time. Who would name a product after a brand-new employee, who hadn’t proven himself yet, or even proven he would remain working at the factory for any length of time? The company itself doesn't provide any firm dates of the naming, merely that it occurred sometime in the early 1930s. 

The timing is very important here, as “jimmies” were mentioned in the newspapers in 1930, thus predating the term’s use by Just Born Co. So, not only did someone else create chocolate sprinkles, but someone else also coined the term “jimmies.” It's also likely that someone in Pennsylvania came up with the term "jimmies," as that is where the first two documented uses of the term can be found. Unfortunately, there's no mention of why chocolate sprinkles were renamed jimmies at this time. 

The Tyrone Daily Herald (PA), April 12, 1930, published an ad for Gardner’s Candy store, which read, “Chicks and Rabbits Made of the Very Best Solid Milk Chocolate. Also ‘Orphan Ann,’ ‘Jimmies,’ ‘Bozo’ and many other members of the milk chocolate family.” So, jimmies appear to have been made from milk chocolate. 

More detail was provided in the Pittsburgh Press (PA), December 4, 1930, in an ad for McCann’s stores, about their “Butter Sponge Layer” cake, which sold for 60 cents. “Here’s a cake so delicious and good you simply can’t resist it. A smoothly textured, feather light sponge covered with creamy butter frosting and chocolate jimmies. In case you don’t know what “’jimmies’ are…tiny chocolate candies.”

If the term jimmies was originally restricted to Pennsylvania, then the Just Born, Co. might not have heard the term when they were in Brooklyn. However, in 1932, they moved their entire operation to an old plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, planning to employ about 100 people. Thus, the Just Born, Co., which relocated to Pennsylvania would then have likely heard of jimmies, and might have decided to adopt that term for their own chocolate sprinkles, figuring it would appeal to their local customers who already knew the nature of jimmies.

Over time, the Just Born Co. developed a myth about the creation of jimmies, trying to claim primacy in its creation and naming. However, they lack definitive evidence from around the time of the alleged creation, and pre-existing shots and sprinkles make it clear they couldn’t have invented the product. And the first documented references to “jimmies”in 1930 in Pennsylvania cast further doubt on Just Born’s claims. 

Whatever you call them, jimmies, chocolate sprinkles, or chocolate shots, their origins go back at least to 1915, when they first were referred to as chocolate shots. Around 1921, the term chocolate sprinkles made its first appearance, and appear to have been named by the Sollwerck Chocolate Co. By 1930, the term jimmies made its first appearance in Pennsylvania, and that seems a likely spot for its origin. The claims of Just Born Co. don't hold weight, even though it might sounds like an interesting story.   

Do you enjoy jimmies on an ice cream cone or sundae?  

Monday, March 15, 2021

Rant: Sometimes A White Zin Is The Best Wine You Should Buy

This past weekend, a Facebook thread caught my eye, with the starting post of "The Worst Wine You Should Never Give As A Gift...." The responses were generally what you might expect, from White Zinfandel to Yellow Tail. The commenters seemed to be wine lovers, people with more adventurous palates, who desired to expose people to different wines. In general, that's a cool thing to be, and I would generally fit into that category as well.

However, there are some who might see the thread as pretentious, a charge commonly lodged against wine drinkers. Fighting that perception is an ongoing effort. By denigrating these "worst wines," which are consumed by millions of people, some of those people will feel insulted as their personal favorites are trashed. That certainly wasn't the intent of this Facebook thread, but it was an effect nonetheless that should have been considered. 

Not every wine drinker wants to be adventurous. Some just want to drink the same wine all the time, even if it were White Zinfandel or Yellow Tail, something they know they enjoy. You could buy them some other type of wine, but they might not even open it. They might regift it to someone else. They know what they like, and you should give them what they want.  

Eight years ago, I penned a Rant that addressed this very issue, and it's appropriate to resurrect it now. 

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

Yesterday was Mother's Day, a time to honor our mothers, to show the love we possess for them. I love my mother, and she's worthy of much honor for her love, devotion, and sacrifice in raising me. However, she'll say that she doesn't need any specific day to be honored, that she feels my love every day. Many mothers probably feel that very same way about their children, yet we children still enjoy celebrating this holiday. 

I worked at a wine shop on Mother's Day and it was fairly busy with people buying wine for their mothers. I sold more White Zinfandel that day than any other day I can ever recall. One of the customers seemed almost guilty buying it, telling me that it was for his mother. That made me ponder the matter, raising a question in my mind.

If you truly love your mother, would you really buy her an inexpensive wine like a White Zinfandel?  

Some might think the answer is easy, that their mother deserves much better than White Zinfandel. Some might think she deserves a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon, a fine Bordeaux or a vintage Port. In some respects, they are correct. Your mom is certainly worthy of a pricey, high end wine. My own mom is certainly worthy of any wine I know. However, that doesn't mean you should buy your mother such a wine.

In fact, sometimes a White Zinfandel is the best wine you can buy for your mom.

For Mother's Day, I believe that you should give your mother the things she loves. No matter what they might be. I don't believe it is the day to test your mom, to give her mother something she might or might not enjoy. You want the day to be as perfect as possible for your mother, so you should cater to her desires. If she loves White Zinfandel, then the best wine you can give her for Mother's Day is White Zinfandel. You shouldn't feel guilty or cheap. You shouldn't feel like a bad child.

Even if you are a wine lover, conversant with wines from all over the world, having tasted wines made from hundreds of different grapes, don't shy away from buying White Zinfandel if that is what your mother loves. Maybe your mom has never had a Provence Rose or a Gruner Veltliner, and might enjoy them if she did. Then again, maybe she won't. Don't try to change your mother's palate on Mother's Day. Give her what you know she already loves, even if it's White Zinfandel.

Yes, Love for your Mother can be expressed through White Zinfandel.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Boston Bakes Feta: Greek International Food Market Holds A Feta Recipe Contest

Who doesn't love Feta Cheese? The Greek International Food Market, of which I've previously raved, carries several different feta cheeses, including a couple barrel-aged ones, such as the Horio Barrel Aged Feta, Parnassos Barrel Aged Feta, and Dodoni Feta Cheese. That tasty salty tang to the crumbly and moist feta is appealing, and it can be enjoyed on its own, atop salads, in sandwiches, or in other recipes. There is also a unique depth of flavor to the barrel-aged fetas, with a mild woody, herbal tinge.

Maybe the first U.S. newspaper to discuss Feta Cheese in any detail was the Sun & New York Press, March 9, 1919, in an article titled, "Greek Feta Cheese Makers Use Primitive Methods." The article began, “A cheese in brine, commercially known as feta or fetta cheese, is manufactured in Greece under circumstances so simple and surroundings so primitive as almost to debar it from a place under the heading manufactures, since it is virtually a natural product.”

The article continued, “It is made by shepherds scattered over the mountainous portion of Greece, each man preparing the cheese in his tiny hut.” And they all basically created feta in the same manner. “The milk, generally sheep’s milk, is poured into large receptacles and slowly heated, if necessary, to bring it to a temperature approximating body heat, on order that fermentation may take place advantageously.” Next, “Rennet is then added to the milk, and when properly curdled the whey is decanted and the curds wrapped in cheesecloth woven from wool. The mass is slowly pressed by twisting the empty upper part of the bag until all free whey is squeezed out, when the bad is hung up to drip for a period of ten to twenty-four hours, depending upon the humidity of the atmosphere and the speed of evaporation in conjunction with the pressure exerted by the weight of the mass.

The details of the process were continued. “At the end of this period the solid mass of casein is unwrapped and sliced and dry salt is liberally sprinkled over the slices. The salt absorbs much of the moisture still left in the curds and the saline solution is then quickly re-absorbed by the cheese.” It was then noted that, “The salting process generally is completed within twenty-four hours and the cheese is then ready to be packed in wooden barrels holding from 112 to 169 pounds. After four or five days ripening the cheese is ready to eat. Its taste from this point until it begins to deteriorate is not unlike Devonshire curds, if salt and a little cayenne pepper be substituted for the sugar and cream with which that familiar product is most frequently eaten.

It also didn't take long for U.S. cheese producers to make their own attempts at Feta Cheese. The Ithaca Journal (NY), April 23, 1925, reported that John Talarougas, a native of Greece and resident of New York, recently bought 100 sheep, intending to make. The article stated, “The cheese is now made in some sections of Vermont and New Hampshire, in which cows’ milk is utilized.” It was also noted that only 2 pounds of raw sheep milk are needed for 1 pound of feta, compared to the need for 5 pounds of cow's milk. This type of feta cost about 80 cents per pound. 

Fast forward to the present, when In early 2021, the U.S. was taken by storm when a recipe for baked feta pasta went viral on the popular app TikTok, acquiring millions of views. The recipe first became popular in Finland in 2018, a creation of a Finnish food blogger.  

Inspired by this trend, the Greek International Food Market  has launched #BostonBakesFeta, a challenge for people to create their own unique dishes with this classic Mediterranean cheese. The possibilities are endless and go far beyond the original baked feta pasta dish. Feta is certainly a versatile ingredients, and you're limited only to your imagination.  

Individuals will be recognized for forging new feta frontiers and the Greek International Food Market will reward one creative “chef” with $100 of feta products.

To be considered, you must post your photo or videos, along with your recipe on Instagram by April 1, 2021 and tag @greekinternational. The market will share favorites (based on creativity and taste) and announce a winner by April 5.

We can’t wait to build on the feta movement with our customers’ creations,” said Katerina Iliades, owner. “Since childhood, this cheese has been one of my favorite foods. I’m excited to sample some delicious new dishes.”

So, get your culinary brain pondering a new Feta recipe! Though I haven't created my own Feta recipe, I have been pondering how Feta would make an excellent pairing with Japanese Sake. I've written about cheese and Sake pairings before, and the briny nature of feta brings to mind briny oysters, which also pair great with Sake. I'm sure in time I might come up with an interesting Feta and Sake recipe.