Monday, May 31, 2021

Rant: Being Seafood Adventurous

I've long stated that Americans need to eat more seafood, and that the scientific community advises people to eat seafood twice a week, an annual consumption of 26 pounds of seafood. Fortunately, American seafood consumption has risen in recent years, pre-pandemic, which was a positive sign.

In 2019, Americans consumed about 19.2 pounds annually, still seven pounds less than advised, but higher than prior years. For example, in 2012, American consumed only 14.4 pounds, down from a previous high in 2005 of 16.6 pounds. In comparison, Americans consume about 222 pounds of red meat and poultry each year, so seafood consumption is less than 10% of this consumption. 

The pandemic has hurt seafood consumption during the past year, especially as most Americans commonly ate seafood at restaurants and much less frequently at home. However, now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and people are starting to return to restaurants, hopefully seafood consumption will rise again.  

Besides simply consuming more seafood, people need to be more seafood adventurous, and look beyond the most popular species of seafood. According to Seafood Health Facts, there are between 300 and 500 different species of fish and shellfish sold annually. What an incredible diversity is thus available, and it makes it even more unfortunate when American seafood consumption habits are so limited. 

For a number of years, about 90% of the seafood consumed by Americans was limited to 10 different types, including Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. However, 2019 saw a significant change in this statistic, as those ten types only constituted 74% of American consumption. That means Americans have been sampling other varieties of seafood, going beyond the usual types, and seeking something different. That's great news! The top three types were still Shrimp, Salmon, and Canned Tuna. 

Obviously, these statistics are an average for the entire country and are likely different in certain regions of the country, such as the Northeast. With our proximity to the coast and access to the vast bounty of the sea, our particular seafood consumption habits are probably different from the norm. For example, Lobster might be on our Top Ten species list and Clams, cause of all the fried clams and chowders, could also be in a higher place than 10th. However, it is still clear that even those in the Northeast don't eat enough different species of seafood. We far too often remain with the common and familiar rather than venturing out to something different. Try some mussels, dogfish, sardines, mackerel, fluke, and much more.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. It is why many of those species have quotas, because their populations would be threatened by unregulated fishing. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. With strict quotas on the most common seafood species, it gets harder and harder to make a living by catching those fish. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money. We should cherish our local fishermen and help protect them, especially when it is so easy to do so by simply consuming different types of seafood. Don't you want to help your local community?

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate to the pleasure of whelks and sardines, cobia and mackerel. You will enjoy the tastes if you only give them a chance, especially if you dine at a good restaurant which knows how to properly prepare seafood. For the sake of sustainability, to save our oceans and all of the endangered species, to save our fishermen, this is an excellent choice and one you should seriously consider.

Be more seafood adventurous!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

 I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well. 

1) Tomorrow, Friday, May 28, from 4pm-6pm, there will be a special taste of Croatian Wines outdoors in front of the Solera Wine Shop, located at 16 Birch Street in Roslindale. This street is blocked off for traffic in the summer so there will be plenty of space for socially-distanced tastings, and there are a few restaurants with tables outside. 

The good people of Croatian Premium Wine Imports are leading this tasting of organic wines from the Komarna Appellation in the Dubrovnik county. Ever wonder the origins of the well-known Zinfandel grape from California or the Primitivo from Italy? Its roots are from Croatia where it is known as Tribidrag and its offspring grape is Plavac Mali. Croatian Premium Wines will be pouring these big, bold, perfect for your Memorial Day holiday weekend. There will be delicious Whites and Roses, as well. 

This is a complimentary tasting and no reservations are necessary, There will be plenty of excellent Croatian wines to enjoy so I recommend you check out the tasting. 

2) Casa Caña and Bar Moxy will host a Summertime Rooftop Celebration on Thursday, June 10th, starting at 7pm. The event will feature three courses of Casa Caña’s taqueria-inspired fare paired with delicious cocktails. Taking place on Bar Moxy’s rooftop, twenty four floors above downtown Boston, guests will be treated to amazing city skyline views alongside delicious cantina fare from recently reopened, taqueria-inspired Casa Caña.  

The menu includes:
Primero: Shrimp Ceviche
Segundo: Barbacoa, cilantro rice, chiatoye squash, mole
Postre: Flan, coconut, mezcal berries

Tickets, which cost $65, to the event are available for purchase HERE.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Birth & Evolution of the Mai Tai

The famed Mai Tai! It’s considered a classic “Tiki” drink, fairly potent, and commonly found in many Chinese-American restaurants, especially those with a Polynesian aspect. I’ve consumed many a Mai Tai, and they often taste very different from place to place. In addition, their garnishes usually vary, from pineapple slices to tiny parasols.

What is the origin of this cocktail? How did it become so famous? And how has it evolved over the years? Let’s explore the first twenty years of the Mai Tai’s history, a period when this cocktail became popular and evolved from its original roots.

According to the Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki by Martin Cate & Rebecca Cate, the Mai Tai was invented by Trader Vic Bergeron in 1944 at his Oakland restaurant. One day, he was making drinks for two Tahitian friends, and created a new rum cocktail. His friends loved it, and one declared, "Maita’i Roe A’e," a Tahitian phrase which roughly translates as “Out of This World—The Best.” Thus, the Mai Tai was born.

This first Mai Tai was composed of J. Wray & Nephew 17 year old rum (from Jamaica), orange curaçao, rock candy syrup, orgeat, and lime juice. Over the years, and as Trader Vic expanded his operations across the country, he had trouble sourcing the original J. Wray & Nephew rum, so the recipe was altered, a few different times, using a variety of specific rums.

According to California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees by Jason Henderson and Adam Foshko, the specific original recipe for the first Mai Tai was 2 ounces of 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Rum, the juice of 1 lime, ½ ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curaçao, ¼ ounce Rock Candy Syrup, and ½ ounce French Garnier Orgeat Syrup. All of this was poured over shaved ice, and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint and a spent lime shell.

For the first approximately nine years of its existence, the Mai Tai didn’t appear to make any significant splash across the country. It was primarily a local drink, which received little, if any, newspaper coverage during that period. Unless you lived near Oakland, or traveled there, you might not have even known the Mai Tai eisted.

However, in 1953, the Mai Tai began its climb to fame. All it took was relocating the cocktail to a tropical paradise, to the lush and alluring Hawaii.   

In 1953, Vic Bergeron was hired by the Matson Steamship Lines, which had started running passenger service from California to Hawaii around 1908. Vic was employed to create cocktail lists for their passenger ships as well as the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, at Waikiki Beach on O'ahu Island.

The first newspaper reference I found concerning the Mai Tai was the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 4, 1953. The article noted Trader Vic had recently created the new drink menu at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It also mentioned that Trader Vic’s favorite drink was the Mai Tai, a “heady concoction with a rum base.” So, the Mai Tai was seen from the beginning as a potent drink, a sentiment which would be common going forward throughout the years.

During the 1950s, Hawaii became a popular travel destination, a tropical getaway, and it would spawn the popularity of the Mai Tai across the country. Tourists who enjoyed the Mai Tai while vacationing in Hawaii wanted to recreate the cocktail at home. Other restaurants and bars across the country also began creating their own versions of the Mai Tai, trying to capitalize on its popularity. If the Mai Tai had never been brought to Hawaii, it might never have become such a classic drink. 

The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), June 6, 1954, discussed the Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian, which cost $1.25, and stated it was a “.., sophisticated blend of rums and lime juice with its swizzle stick of fresh sugar cane to munch between sips.

Then, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 26, 1956, mentioned that prior to Trader Vic bringing the Mai Tai to Hawaii, the “...only tropical drink you could buy was a Planter’s Punch.” So, Trader Vic filled a void, bringing the Mai Tai and other Tiki drinks to Hawaii. 

However, the Mai Tai seemed like it was a bit slow to initially catch on. The Honolulu Advertiser, October 31, 1956, printed that Hawaiian tourists “...go for fancy drinks such as the Mai Tai, scorpion or Tonga. But so seldom are these ordered that sometimes even a seasoned bartender has to check his mixing manual.” So, it doesn't appear the Mai Tai was an instant hit, but it grew in popularity over time.

There were a couple brief mentions in 1956 and 1957. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 6, 1956, noted, “A mai tai is a rummy sort of chemistry, the inspiration of Mr. Trader Vic.” While the Lansing State Journal (MI), April 24, 1957, stated the “sugar cane mai-tai” was available at the Surf Room of the Royal Hawaiian.

The Mai Tai began becoming available at other places in Hawaii, besides those owned or consulted by Trader Vic. The Independent (CA), May 15, 1958, printed an advertisement (pictured at the top of this post) for the Lafayette Hotel & Lanais, which stated, “Intestinal Fortitude? Try our potent Mai Tai..a mighty drink in any clime, prepared with 15-year old Jamaica Rum. $1.50.” 

The Press Telegram (CA), June 1, 1958, had a similar ad, also mentioning that the Outrigger was a lounge in the Lafayette Hotel & Lanais. This ad started, “Got guts? Then you’ll love to try a Mai Tai (two’s the limit) oodles of rum and tropical fruit.” This might be the first reference to a restaurant/bar which restricted your Mai Tai consumption to only two because of its potency.

Another potency comment. The Los Angeles Times (CA), May 19, 1958, stated that, “A mai tai, I find out later, is about 14 different shades of rum mixed together and ‘diluted’ with a float of liqueur to smooth it out.” This might be the first reference to a "float" of alcohol added to the top of a Mai Tai. The original Mai Tai recipe didn't include a float, so this was a variation invented at some point, one which also became popular. 

Mai Tais moved beyond California and Hawaii, to Louisiana. The Times-Picayune (LA), October 3, 1958, published an ad for the Pontchartrain Beach Comber Restaurant, which asked diners to “try a Mai Tai cocktail.”

Maybe the first Mai Tai recipe provided in a newspaper was printed in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 7, 1959.  The recipe began, “This is for one drink only. Sip it s-l-o-w-l-y and lose track of time!” The ingredients included 1 ounce rhum negrita, 2 ounces Ron Rico white or gold rum, the juice of 1 lemon or lime, 1 dash of Orange Curacao, 1 dash of Falernum, ½ ounce of simple syrup and pineapple juice if desired. Then, add a handful of crushed ice and shake furiously. Pour it over a glass of crushed ice and garnish it with pineapple, mint, orange, an orchid and a gardenia. 

We can see this is different to some degree from the original Mai Tai recipe, especially concerning the possible addition of pineapple juice. Plus, all of the different garnishes, which would seem to have overwhelmed the drink, were a new addition, the original recipe calling only for mint and the shell of a lime.   

The Mai Tai’s popularity grew. The Muskogee Daily Phoenix (OK), April 17, 1959, reported on a luau party at a New York City penthouse. “There were tall frosty glasses of Mai Tai, the newest popular cocktail hour beverage in Honolulu.” It continued, “Mai Tai, should anyone ask you, is a mixture of orange curacao, orgeat, fresh lime juice, and Jamaica rum served in glasses with lots of crushed ice.” This is much closer to the original Mai Tai recipe.

Besides all the fruits and flower garnishes in some Mai Tai cocktails, this reference might be the first appearance of the paper umbrella. The Mt. Vernon Register-News (IL), August 19, 1959, mention that at a party in Mount Vernon, Illinois, they served a “…Hawaiian Mai-tai drink served with tiny colorful parasols peeping from the glasses.”  

The popularity of the Mai Tai seemed to reach new heights during the early 1960s. For example, the San Francisco Examiner (CA), January 10, 1960, reported that at the University of Hawaii, “…students plan Mai Tai parties where a mixture of rum and tropical fruit juices is served.”

There were continued warnings about its potency. The Daily Independent Journal (CA), February 26, 1960, mentioned, “…a Mai Tai, which has the innocent look of a fruit punch and the countdown of about three martinis.

The variations of the Mai Tai recipe started to multiple as well. The San Diego Union (CA), March 4, 1960, noted that at a recent Polynesian party, the Mai Tai was served, “...made with mango juice and five other juices, rum fortified.” This is the first I've seen of the addition of mango juice to the cocktail.

In Los Angeles, the Mai Tai was available. The Mirror News (CA), June 7, 1960, wrote a review of the drinks at the Kowloon in Los Angeles, mentioning, “Not to sip a delicious rum concoction with Cantonese delicacies is like bypassing wine with a spaghetti dinner.” This seems indicative that the Mai Tai had started to spread to Cantonese restaurants. The article continued, “Most popular Kowloon exotic drink is ‘mai tai’ ($1.75). It means ‘the best’ in Tahitian, contains 15-year old Demerara rum and tropical fruit juices. It’s potent.”

Vegas too now sold Mai Tais. The Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV), June 9, 1960, stated that at Aku Aku, you could order a Mai Tai. The article mentioned, “It’s one of the most popular drinks from the West Indies. Mai Tai means “the best” in Tahitian and it contains 15-year-old Demerara rum and tropical fruit juice.” It's obvious they didn't understand that the Mai Tai didn't originate in the West Indies. The article continued, “...two of these and you will want to trade places with Clyde Beatty.

Even in Ohio you could find the Mai Tai. The Columbus Dispatch (OH), August 18, 1960, discussed Johnson’s Restaurant, an “...oriental restaurant with a particular beautiful Hawaiian atmosphere.” You could get a Mai Tai “which anybody who has been to Hawaii will remember.”

Another Mai Tai recipe, and a variation from the original. The El Paso Herald-Post (TX), September 19, 1960, provided a recipe, which was made with 1 ounce fresh lime juice, ¾ ounce simple syrup, 2 big jiggers of light rum, and ¾ ounce orange curacao. It was then topped with 1 ounce of dark rum, and garnished with a fresh pineapple stick and 2 small sprigs of mint.

A Mai Tai without the rum? The Plain Dealer (OH), November 19, 1960, discussed the Midway Motel, which had just opened the Trade Winds Lounge and MaiKai dining room. Their version of the Mai Tai was radically different. “The Mai Tai has a bourbon base, crushed orange, lemon and ice, and is served in a cocoanut shell.” Bourbon and not rum? Some variation may be expected, but omitting the rum probably means this cocktail needed a name change.

More Mai Tai recipes and their variations. The Honolulu Advertiser, November 27, 1960, printed a recipe that started with a brandy snifter of shaved ice. You then added dark and light rum, in equals parts, with Meyer’s Rum and topped it with curacao. Then, you squeezed some lime juice over it and served it with a straw. The Chicago Daily News (IL), December 8, 1960, called for a frosted glass. Then, you mixed together 1 ounce Jamaica rum, 1 ounce white Puerto Rican rum, 1 ounce lime juice, ½ ounce curacao, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, and ½ ounce orgeat. This was much closer to Trader Vic’s original recipe.

And one more Mai Tai recipe. A writer for the Providence Journal (RI), December 31, 1960, printed that “…the mighty Mai Tai, a memorable tipple, indigenous, I understand, to the South Seas and other branches of Paradise.” Obviously this is incorrect, that the cocktail was an American creation, with no real connection to the South Seas. The writer visited Hawaii, and tasted several Mai Tais, such as the one at Hirams on Waikiki Beach, which was made with three kinds of rum, pineapple juice, and a topping of brandy.

At Fort De Russey, the writer met Eleanor Ito, a female bartender well known for her Mai Tai cocktails. Ito provided her recipe, stating, “Into a high-speed mixer went two and one-half ounces of fresh unsweetened pineapple juice, one ounce of lemon juice, one and one-half ounces of dark run, one and one-half ounces of light run, four dashes of grenadine, and three dashes of curacao or cointreau—.“ Then, you poured the mixture into a tall glass and added a huge slice of pineapple. 

And the Mai Tai recipes continued. The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), January 4, 1961, printed a Mai Tai recipe. First, fill a double old-fashioned glass with shaved ice. Then, squeeze in 1 small lime and drop in half the shell. Add ½ teaspoon each, orange curacao and simple syrup, and 2 ounces of light rum. Next, float 1 ounce of dark rum on top and garnish with a sprig of mint and a pineapple stick.

Mai Tai and Chinese cuisine. As I mentioned earlier, you can often find the Mai Tai at numerous Chinese restaurants. One of the first references to such was in the Los Angeles Times (CA), April 9, 1961. There was a mention of Wan-Q, a Cantonese restaurant, but whose drinks, including the Mai Tai and Zombie, were more “South Seas.”

More advice about creating a Mai Tai. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), April 23, 1961, spoke with Henry Loui, the proprietor of The Kalia Gardens, who provided advice on the Mai Tai, as well as his own recipe. The article stated, “The mai tai is deceptive to drink, as well as to prepare.”

It continued, “Loui’s theory is that ‘Most people have trouble with the rum. They either use too much or too little. The mai tai is a drink you build.” The recipe then stated that you first put crushed ice in your mai tai glass or brandy snifter. Then, you pour over the ice 1 ½ ounces orange juice, 1 ½ ounces pineapple juice, 1/3 ounce Orgeat syrup, a dash of orange Curacao, juice of half a fresh lime, and 1 ounce light rum. Next, you stir the mixture and add, but do not stir in, 1 ounce of dark rum. Finally, you could add a shaft of freshly cut pineapple and garnish with an orchid blossom.

The Royal Hawaiian, where Trader Vic introduced the Mai Tai to Hawaii, provided their recipe to the Plain Dealer (OH), May 7, 1961. It stated, “Jigger light rum, jigger dark Jamaica rum, juice of one lime (and drop half shell in the glass. Dash of Orgeat syrup, dash of rock candy syrup, dash of orange Curacao. Garnish with sprig of mint, sugar cane stick, pineapple stick and fill with shaved ice.” This is very similar to the original Mai Tai Recipe, except for the extra garnishes. 

The article also discussed some the Mai Tai variations found in Hawaii. For example, “The Halekulani omits the tock candy syrup and floats the dark rum on top.” In addition, “Tiki Bob Bryant at the Tahitian Lanai uses light Peurto Rican rum and Lemon Heart Demerra rum on top.”

The potency comments continued over the years. The Los Angeles Times (CA). May 14, 1961, noted, “The thing that the visitor is cautioned to avoid in Hawaii is Mai Tai Madness. This is a rum drink that can be compared favorably with the atom bomb. It’s safe so long as you keep the ingredients separated.”

Mai Tai shirt? The Honolulu Advertiser (HI), October 8, 1961, published an advertisement for a new shirt by Ross Sutherland, “ aloha shirt with a built-in back bar—picturing every wild Hawaiian drink from the Mai Tai to the Tiki Bowl—each in its distinctive bar glass—mug or bowl.” That would certainly be a fun shirt for the summer.

More potent Hawaiian Mai Tais. The Petaluma Argus-Courier (CA), October 27, 1961, reported that in Hawaii, “Don the Beachcomber’s will serve you a tall mai tai for a dollar and a half. Heavy sugar for a single glass, but it’s a big one, strong with rum and lots of others goodies. One will do the job of two or three martinis.”

And still more potency comments. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), November 26, 1961, printed, “The potent Mai Tai continues to be Hawaii’s leading potion for the visitor probably because it’s the Island drink most visitors have heard of, because the ingredients are somewhat native to Hawaii, and because it’s a good and interesting drink.”

Mai Tai perfume??? The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), March 18, 1962, discussed that Hawaii had a perfume industry, which started just before World War II, and was geared mostly for tourists and exports. The largest perfume company was Browny’s of Honolulu, which belonged to a husband and wife team, C.H. Browny and Straussy Brown. They had created a new perfume, called Mai Tai, which Straussy claimed was “absolutely intoxicating.”

More information on this perfume was provided in the Honolulu Advertiser (HI), December 19, 1962. The new Mai Tai perfume, which was said to be a perfect Christmas gift, was a “spicy evening perfume attractively packaged in a French flacon and boxed in sophisticated black and white.”

Mai Tais were so popular that a bottled Mai Tai mix now became available. Around July 1962, Don the Beachcomber introduced bottled mixes for the Mai Tai, Navy Grog and Scorpion. You just had to add rum. The Van Nuys News & Valley Green Sheet (CA), July 19, 1962, had an ad for the bottled Mai Tai mix, which cost $1.39 for a fifth. These were quite popular, and the Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi), August 9, 1962, reported Don the Beachcomber had sold over 92,000 bottles of its new mixers.

This same year, Trader Vic also started selling their own bottled Mai Tai mixer. The Daily Independent Journal (CA), November 7, 1962, printed an ad for their Mai Tai Mix, which cost $1.79 for a fifth, 40 cents more expensive than those of Don the Beachcomber. The ad also mentioned that you “Add Rum and Garnish with Pineapple & Maraschino Cherries." In addition, the ad noted you could also purchase Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Rum, which cost $5.99 for a fifth.

More Mai Tai creations. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), September 11, 1962, printed a Mai Tai recipe, except it was for Mai Tai Pancakes! The recipe called for you to start with a bowl of Bisquick, and then add some type of liquid, such as water, milk, ginger ale, or rum. Then, you added pineapple chunks to the batter, and once cooked, you served the pancakes with a mixture of ¼ golden rum and ¾ Vermont maple syrup.

Hawaiian rum? The Honolulu Advertiser, September 27, 1962, reported that Seagram and Sons had just opened a new rum distillery on Maui, noting that eventually, the Mai Tai could be made with Hawaiian rum. However, sales just didn’t develop and the distillery closed around 1969.

Another potency comment. The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), January 8, 1963, printed that, “The mai tai is a fruit drink with enough rum to blow coconuts off the tree.” 

Finally, the Boston Traveller, March 12, 1964, has maybe the first mention of a Mai Tai in Boston, at Bob Lee’s Islande, on Tyler Street in Chinatown.

So, this twenty-year period saw the Mai Tai rise from relative obscurity to become hugely popular in Hawaii, and that popularity then spread to the rest of the country. New variations of the original recipe seem to have overtaken the original, especially with the addition of various fruit juices that didn't exist in the original. It became so popular that you could even buy Mai Tai mix in a bottle and just add your own rum.

Today, the Mai Tai is a “Recognized Cocktail” by the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB).  A Recognized Cocktail is a " Mixed drink that has gained trade and consumer recognition, containing one or more class(es) and/or type(s) of distilled spirits with flavoring and/or coloring materials.” The Mai Tai is defined as “Rum and citrus juices, oils or natural citrus flavors.” That is an extremely broad definition, and nearly any rum and citrus juice cocktail could qualify as such. This definition seems to be indicative of how many variations of the Mai Tai now exist.

Who wants to drink a Mai Tai right now?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

New Sampan Article: What's a Chop Suey Sundae?

 "The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

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

My newest article, What's A Chop Suey Sundae?, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. The most popular item in the earliest Chinese restaurants in the U.S. was chop suey, a mixture of meat and vegetables in a brown sauce. It was such a popular term that it was even co-opted by others, to apply to non-Chinese foods, such as the Chop Suey Sundae. So, what was a Chop Suey Sundae? Meat, vegetables and a brown sauce over ice cream? Learn all about the Chop Suey Sundae in my latest article. 

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

Monday, May 24, 2021

Rant: What Is Authentic Food? Consider Brandon Jew

What is "authentic" cuisine? 

This is an area of controversy, with some holding strong positions as to what dishes are and are not considered authentic. However, authenticity is a complex issue, and much of their arguments often depend on arbitrary lines and definitions. 

For example is chop suey an authentic Chinese dish? The answer will vary, dependent on your own personal definitions. This isn't a question with a clear and definitive answer. 

Cuisine changes with time, with the interaction of different cultures, the introduction of new ingredients, and the innovations of different individuals. So, where do you draw the line as to what is authentic? 

Recently, I've been reading Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories From the Birthplace of American Chinese Food, by Brandon Jew & Tienlon Ho (2021). Brandon is the chef/owner of Mister Jiu's in San Francisco, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant which opened in 2016. This cookbook provides a wide variety of intriguing recipes, but it was the Introduction that really captured by mind. 

Brandon discussed some of his thoughts on authenticity, and they struck an accord with some of my own thoughts. The following four quotes may encourage you to rethink your own ideas of authenticity, to be more open in your definitions. So, read these quotes and take some time to ponder over what they say, and see how they compare to your own thoughts on authenticity.

"To me, authentic food isn’t about a moment in time. People change and move and so does what they eat. China didn’t even have chiles until about three hundred years ago, but they are essential to mapo doufu, a now classic Sichuan dish. I also don’t believe authenticity has to be dependent on location. The same ingredients will taste different depending on where they’re grown. Cooking is about adapting to what’s around you."

"You don’t have to be a specific person in a particular place to make food that captures something we all instinctively know has Chinese roots." 

There’s also a very personal sense of authenticity you feel when you eat something that tastes just how you remember it. My childhood was not identical to yours, so our nostalgia takes us to different places.” 

"To me, a more communal way to look at authenticity is in the way a dish embodies cultural traditions; not necessarily in one specific way, but in details that show intention and knowledge. When you cook food that means something to a lot of people, you don’t have to look a certain way or have the culture in your blood. (I was, after all, a Chinese American cooking Italian food.) You just have to care."

These quotes aren't definitive or the end of the conversation of authenticity. However, they offer a fascinating viewpoint, and an excellent starting point for further discussion. Don't be so draconian in your own authenticity definitions, but be more willing to consider all of the potential factors that contribute to the issue. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well.
1) Mooncusser owner Ian Calhoun has named Carl Dooley Executive Chef as the seafood restaurant reopens after the pandemic. Chef Carl Dooley, most recently from the acclaimed Table at Season to Taste in North Cambridge, is a very talented and creative chef, and I'm excited to see what he will develop at Mooncusser, which has also been one of my favorites. 

Mooncusser will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 5:30pm-10pm, with Dooley offering a 4-course, prix-fixe menu ($90) that showcases local seafood with bold flavors and cross-cultural techniques and spices. Simultaneously, the restaurant will launch a new beverage program, now that they have acquired a new liquor license. 

The Prix-Fixe Menu offers two choices for each of the four courses, such as a Veal Loin Carpaccio, Asparagus & Jonah Crab Curry, Glazed Rhode Island Tautog (great to see them using a lesser known fish), and Grilled Lamb. I look forward to checking out Dooley's new creations.

2) The most common complaint I've heard about the restaurants, at Encore Boston Harbor, is that they are too expensive. Some of the restaurants do run specials at time, offering more affordable options. Fratelli, an Italian restaurant which is a collaboration between Frank DePasquale and Nick Varano is running such a special right now, offering a four-course dinner for only $39.95 per person.

This special is available every Monday through Wednesday, from 4 to 6 p.m. For the first course, guests can choose any Appetizer on the full menu, with has over a dozen options, such as Sautéed Mussels & Clams and Meatballs & Homemade Ricotta. For the second course, guests can choose any Pasta, again with over a dozen options, such as Paccheri di Gragnano alla Ragu’ and Vongole Macchiato.
For the third course, there's a choice of four entrées, including marinated Tuscan sirloin steak tips, Alaskan king salmon, braised beef short ribs, and seven-spice brick chicken. Every meal ends on a sweet note with Chef’s house-made tiramisu. Sounds like a good deal.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rant: Be Skeptical of Food & Drink Origin Stories

Over the years of writing historical articles about food and drink origins, I've realized how often the most popular origin stories aren't true. However, those same origin tales get disseminated by many different sources, creating an illusion of the veracity of those origins. Thus, those erroneous origins become "common knowledge" and trusted by many people. You need to be more skeptical of these origin tales, to seek out evidence proving or disproving these origin stories.

Companies and individuals like to be seen as the inventor of something, or at least be connected in some way to the inventor, such as a family member or community member. This helps them stand out, and gives them a sense of pride, of accomplishment. It can also sometimes be a marketing ploy. Many of these origin tales don't arise until years after the alleged invention, when it may be more difficult to disprove their claim. 

Fortunately, the digitization of newspaper archives has made it easier to conduct research, to assess the veracity of these claims, and I've done so with numerous food and drink origin tales. Sometimes, I've even found evidence to dispute a claim of invention within ten minutes of research. It certainly takes much longer to put together a fully researched article, but you can often quickly determine whether your research will be fruitful or not. 

For example, when I was researching A History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., the prevailing opinion was that the first Sake brewery outside of Japan was established in Hawaii in 1908. Some of the support for this opinion came from employees of the brewery during the 1970s. My research proved that wasn't the case, and that the first Sake brewery was actually founded in Berkley, California, in 1902. The Hawaiian Sake brewery was actually around the 4th or 5th Sake brewery in the U.S. I even found evidence that the original owners of the brewery were fully cognizant of the prior Sake breweries. 

I was once told that the earliest known written documentation concerning Pechuga, basically a flavored Mezcal which commonly adds meat to one of the distillation steps, was from the 1950s. As I was intrigued by this topic, I did my own research and wrote An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal, and found multiple documents referencing Pechuga, extending back to 1863. This has enhanced our knowledge of Pechuga, and shows what can be accomplished with some determined research. 

Most recently, I posted The True Origin of Hawaiian Pizza, disputing the common claim that Sam Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian, invented Hawaiian pizza in 1962. On May 10, 2021, the Economist even published an article on Hawaiian pizza, repeating this claim about Panopoulos. However, I proved that pineapple on pizza existed for at least nine years prior to its alleged invention in 1962. It was even in a Boston restaurant prior to 1962. 

Like with most topics, you should be skeptical of food and drink origins. Even origin tales that seem to be the most popular and widely publicized can turn out to be false. Seek out evidence and proof of these origin tales. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Pizza History in the U.S. (Part 2): The True Origin of Hawaiian Pizza

Do you like pineapple on your pizza? This topping generates much passion, both for and against its inclusion on pizza. No other topping seems to cause such controversy. So, what led someone to first decide to add pineapple to a pizza, creating a Hawaiian Pizza? 

The most widely accepted origin tale, and which is rarely contested, is that a Canadian invented Hawaiian pizza in 1962. However, that isn't the truth. Pineapple on pizza existed for at least nine years before its alleged invention in 1962. 

First, let's examine the popular origin story. Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian, operated the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario. Initially, the restaurant didn't even serve pizza as it was still difficult to find anywhere in Canada. When they started to expand their menu, adding some Chinese cuisine, they also decided to make pizza. In 1962, Sam and his brothers decided, as a lark, to add some canned pineapple to a pizza, allegedly calling it Hawaiian Pizza after the name on the can. Initially, their customers didn't like the Hawaiian pizza, so eventually, after some experimentation, they added ham to the pizza, and the combination became much more appealing to their customers.

The problem is that there are documented references to Hawaiian Pizza for a number of years before 1962.

The first documented reference that I've found concerning pineapple on pizza was in the American Restaurant Magazine, V.37, 1953.  It stated, “Other pizzas offered include a green pepper with sausage, regular sausage, and anchovies and cheese. During Lent a shrimp pizza is offered and a pineapple pizza also has been made available at times.”  Unfortunately, the complete magazine isn't available online so I don't have sufficient information concerning the name and location of the restaurant serving this pineapple pizza. 

The Honolulu Advertiser (HI), December 27, 1956, in an article titled, Tiny Pineapple Pizzas Popular, .provided a newly developed recipe for Tiny Pizza. It noted that instead of using a yeast dough, you could use an English muffin or hamburger bun. Then, it was to be topped with sausage, garlic salt, pepper, well-drained pineapple tidbits, tomato paste, Cheddar cheese, and grated Paremsan. This is the first pairing of pineapple and a pork product, and the recipe article was reprinted in numerous other newspapers, in places including Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa.

On February 1, 1957, Francine's Pizza Jungle opened in Portland, Oregon, and their initial advertisement stated they served over 30 varieties of pizza. 

In the Oregonian (OR), February 7, 1957, they had another advertisement, this time which added a menu, showing all of their international and creative pizzas. What an innovative list of pizza topping combinations! Jungle Pizza, Chinese Pizza, Danish Pizza, Hungarian Pizza, Spanish Pizza, Swedish Pizza, and much more. A French Pizza with frog legs, a Jungle Pizza with cocktail fruit, an English Pizza with pork and beans. 

One of those selections was also a Hawaiian Pizza, topped with pineapple, papaya, and chopped green pepper. This is the oldest reference I've found to the use of the term, Hawaiian Pizza, predating Sam's alleged invention by five years. Unfortunately, the restaurant only lasted a few months, at least into May. As pineapple pizza existed before 1957, it's certainly possible that another restaurant also referred to it as Hawaiian pizza but I haven't seen any evidence of such yet. 

This wasn't the only mention of Hawaiian Pizza which predated Panopoulos's alleged invention in 1962.

In the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 12, 1958, there was a recipe for Pineapple Pizza Snacks, which used a biscuit mix in a pizza pan, as a base, and then topped it with ham, mustard, pineapple, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. We see another pairing of pineapple and a pork product, ham this time. This recipe would also be reprinted in a newspaper in Indiana.

The first recipe booklet. The Los Angeles Times (CA), March 12, 1958, reported that a new recipe booklet was available, Cookbook “Pizza and Other Italian Favorites”, Lesson 4 in Marian Manners new 1958 series of Times College of Cookery recipe leaflets. This five-page collection included a recipe for Pineapple Pizza.  

I was intrigued by an advertisement in the Courier-News (NJ), March 20, 1958, for the Mutual Super Markets, which offered a Pineapple Pizza Cake. Unfortunately, no description was given for this fascinating treat. 

The Quad City Times (IA), September 24, 1958, printed a recipe for Hawaiian Dessert Pizza, which included pineapple. That same recipe was also published in a number of other newspapers, across the country, including Mississippi, Ohio, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, and Michigan. Yes, this was a dessert pizza rather than a savory one, but it still used the name and was still pineapple atop pizza. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), August 23, 1959, mentioned a snack of "Hawaiian Pizza," although no description was provided, so it's unclear whether it referred to a savory or dessert pizza.  

Another dessert pizza recipe. The Monroe News-Star (LA), October 7, 1959, also had a recipe for Hawaiian Pizza, but it was a different recipe from the one published in 1958.

Locally, the Boston Daily Record, February 17, 1961, had an advertisement for the Desert Lounge, in Roxbury, noting that Italian cuisine was their speciality. In addition, they boasted, “First time Anywhere. Irish, Jewish, Hawaiian Pizza.” So, Hawaiian Pizza was available in Boston the year before its alleged invention by Panopoulos in 1962.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 12, 1961, presented an ad for Bettendorf Rapp; mentioning that at their in-store bake shop, they sold Pineapple Cheese Pizza, for 65 cents each, and noted it is “A delight for After-school snacks.”

Finally, and which opens up more of a mystery, is the Arizona Republic (AZ), February 18, 1962, which briefly mentioned, “But differentness, itself, is the specialty of a few Phoenix places. How else can a café justify the slogan ‘Home of the Pineapple Pizza?” The article failed to mention the name of this cafe, and I currently haven't been able to locate any more information about it. Could Arizona have been the first place to serve pineapple pizza? 

As we have seen, Sam Panopoulos was far from the first to add pineapple to a pizza. He also wasn't the first to coin the term "Hawaiian pizza." He also wasn't the first to combine pineapple and ham or sausage. Somehow though, people still came to believe he was the inventor of Hawaiian pizza, ignoring the prior history of this controversial pizza topping.  

And there's more Pizza History to come....

(This article was expanded with new information on 5/17/2021.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Pizza History in the U.S. (Part 1)

When's the last time you ate pizza? I suspect that for many people, it's been no longer than a week or so since you last enjoyed a slice. Pizza, that simple blend of bread, cheese and sauce, is delicious! Plus, it is such a versatile food, available in a myriad of variations, dependent on your preferences. 

According to Statista, there are about 78,000 pizza restaurants in the U.S., generating about $46 Billion in sales each year. This is roughly twice the number of Chinese restaurants. California, with about 7300 pizza restaurants, has more than any other state, with New York coming in second place with about 5700 and Texas in third place with about 5200. Massachusetts, with about 2300 pizza restaurants, comes in 9th place.  

It seems likely that these numbers don't include every restaurant, bakery, grocery store, or other food spot that might sell pizza as a minor item, and doesn't qualify as a "pizza restaurant." So, pizza is available in far more than just the 78,000 pizza restaurants. 

There are also a significant number of different pizza styles, mostly regional ones, available in the U.S. And nearly anything can be added to a pizza as a topping, creating a vast diversity of pizza, from Breakfast pizza to Dessert pizza. I'm a huge pizza fan, and there have been days in the past when I ate pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Like many foods, the origins of pizza are murky, with numerous claimants stepping forward to allege that they were the initial creators. Pizza itself likely has its origins in ancient Greece or Rome, over 2000 years ago, when flatbreads were topped with olive oil, cheese, and fish. Tomatoes were native to the Americas and didn't arrive in Europe until the 16th century, although it initially had a bad reputation, as some Europeans believed they were poisonous. Around the 19th century, people in Naples began making pizza with tomatoes, creating Pizza Neapolitan.

It is thought that Pizza Neapolitan was introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants. The origins of pizza in the U.S. are also murky although the most common origin tale is that the first pizzeria in the U.S. was established in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi in New York City. However, Peter Regas has uncovered evidence to directly dispute this origin tale, pushing back the known history of pizza in the U.S.into the 19th century. Unfortunately, we've only seen bits of this new evidence as Peter is planning to release a book on his pizzeria research in the future.

I'm going to present a selected history of pizza, hitting some highlights, trying to showcase some firsts, mainly in the U.S.. This is a work in progress though, and will be expanded in the future based on additional research.

Let's begin with a newspaper article from London, which sounds like a strange place to start when discussing pizza in the U.S. However, this article is one of the earliest known in English that described Neapolitan pizza in some detail. It provides some fascinating details at a time when Neapolitan pizza was largely confined ti Italy. 

In The Morning Post (London), December 17, 1860, there was a lengthy section in an article, Politics & Society in Naples, about Neapolitan pizza. It stated, “Well, the pizza is a favourite Neapolitan delicacy, which is only made and eaten between sunset and two or three in the morning, and it must be baked in five minutes in the oven; at the very moment when it is ordered it is pulled out of the oven and served up piping hot, otherwise it is not worth a grano." The pizza was only available at night? No pizza for lunch or breakfast. 

The article continued, describing how it was made. "The pizza baker takes a ball of dough, kneads it, and spreads it out with the palm of his hand, giving it about half the thickness of a muffin, then pours over it mozzarella, which is nothing more than rich cream beaten almost like a cream cheese; then he adds grated cheese, herbs and tomato, puts the cake—which, made after this fashion, is termed the pizza—just for five minutes into the oven, and serves it up as hot as possible. The cheese and the cream are of course all melted and unite with the herbs and tomato. The outside crust must, in the case of a perfect pizza, possess a certain orthodox crispness." Simple toppings, cheese, tomatoes and herbs. 

And pizza was popular with all social classes of Naples. As the article noted, "Now, at this season of the year there is no person, high or low. From the first Neapolitan duke to the lowest lazzaroni, with whom it is not a primary article of faith to eat pizza. The pizza cake is your only social leveler, for in the pizza shops rich and poor harmoniously congregate; they are the only places where the members of the Neapolitan aristocracy—far haughtier than those in any other part of Italy—may be seen masticating their favourite delicacy side by side with their own coachmen, and valets, and barbers

A bit of significant criticism was added, "The pizza shops are about the filthiest in Naples, and whoever knows Naples will admit that is saying a good deal. They are generally in the meanest alleys and in the midst of the most disreputable quarters. No matter, at this season of the year, they are thronged all the same.” Would that make you want to dine at these pizzerias?

Some variations of Neapolitan pizza existed, although not everyone approved to the alterations. “There are other modes of preparing the pizza, by the substitution of freshly caught anchovies, for slices of sausage, or mushrooms for the cream and grated cheese; but the highest authorities on these points treat with disdain all such modern innovations, and protest that a pizza compounded after that fashion has no right to the name at all.” 


Back to the U.S. During the first 40 years of the 20th century, most of the references, in American newspapers, to pizza and pizzerias were advertisements and legal notices. There were very few articles that explained or described the nature of pizza. As such, many Americans during this period probably knew little, if anything, about pizza unless they happened to live in an Italian neighborhood. Some of the earliest pizzerias weren't even mentioned in the newspapers until many years after their founding. Thus, it's difficult to determine that nature of the pizza that was served at some of these establishments.  

The earliest newspaper reference I found, concerning pizza, was in Boston Daily Globe, December 18, 1905. It was briefly noted that the Pizzeria Napolitina was located in New York City at 53 ½ Spring St. This was the address of the famed pizzeria of Gennaro Lombardo, which some claim was the first pizzeria in the U.S. 

A few years later, on the West Coast, the L’Italia (CA), September 18, 1908, published an advertisement for the Pizzeria Napolitana in San Francisco. So, pizza had already spread across the country but during the next thirty years, most of the new pizzerias would appear on the East Coast, from New York to Florida.  

According to Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History, by James C. O'Connell, a North End bakery, Giuseppe Parziale’s, which opened in 1908, served pizza. 

During the next twenty years, a number of pizzerias would open, although obviously not all of them were mentioned in the newspapers. The Standard Union (Brooklyn, NY), January 11, 1917, mentioned Café Pizzeria while the Evening Bulletin (RI), August 29, 1919, noted Torino Pizzeria Restaurant in Lakewood. The Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), July 14, 1922, had an ad for the Modern Spaghetti House, which served “Italian Pizzeria Napolitanna.” 

In 1925, Frank Pepe opened a bakery in New Haven, Connecticut, and one of the items he sold was pizza. Then, in 1937, he moved his business next door and opened the famed Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.  The Times Union (NY), March 17, 1927, stated people were “all going over to ‘Minnee’ (Carmine Placente) the Pie-man’s Pizzeria” while the Delaware County Daily Times (PA), March 31, 1927, referenced Barbiero’s Pizzeria on 176 North Main Street.

The first instance of the use of the term "pizza pie" was in the Delaware County Daily Times (PA), January 12, 1926, in an ad for sale concerning, “oven fresh Pizza pie Mobile Units.” It seems some wanted mobile pizza ovens, possibly to set up at festivals, fairs, and other such events. 

The American Guardian (OK), May 24, 1929, was one  of the first newspapers to provid some clarity on the nature of pizza. It noted, “Pizzeria is a bakery which specializes in pizza, a pie served with anchovies and tomato sauce and dear to the Neapolitan palate.” So, it seems many pizzerias were considered bakeries, and not restaurants. The article also seems to indicate that Neapolitan pizza came with anchovies, an ingredient often mentioned with pizza during this period. 

The first pizzeria in Harlem opened in 1932. The New York Age (NY), January 23, 1932, discussed a new restaurant in Harlem, Napoli, a pizzeria and spaghetti house at 594 Lenox Avenue. A number of pizzerias during this time were accompanied by a spaghetti house. The menu listed “Pizza alla Napolitana, an Italian pie-like dish, the main elements being cheese and tomatoes, and furnishing a filling and enjoyable meal” 

The article continued, “It is pronounced ‘pitza,’ and be sure, when it is served the first time, to ask the waiter to show you how to eat it, for to enjoy it, you use your fingers.”  No need for a knife and fork. Although today, most people use their fingers to eat pizza, it was still an unfamiliar dish to many in the early 20th century, so they needed some guidance, and to understand they didn't need utensils to eat a slice of pizza. 

The first reference to an Italian Tomato Pie was in The Bristol Daily Courier (PA), June 22, 1933, in an ad for “La Pitza (Italian Tomato Pie)”and there was a later reference in the Central NJ Home News (NJ), November 10, 1933, mentioning "Pizza (Italian Tomato Pie)."

As for the Boston area, the first reference I found to a pizzeria was in the Boston Globe, October 22, 1934, in a legal notice where Paolo Pizzeria, at 112 Porter Street, was seeking a liquor license. I'll note that this address is just down the street from the famed Santarpio's. Pizza was being served at other places before 1934, but they didn't get mentioned in the early newspapers. 

For example, Santarpio's was initially a bakery, founded in 1903, and started selling pizza in 1933. The Boston Globe, January 31, 1922, reported that the owner, Frank Santarpio, was fined $5.00 for keeping his bakery open on Sunday. The Boston Globe, August 14, 1951, noted that Santarpio's was still a bakery at this point, located at 115 Chelsea Street, East Boston, but they made pizza as well as bread and other baked goods. Eventually, it would become solely a pizzeria. 

Regina Pizzeria, also a landmark in Boston, was established in 1926 by Luigi d’Auria, and is said to be the oldest pizzeria in Boston. For about twenty years, Regina Pizzeria received little attention, except for a shooting that occurred in 1934. The Boston Herald, December 31, 1934, reported that, “A free-for-all fight last night in the Pizzeria Regina restaurant at 15A Thacher street, said to have started when the proprietor, Luigi d’Auria of 64A Prince street, refused to serve a drink to a minor, resulted in the critical injury of one man and severe cuts and bruises to another.”

One man took a bullet in his lower back, while the other was hit on the head with a bottle. Mr. D’Auria was held for questioning, but as I didn't see additional articles about the incident, it's very possible that no charges were ever filed against D’Auria.

Another pizzeria was referenced in the Boston Globe, July 19, 1935, in a legal notice where the Pizza Garden, at 65 Northampton St., applied for a liquor license. 

The Boston Herald, November 9, 1935, printed an ad for Mario’s Italian Restaurant announcing their opening of the Catacomb Canteen, “the Only Downtown Place to Eat Pizza Baked Before You.” There were locations at 69 Church Street (rear of Statler Hotel) and 24 Shawmut Street. The November 17, issue, added that you should try "the tasty Italian delicacy ‘PIZZA’ served by ciociare." Ciociare refers to "girls dressed in gay peasant costumes."  The Boston Globe, December 18, 1935, added that their chef was Tony Iorio, and that there was a "window oven, where chef Tony Iorio prepares the famous Italian pizza.’

Back to New York. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), January 21, 1935, mentioned Pizzeria alla Napoletana, located at 147 W. 48th St. Pizza was described as “a dessert that dates back to the early Romans. Pizza requires a special type of oven with the flame coming down from the top, which explains why it is so hard to get in the majority of restaurants…” Pizza as a dessert? This wouldn't be the last time that it would be categorized as such. 

The article also noted, “It is made in a great big shallow dish almost as large as a tea tray. And is served in triangles, like slabs of pie.” It continued,  “Pizza, as properly prepared, is baked cheese and tomato. Another version consists of cheese, tomatoes, olives and anchovies all baked together.” Again, those anchovies! Finally, it stated, “Pizza is much like pie. Americans often order it by asking for pie. You can combine both techniques, by asking the waiter for ‘a pizza pie.

Beer and pizza? The Boston Globe, February 20, 1936, reported on a possible scandal at the Welfare Department in Quincy. George E. Morey, the ousted assistant welfare commissioner, had alleged that Commissioner Alvin S. Wight had held “high jinx parties,” with beer and pizza, in the Welfare Department offices and that “good looking women had received favored treatment.” In response, the women of the department sent an open letter, denying all of the allegations and demanding that Morey produce proof of his charges or apologize. Morey’s allegations were taken seriously, leading the City Council to initiate a fact finding investigation.

As a follow-up, the Boston Globe, June 16, 1936, reported that the subcommittee of the City Council had issued a report of their investigation.  The report confirmed that Morey’s claims were true, and that “beer and pizza parties” had been held after office hours. It also stated that a woman, whose identity was not revealed, was the “real boss” of the Welfare Department. These were explosive conclusions but the Council voted to send the matter back to the subcommittee for reconsideration and further study. Unfortunately, I didn't find any further references, so I'm unsure of the final conclusion of this matter.

The Hartford Courant (CT), June 10, 1936, mentioned that De Pasquale Bros. Pizzeria Bakery and Luncheonette, at 58 Market Street, had recently moved to this location. They had introduced Italian Pizza to Hartford about 5 years ago and now had a “new oven designed especially for us insures most efficient baking of Pizza.” 

The first American cookbook to feature a recipe for Neapolitan pizza was the Specialita Culinarie Italiane, 137 Tested Recipes of Famous Italian Foods, a fundraising cookbook published by the North Bennett Street Industrial School in Boston in 1936. The recipe, located in the Cakes & Desserts chapter,  was titled Neapolitan Pie, Pizza alla Napolitana. It called for raised dough, which could be purchased at any Italian bakery, and was supposed to be topped with a half-cup of tomatoes, a 1/4 pound of Scamozza cheese, olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. 

Maybe the first recipe for pizza in a U.S. newspaper was provided in the Boston Globe, January 2, 1937. The recipe stated you could buy bread dough at an Italian bakery or make your own. Then, you greased a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the dough on the sheet. Next, you placed pieces of anchovies on the dough, and then added a half-can of tomatoes, pepper, a sprinkling of savory, and top it all with olive oil. Curiously, no cheese was used in this recipe. 

Another Boston pizzeria. The Boston Globe, December 2, 1936, had a legal notice for Ralph’s Pizzeria, located at 980 Saratoga St., East Boston, seeking a liquor license. A year later, the Boston Globe, November 12, 1937, also had a legal notice, for a restaurant seeking a liquor license, Star Pizzeria at 331 Chelsea Street.

The Record (NJ), October 1, 1937, had the above advertisement for Jack’s Grill, a Bar-Pizzeria, located at 96 Vreeland Avenue, South Hackensack. Most of the previous pizzerias were bakeries or Italian restaurants, but there started to be taverns and bar also serving pizza. So, to some, pizza was seen as good bar food, a combination that continues to this day.

During this time period, New Jersey also addressed some particular legal quirks concerning the nature of pizzerias. The Record (NJ), January 10, 1939, reported that a legal question had arisen, whether female waitresses could be employed at a pizzeria on the basis it was a restaurant, or whether they were prohibited because pizzerias were taverns. Female waitresses were not permitted to work at taverns. D. Frederick Burnett, the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner, conducted a scholarly study of the pizzeria business, and then concluded that whether a pizzeria was a restaurant, tavern or ordinary bakeshop under State liquor law depended on the nature of the establishment. It would be judged on a case by case basis. 

Burnett wrote “In Naples, of course, everyone knows that a Pizzeria is a place where dough pies, embroidered with tomatoes, anchovies or mozzarella (a cheese indited to the kid goat), and embellished with peppers and garlic, are made and baked while you wait.” He continued, “Talking strictly Neapolitan, a pizzeria is a shop specializing in the baking of pizza to order. The fact that it is consumed before it cools, does not convert the shop into a restaurant. Rather it is a tribute to gastronomical judgment. Nor does its solubility in wine change a tavern either into a restaurant or a bake shop merely because it installs an oven to serve its patrons."

More pizza recipes. The Boston Herald, March 6, 1939, provided a recipe, which entailed you making your own dough. The pizza was topped by onion, Parmesan cheese, pepper, canned tomatoes, olive oil and anchovies. The Boston Globe, July 28, 1939, printed a recipe for Neapolitan pizza, and it simply asked for the use of bread dough. It was topped by crushed tomato pulp, salt, pepper, olive oil, anchovies, grated American cheese, chopped Italian sausage, and chopped sardines. Anchovies were a common element in many of these recipes.

On to Chicago! The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 17, 1939, stated, “The only place in Chicago where you can buy Italian pizza is at a little restaurant on Taylor street near Halstead. There you can watch Tom Granato, for sixteen years the proprietor of Chicago’s only pizzeria, concoct the delicacy and carefully deposit it in his big brick oven, slipping it off long handled shovels of well sandpapered wood onto the hot bricks. The foundation of pizza is a dough similar to that in English muffins. Tom rolls out a piece the size of a pie crust on his marble slab, cuts up fresh Italian cheese over it, covers it with tomato—the little Italian pear tomato—sprinkles olive oil over it, and deposits it in the brick oven for a few minutes. It is served in a tin pie plate, cut into four sections, and is eaten with the fingers.”

So, Tom’s Pizzeria Napolitana would have opened around 1923. And it's interesting that the newspaper article made it clear that pizza should be eaten with the fingers. This isn't the first article to mention this, and is indicative that many people were still unfamiliar with pizza, and probably would have used a fork and knife on it, rather than pick it up in their hands.  

More pizza in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 19, 1939, added the fact that,  “There’s another pizza place in Chicago besides Tom Granato’s. It’s Tuffano’s, located on Aberdeen, near Vernon Park place. However, pizzas are served here only on Saturday night.”

The Boston Globe, December 4, 1939, printed a legal notice that Barney’s Pizza, at 299 Havre Street, applied for a liquor license. 

All-you-can eat pizza? The Daily Record (NJ), February 8, 1940, printed an ad for Rex Pizzeria, stating that “Tomorrow Only. Children’s Day. All the Tomato Pie The Children Can Eat. 15 cents." This was the first reference to all-you-can eat pizza. 
The Boston Globe, December 10, 1940, printed a legal notice that Napoli Pizzeria, at 67 Prince Street, Street, applied for a liquor license.

What might have helped to promote Neapolitan pizza was a recipe that appeared in numerous newspapers, all across the country. The Sioux City Journal (Iowa), January 21, 1941, provided this recipe, and the article was also simultaneously published in many other newspapers, in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, and Hawaii. As we can see, the recipe had a huge reach, and might have been the first opportunity for many to grasp the concept of pizza. 

The recipe called for you to make your own dough, The dough was then spread, to a 1/4 inch thickness, over a greased pie pan. The pizza was then topped with a cup of drained, canned tomatoes, thin slices of Mozzarella cheese, and some grated Parmesan cheese. A very simple pizza, but it at least promoted the idea of this delicious food. 

According to the Hartford Courant (CT), October 13, 1957, there were less than 100 pizza places in 1940. There would be a huge pizza boom during the next twenty years, so that in 1957, there were about 20,000 pizza places across the U.S. And during those years, pizza variations sprouted up everywhere, especially some regional variations. It was a boom time for pizza, helping to cement its place in the American palate. 

To Be Continued...

Monday, May 10, 2021

Rant: Food/Drink Bloggers, Step Up Your Game!

Food & drink bloggers, listen up and carefully consider my words. I'm challenging you to Step Up Your Game! Are you willing to accept that challenge? 

Yesterday, The Passionate Foodie blog reached a milestone, its 14th Anniversary, and during that time I've written nearly 5,000 articles. Through the years, I believe my writing has improved but there''s definitely still room for improvement. It's a never-ending objective, to continue to hone my writing, to better myself.

I've also learned so much about food and drink over these years, and I continue to learn new things all the time. To me, that's part of the joy of blogging, researching and learning about so many fascinating topics. It's also a never-ending objective as there will always be more to learn. 

There are plenty of other food & drink bloggers, some who have been around for as long as I (if not longer) and many others who are much newer. I don't view any of them as competitors but rather see them as colleagues. As such, I freely share suggestions and advice with other bloggers, helping them and hoping others will reciprocate. Even if these bloggers attend the same event as me, writing their own articles about the event, they each bring their own unique viewpoint to their story.

Now, I've also seen some lost blogging opportunities as well as food & drink articles which could be improved. I freely admit that I'm guilty of such offenses and that means I continually try to up my game, to eliminate such offenses. Today, I'm calling on every other food & drink blogger to follow my lead. 

Step Up Your Blogging Game! I don't want to hear excuses. I don't want to hear the reasons why you think you can't do so. I want to see results, to see other blogs improve and shine.

The past year, as the pandemic has raged, has been a difficult time. Restaurants closed, wine tasting events were canceled, and there have been less food & drink opportunities for bloggers. Some bloggers simply wrote very little, failing to up their game, failing to create their own opportunities. It is said you can best judge a person when you see how they react to a crisis. How did you handle the issues of the pandemic on your blog?

For myself, I took the time to write some historical articles about food and drink, original pieces often looking into the origins of these items. For example, I wrote A History of the Sahara Syrian Restaurant, which ended up being one of the most popular articles on my blog during the past year. Although the restaurant had been closed for nearly 50 years, the building remained largely unused and its iconic sign on Shawmut Avenue was familiar to many. I delved into the mystery of its existence, providing history about the restaurant and building.  

Also during this past year, I've written historical articles about topics including the Sherry Cobbler, Peking Duck, Greek Restaurants, Peruvian Chifa, Salisbury Steak, Vietnamese Restaurants, and more. Even with restaurants closed and tasting events canceled, I still found plenty to write about. I just had to be more inventive, and devote my energies in a slightly different vein. 

Are you ready to up your blogging game? I hope so. 

Of course you don't have to follow my advice. Maybe you don't have sufficient free time or maybe you don't care about upping your game. I'm trying to reach those people who do care, to wake them up and hopefully stir them to action. I would like to see the food & drink blogging community improve overall, and that requires many of us to work harder at our craft. It takes us looking more critically at our own writing, to see where we can improve.

Are you willing to do so? Will you accept my challenge?

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The 14th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie

Open some Bubbly as it's time to celebrate!

Today, The Passionate Foodie blog celebrates its Fourteenth Anniversary, a significant milestone. During all those years, I've seen many other blogs come and go, but I've chosen to continue my writing. With nearly 5,000 posts, I'm very proud of all I've written and have accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to write, continuing to share and spread my deep passion for food & drink.

I've actually been writing about food and drink for 15 1/2 years, as I wrote for another blog, Real World Winers (since defunct), for 1 1/2 years before I started The Passionate Foodie.

Because of the pandemic, this past year has been very challenging. Restaurants had to close for a time, and some never reopened, while those that did reopen had to adjust to numerous restrictions. Large food and drink events, such as the Seafood Expo, were canceled. However, the most unfortunate aspect has been the deaths of over 500,000 people from Covid. We have all been touched by this tragedy, and hopefully we are now moving in a positive direction, with vaccinations helping to protect us.  

During the past 14 years of The Passionate Foodie, I've learned so much about food & drinks, exploring a wide variety of topics, essentially anything I can eat or drink. I never wanted to limit my writing to a specific cuisine, type of drink, or other specialty. I want the freedom to explore whatever perks my interest and I know I'll never run out of subject matter. Every time I learn something new, I realize how much more there is to learn. That is one of my favorite aspects and it helps that I'm a voracious reader and love to research new topics.

My blog has provided me a myriad of wonderful opportunities and experiences, creating a vast storehouse of fantastic memories. I've sampled so much excellent and exciting food and drink, in this country and others. I've gotten to travel to some amazing destinations, including Canada, CroatiaFrance (Bordeaux and Champagne), Spain (Sherry region), Italy (Tuscany & Collio), Portugal (Douro region), Argentina and Chile. In the United States, I've visited a number of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and more.

I've met so many interesting people, which has enhanced my experiences as I've long said that food and drink when shared is even better. Some of those people have become very close friends, and I think those friendships will last for many years to come. It has been fascinating to meet numerous wine makers, distillers, brewers, wine & liquor store owners, importers, distributors, restaurant owners, chefs, and much more. From each, I've learned something new, which has helped my writing and understanding.

During these fourteen years, what began as a hobby transformed into my profession. I'm now a freelance writer, having been published in a number of magazines and newspapers. For over a year, I've been writing a column for Sampan, a bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England, and have written over 20 articles for them. I'm also a Sake educator and consultant, working for a variety of clients, from restaurants to distributors, conducting Sake classes, tastings, dinners and more. 

It has been my pleasure to try to showcase and promote under-appreciated and/or lesser known wines, spirits and other drinks, such as SakeSherryFranciacortaCroatian WinesGreek Wines, Georgian WinesUruguayan WinesPortuguese WinesMezcal, Baijiu and more. I've championed many of these underdogs, all which are worthy beverages deserving of much more attention by consumers as well as other writers. We all need to expand our palates and seek out the liquid wonders that can be found all around the world.

Within the last few years, I've dedicated much time to researching and writing numerous historical articles about food and drink, and I'm especially proud of these articles, many breaking new ground in our understanding of certain topics. Some of these articles during the past year include:
I owe many thanks to all of my readers, as it is their support and encouragement which has helped motivate me to continue writing year after year. I also owe thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive for all these years. In addition, I am grateful to everyone in the food and drink community, from chefs to wine makers, who have helped contribute, in a myriad of ways, to my blog.  Life is about connections, about the relationships we make, and they all contribute to what we do.

If I didn't thoroughly enjoy what I've been doing, then it would have ended years ago. I find it fulfilling and satisfying, and hope that my passion for food, drink and writing never dims. I look forward to celebrating my 15th anniversary next year, and I hope my readers keep reading me year after year.

If you've enjoyed my articles during the past year, or more, please consider Donating to me, so that I can continue to provide interesting content. My largest expense is the cost of the resource sites that I use, especially newspaper archives, allowing me access to fascinating information which provides the background for my historical articles. Donations also allow me to continue operating this blog without any advertising. I appreciate any and all of your contributions.   

It's time to celebrate!