Thursday, October 28, 2021

2019 Bent Ridge Winery Contorto: Another Hybrid Wine From Nova Scotia

This week, I've already reviewed a Rosé and a Sparkling Wine from Nova Scotia, and now I'm moving onto a Red wine, made from a hybrid grape, the 2019 Bent Ridge Winery Contorto

The Bent Ridge Winery, accompanied by the Bent Nail Brewery and Fuego at Bent Ridge restaurant, in located in Winsor Forks, in the Avon Valley of Nova Scotia. The vineyards were planted in 2009 and the winery, with an Italian flair, was opened in July 2018 by owners Steven & Glenn Dodge. The land has been in their family since 1862, and currently consists of about 6 acres, planted with approximately 6,7000 Marquette vines. 

Marquette is a complex hybrid grape, made to be hardy in colder weather, that was created in 1989, but not released until 2006. It was named after Jacques "Père" Marquette, a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary and explorer who founded the first European settlement in Michigan. The grape is currently grown in numerous U.S. states as well as Canada. Marquette commonly has high acidity, noticeable tannins,, red and black fruit flavors, and spicy notes. 

Bend Ridge choose to concentrate on Marquette because: "Much or our wine making philosophy stems from a belief that you can't make great wine without great grapes. When we decided to start a vineyard in 2009 we experimented with a few grape varietals and quickly discovered how perfect Marquette grapes were for the Avon Valley and Nova Scotia terrior. The right grapes are the foundation for our great wine. The Marquette grape's ability to fully ripen in our climate means we can reach and go beyond quality benchmarks for making a truly great Nova Scotia red wine. ​Bent Ridge was the first vineyard to grow Marquette grapes and remains the largest dedicated grower of Marquette grapes in Atlantic Canada."

The 2019 Bent Ridge Winery Contorto ($23) is produced from 100% Marquette, and unfortunately, details of the production process are not available on the winery's website. I also have not been able to find the details elsewhere online. I suspect it has received some oak aging and it has a 13.5% ABV. 

On the nose, there are notes of black fruits and spice, and the wine has a rich, dark red color. On the palate, it has a relatively complex and tasty blend of flavors, including black cherry and black raspberry, with spice notes and a touch of vanilla. It's a bolder wine, yet the tannins are still restrained, and the wine is balanced, with good acidity and a pleasing finish. 

This is a wine probably best paired with food, and the back label suggests pasta as one possible pairing. So, I drank this wine with a dinner of chicken parmigiana and pasta, topped by a spicy arrabbiata sauce. It went well with the food, holding its own against the heat of the sauce. This is definitely a wine that goes well with hearty dishes, and I'd said it would be good with pizza to burgers as well. This wine would also be an excellent introduction for wine lovers to the potential of the Marquette grape. 

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, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) There's an ancient Croatian wine custom that includes the blessing of the fermented must so it can  become wine. This happens every November 11, and is called Martinje (St. Martin's Day). St. Martin is the patron saint of innkeepers and winemakers. The holiday is said to have originated in France and spread across Europe. Goose is traditionally eaten on Martinje. Saint Martin or Martin of Tours is one of the most recognised of all Christian saints.  

This year on Sunday, November 7, at 3pm, Croatian Premium Wine Imports invites you to join them and Renee Pea, Consul General of the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in Los Angeles, to help celebrate Martinje and explore the Martinje customs, while tasting a wine from each of the four Croatian wine regions.

You can register for this free event by clicking here. While no purchase is necessary, if you'd like to taste along with them, they'll be tasting the following wines:

2017 Jagunić Three Stars Brut (Sparkling wine from Croatian Uplands)
2019 Krauthaker Graševina (Grasevina from Slavonia and Danube wine region)
2019 Fakin Teran (Teran from Istria)
2016 Terra Madre Plavac Mali Premium (Plavac Mali from Dalmatia)

These wines are available in their online store with a 10% discount code, which you will receive when you register for this event.

2) The 8th Annual Sherry Week will be held November 8-14, and as I'm a huge fan of Sherry, this is always a fun and delicious week. Sherry is under-appreciated by so many people and it needs greater recognition and awareness. It's a great food wine, and most of it is dry, not sweet like many people think. Check out my All About Sherry post for links to my numerous Sherry articles.

As they state for this year's Sherry Week: "A multitude of exciting and innovative in-person events will take place in many countries to share the versatility of Sherry - and the joy of human companionship. After a hugely successful pivot to online events last year, we continue to offer as many, if not more chats, webinars, tastings and interviews online and on Social Media, making the superb wines of the Sherry Triangle even more accessible to aficionados and professionals, wherever they are in the world." Check out their website to see all the fun events, both online and live events, in which you can participate.

This year, the House of Lustau is celebrating Sherry Week by welcoming sherry back to the bar. Head chefs and bartenders at eleven restaurants across the U.S. are teaming up to create a food and sherry cocktail pairing in honor of the celebration. In addition to the pairings, which will be offered all week long, the chefs and bartenders will create short videos explaining their creations to their guests. Visitors of these restaurants will be able to order the pairing and scan the QR codes on coasters and table tents to watch their restaurant’s chef and bartender discuss the elements of the dish and cocktail. The QR codes will also give visitors the opportunity to watch the videos created by the other restaurants to get a better sense of sherry’s diversity.

Two of the eleven restaurants are in Massachusetts, including Taberna de Haro and Yvonne’s. Taberna de Haro has an extensive and superb Sherry list, and they usually participate in Sherry Week with several different events. Every time I go there, it's difficult to choose which Sherry to drink as there are so many that appeal to me. So, I hope you all celebrate Sherry Week in some manner.

3) Beginning Friday, November 5, and continuing through April 2022, the Café at Rochambeau will be hosting some renowned chefs, restaurants and brands for its monthly Rochambeau Bakery Pop-Up Series. The pop-ups will feature a different local partner on the first Friday of every month in Rochmabeau’s cafe space from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Guests will be able to enjoy each pop-up’s unique bakery offerings in the cafe, or as take-away. A variety of coffee beverages from La Colombe will also be available for purchase alongside baked goods.

The Rochambeau Bakery Pop-Up Series schedule will feature:
Friday, November 5:: Kate Holowchik of Lionheart Confections
Friday, December 3:: Chef Cameron Cieslak of Troquet on South
Friday, January 7, 2022: Erin Miller of Urban Hearth
Friday, February 4, 2022: Nicole Harrington of Catalyst Restaurant
Friday, March 4 2022: Chef Colton Coburn-Wood of Cósmica
Friday, April 1, 2022: Heather Yunger of Top Shelf Cookies

Reservations are not required, walk-in only. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Origin of the Chinese Egg Roll

In most Chinese-American restaurants, you’ll find Egg Rolls, and often they are a part of Pu-Pu Platters, or a choice of accompaniment with lunch specials. These cylindrical treats are commonly filled with shredded cabbage, pork and other vegetables, although there are plenty of variations. They are wrapped in a thick skin, usually made from wheat flour, and deep fried, creating a very crunchy exterior with a blistered appearance. They're generally eaten by hand, and commonly dipped in duck sauce or mustard.

Are egg rolls a traditional Chinese dish, or were they invented in the U.S.? And if they were invented here, who created them? These questions don’t have easy answers, but we’ll explore the evidence and try to reach the best conclusions.

First, there are conflicting viewpoints as to whether egg rolls are an authentic Chinese dish or not. Second, most sources contend that there are two Chinese chefs who claim to have invented the egg roll. I believe there’s far greater evidence for one of those chefs being the actual inventor of the egg roll.

There was a reference to an “egg roll,” referred to as Dan Gun, in a Chinese-American cookbook in 1917, but it didn't refer to the deep fried treat we now know. Instead, the fillings were basically wrapped in an egg omelet. The first documented reference to a deep fried egg roll may be in 1934, although it allegedly existed prior to that, maybe as early as 1925.


Let’s begin our analysis with the claim that Henry Low invented the egg roll. The famous Port Arthur Restaurant, in New York’s Chinatown, was opened in 1897 by Chu Gam Fai. It was a very popular spot, remaining in operation for over 80 years, and was the first Chinatown restaurant to receive a liquor license. Around 1928, Henry Low became the restaurant’s chef, and worked there for at least ten years. The newspapers rarely mentioned Henry Low, so much of his personal information was not given, and his main prominence came from his cookbook, which was published in 1938. 

Newspapers such as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), October 22, 1938, and The Times Dispatch (VA), December 4, 1938, mentioned Low’s cookbook, Cook At Home In Chinese, noting that Low “…considers his principal contribution to Chinese cookery a new sort of egg roll called tchun guen.”  

I own a copy of Cook At Home In Chinese (1938) and under the chapter, Hot Savories, there’s a recipe for Egg Roll (Tchun Guen). I'll note that "Tchun Guen" actually means "Spring Roll," which seems to indicate its lineage, that it's a variation on the Spring roll. The Spring roll is a traditional Chinese dish, with a much thinner wrapper, that is commonly filled with meat and vegetables. The main innovation of the egg roll is the thicker, crunchier wrapping. 

In Low's recipe, the ingredients for the wrapper included 2 cups of flour, ½ lb of water chestnut flour (ma tai phun), and 2 eggs. The interior was filled with shredded canned bamboo shoots, shredded roast pork, fresh shrimp, scallions, chopped & peeled water chestnuts, salt, gourmet powder (mai jing), sugar, and pepper. The completed egg roll was to be fried in deep fat until slightly brown.

There was a note at the end of the recipe which stated, “The author of this book, about thirty years ago, discovered that by using Chinese water chestnut floor in making a dough, the taste was vastly improved and it did not tend to burn so easily or quickly as other doughs in which ordinary flour was used. Also, in using this water chestnut flour the dough resulted in a deliciously flavored soft crust covering. Taking an old Chinese dish, which was served with a dough covering, as a basis, the author further concocted a number of ingredients as a mixture to be wrapped in this new dough which he named ‘Tchun Guen,’ or ‘Egg Roll.”

This is the primary evidence for Low’s claim that he invented the egg roll. It also indicates that the egg roll was based on an “old Chinese dish,” likely the Spring roll. Based on Low’s claim, the egg roll might have been invented as early as 1908, but not definitive date is given in the recipe. In addition, there’s no supporting evidence for his claim. It is simply Low's word that he was the creator. 

Why is that so? Why didn’t his egg rolls get mentioned prior to 1938? Later newspapers also didn’t provide any supporting information, simply repeating the claims from Low’s cookbook.

According to most sources, Low’s book provided the first printed recipe for an Egg Roll but that isn’t actually true. There was a prior recipe for egg rolls from 1934, and it has a connection to the other contender who might have invented the egg roll.

The only bit of potential evidence to support his claim is that there’s a “vintage menu” from the Port Arthur Restaurant, allegedly from the 1920s, which states: “Try our famous Canton Egg Rolls 25 cents.” However, we need to be skeptical of the date of this menu, especially as most menus are not dated. Plus, Henry Low didn’t start working at the Port Arthur until about 1928. It might make more sense that this menu is from the 1930s rather than the 1920s.

It’s also interesting to note that they are called “Canton Egg Rolls” and that Henry’s cookbook did not use that same name. Why not? Plus, if Henry had invented the egg roll, why wouldn’t the Port Arthur menu mention that fact? It would have been an excellent selling point and would have been easy to add that item to the menu.   

Henry Low’s claim isn’t supported well enough, and relying on his word alone isn’t sufficient to accept his claim to have invented the egg roll. 


Let’s examine the other contender, Chef Lum Fong, who may have invented egg rolls in 1925.

In 1925, Chef Lum Fong opened a Chinese restaurant, named after himself. According to the San Francisco Examiner (CA), March 4, 1938, Lum's restaurant was located about three blocks from the main store of Moe Levy, a clothier. Moe loved Chinese food and soon approached Lum, urging him to move his restaurant closer on Canal Street, and form a partnership with Moe, who would underwrite the cost of relocation. Their partnership was formed in 1926, and would last for many years, and the article noted that “..if you are on Canal street, you will notice the two huge electric signs waving affectionally to each other—Lum Fong’s and Moe Levy.” 

Interesting, the Daily Record (NJ), November 27, 1937, noted that due to Lum's partnership with Moe, who was Jewish, Lum's menu included “gefuelite fish.” Someone spelled it wrong, whether the restaurant or the newspaper. 

The first newspaper reference to Lum Fong (pictured above) was in The Journal (CT), October 24, 1927, and I'll note that this article was reprinted in numerous other newspapers across the country. The article began, mentioning that Lum was a Tai-soo-foo, “one of the few remaining craftsmen of an ancient culinary art.” When Lum was 11 years old, he was apprenticed to a Tai-soo-foo in Canton. The article also stated that Tai-soo-foos have an old saying which roughly translates as “Man listens to no one but his belly.” 

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out more information about the Tai-soo-foo and they weren't mentioned in any subsequent newspapers. It's possible they are better known by a different name.

The article continued, mentioning that everyone in New York City's Chinatown loved Lum and that the police called Lum’s “ramshackle red brick building" the "barometer of Chinatown." Lum Fong's Restaurant was located at the corner of Canal and Baxter Streets. The outside of his restaurant resembled an ordinary chop suey joint but inside, you'd find “private dining rooms hung with heavy tapestries of forgotten dynasties, violet and gamboge paper lanterns, King-the-chen glaze cups, prized heirlooms from mud-chinked huts in far off provinces. There teems a motley life utterly Oriental and ages old.” Many celebrities had also eaten there. Not bad for a restaurant that had only been around for two years.

There was also information about some of the unique delicacies served at the restaurant, primarily for incredible feasts held for "high Chinese society." There was Polar Bear Claw (dong-hong-chong), the most expensive item listed, at $100 an order (over $1500 in today's dollars)! What did they do with the rest of the polar bear? You could also find South Sea shark fins (hong-soo-bow-chee) at $25 a portion, Kwangi terrapin (son-soi-quen), broiled sea lion (hoi-kow-yei) with stuffed chicken, chopped water lily seeds & rice at $15 a portion, and Singapore bird’s nests (yen-chan-kai) with mushroom heads and Litchi nuts for $10.

How popular was Lum Fong's restaurant? Well, in the Daily News (NY), March 26, 1938, Lum claimed that he had served his 2 Millionth customer the week before. This claim wasn't verified, so it's unsure whether the number was exaggerated or not. However, from all the press coverage it received, and all the celebrities who dined there, it's clear the restaurant was extremely popular.

According to the St. Louis Dispatch (MO), April 3, 1938, Lum Fong hosted a 6 course duck dinner, which included Peking Duck. Thus, Lum Fong's was also one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to serve Peking Duck.

An interesting tidbit was printed in The Tribune (PA), June 1, 1938. The writer asked Lum Fong why the staff at Chinese restaurants ate their meals in the dining room while at other restaurants, the staff ate elsewhere. Lum replied, “One, it is proof to the Occident that Chinese do like chop suey and chow mein. Two, Orientals do not regard waiters as hired help, but as trusted assistants, lower in financial station, but not in caste.”


The first newspaper reference I found for a fried egg roll was in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), May 14, 1934. It mentioned that one of the dishes available at Lum Fong’s Restaurant was Lum Har Chun Guen, a lobster egg roll. Unfortunately, no more details of this dish were provided. However, based on Lum's previous expensive delicacies, it makes sense that he might turn a basic egg roll into something even more special by adding lobster. This mention also lends some support to the idea that Lum Fong might have invented the egg roll.

The first detailed reference to egg rolls, including the first printed recipe, was found in the Muncie Evening Press (IN), October 6, 1934. This article and recipe were reprinted in many other newspapers across the country, as well as across the border, including at least in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, NC, NY, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and even Canada. Thus, this article would have been known to many Americans, and Canadians, and it predates Low's cookbook by four years. 

The only difference between all of these articles is that some included an egg roll (pictured above). The Bradford Evening Star (PA), October 11, 1934, provided this picture, stating it was made by Lum Fong and the caption read, “Inside these delightful egg-dough capsules is a savory mixture of pork, shrimp and vegetables.”

The main article began noting that, “And indeed, many of the foods we know as Chinese are at best only adaptations of native dishes. Egg roll, however, used as an appetizer, is the real thing in Orientalism.” This seems to indicate that egg rolls, or at least some version, originated in China and probably referred to Spring rolls.   

The recipe is simpler than the one that Low would later provide in his cookbook, and there are differences in some of the ingredients. This recipes indicates the ingredients for the wrapper include 4 cups flour, ¼ pound water chestnut flour, and 3 eggs. Low's recipe called for 2 cups of flour, ½ lb of water chestnut flour and 2 eggs. 

For the newspaper's recipe, the fillings included 1/2 pound fresh or canned shrimp, 1 can bamboo shoots, and an equal quantity of roast pork. Low's filling recipe called for much more, including shredded canned bamboo shoots, shredded roast pork, fresh shrimp, scallions, chopped & peeled water chestnuts, salt, gourmet powder, sugar, and pepper. The newspaper recipe concluded, stating the egg roll could be served with a “dash of English mustard.

Starting in 1935, newspapers in states other than New York started running advertisements of restaurants serving egg rolls. For example, The Miami Herald (FL), December 22, 1935, had an ad for Nan Young Restaurant with “Special Chinese Egg Roll.” The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, (PA) March 20, 1937, also had an ad for a Chinese restaurant, with food prepared by Jimmie Moy, including “Egg Roll.” 

The Star Tribune (Minnesota), August 9, 1936, also noted that at a cocktail party in New York, the hostess served “Chinese egg rolls—those tasty tidbits stuffed with shrimp. A bit bulky and slightly on the greasy side, bit lovely food at any time of day.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), January 24, 1938, mentioned the “egg-roll so popular in Chinese restaurants” And the Chattanooga Daily Times (TN), February 13, 1938, stated, “The outstanding dish I found in the Chinese places was neither chop suey nor chow mein….but a type of delicious egg roll.”

Locally, the Boston Globe, April 9, 1938, printed, “Dinner in Chinatown. Try egg roll (not an egg dish) and Foo Yong (an egg dish and very hearty) and Chinese roast pork.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), May 3, 1938, mentioned, “His watermelon soup is superb, and his shrimp egg roll incomparable,..” Out to the west, the Arizona Daily Star (AZ), August 3, 1938 briefly noted a Chinese dinner that included an egg roll.  

Interesting, The Vancouver Sun (B.C., Canada), February 22, 1939, published an article about a visit to Chinatown in San Francisco. They went to a Chinese restaurant where the New Yorker in the group ordered an egg roll, which apparently wasn't on the menu. The restaurant didn't serve them and the waiter claimed that people in San Francisco didn’t like them. Other California cities didn't have such an issue as the Fresno Bee (CA), May 13, 1939, had an ad for the New China Café, which offered “Special Egg Roll Dinner. A Rare Treat” for 45 cents. 

In the later part of the 1930s, the egg roll had become very popular and had spread far beyond New York. It was also at the end of the 1930s, that Lum Fong began receiving recognition as the creator of the egg roll. 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), November 24, 1939, noted, “The Egg Roll, one of the most popular of Chinese dishes, was originated on Canal Street by Lum Fong, the restaurateur, who serves hundreds of them daily.” And in the Brooklyn Citizen (NY), April 6, 1940, it was reported that Lum Fong opened a new restaurant at 150 West 52nd St., which served  “his famed egg rolls" for 45 cents a portion.

The most extensive article on the invention of the egg roll was in The Kilgore News Herald (TX), December 12, 1940. It began, “This month marks the 155th anniversary of an event that passed with scarcely a ripple in 1925 and yet has had some effect on the American palate. It is the time the Chinese egg roll was introduced into the United States by a rotund pleasant faced Oriental who since has assumed responsibility for much of the exotic food diners get when they go to a Chinese restaurant.” I'll note that there was an obvious typo, and it should have been the 15th, not 155th, anniversary. 

The article continued, “His name is Lum Fong. He spent this anniversary puttering around in the kitchen whence emanated the first American made egg rolls, the delicacy that gave the chop suey-chow mein industry the shot in the arm that has produced so many hundreds of places now dedicated to Chinese food.” It went on, “Mr Lum,…, picked the egg roll out of the timeless cooking lore of the ancient Chinese recipes…” Once again, we see people alleging that the egg roll had its roots in traditional Chinese cooking. 

Besides the egg roll. Lum is also said to have invented other dishes, including Hop-To-Har Gun (walnut shrimp roll), a “delicate form of stuffed fish...” and “…his magnum opus—a soup with strange and wonderful properties,..” What was this soup? “The Chinese name of the soup is difficult for translation but Jimmy Kee, one of Lum’s assistants, said it might be called ‘aqua pressure soup.’” Initially, due to the cost of the ingredients, the soup used to cost $5-$35 for a single cup. The soup allegedly made people look younger, restored pep to older people, and one variety of it was said to be good for adding weight.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), January 31, 1941, continued to champion Lum Fong, printing, “Lum Fong’s walnut shrimp rolls are even more popular with his patrons than the egg roll, which he first introduced.”  Almost ten years later, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), December 6, 1950, noted “Lum Fong’s Canal St. place will be 25 years old Sunday. It was here he introduced the egg roll and wonton soup to America.” And the Detroit Times (MI), March 4, 1951, mentioned, “It was Lum Fong who first introduced Egg Roll to America.

In his obituary, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), June 28, 1952, printed that Lum Fong came to the U.S. in 1915, working as a restaurant manager for ten years before opening his first restaurant. He passed away at age 66, so he was born around 1886, came to the U.S. when he was about 29 years old, and started his first restaurant when he was 39 years old. The obituary noted that Lum was credited with introducing Americans to such “genuinely Chinese dishes as wonton soup, egg roll and shrimp roll.” He was survived by his wife, Mae Lum, two 2 sons (Danward and Dorey), and 2 daughters (Wei Ming and Audrey Lum).  

Henry Low never received all of this press and recognition supporting his alleged claim. The evidence is weighted much more heavily in favor of Lum Fong as being the inventor of the egg roll, which is basically a Spring roll with a thicker, crunchier wrapping. Egg rolls were known around the country at least by 1934, and in the later 1930s, they started appearing on menus from coast to coast. Egg rolls are still a beloved favorite at Chinese restaurants.

What Chinese restaurants serve your favorite Egg Rolls?

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

NV Blomidon Crémant: Crisp, Creamy & Delicious

Another delicious wine from Nova Scotia. This was the second wine I opened from the case of wine I bought on my recent trip to Nova Scotia. I was previously impressed with the Blomidon Estate Rosé, one of my Top Ten Wines from 2012, so it was easy for me to select this wine, especially as I love Crémants. 

Blomidon Estate Winery is located in the Annapolis Valley, on the shore of the Mias Basin, and only produces wines from grapes grown in Nova Scotia. The winery planted their first vines in 1986, having some of the oldest vines in the region, and in 2007, the Ramey family purchased the winery,  establishing itself as Blomidon Estate Winery. Since 2009, their head winemaker has been Simon Rafuse, a native of Nova Scotia. 

The NV Blomidon Estate Crémant ($28), produced in the Méthode Traditionnelle, is a blend of Seyval Blanc, L'Acadie Blanc, and Chardonnay. Two hybrid grapes and one vinifera. This sparkling wine was disgorged in the winter of 2020 and only has an 11% ABV. With such a low ABV, you can easily have a couple glasses without any worry. 

On the nose, the sparkling wine was aromatic with fresh apple and stone fruit notes. When I peruse the glass, it had plenty of tiny bubbles and a bright golden color. On the palate, it was delicious and delightful, being crisp, dry and creamy. It was refreshing, with flavors of apple and pear, and a touch of minerality. It has a very dry, pleasant and lengthy finish.

This is also a wine that you can enjoy on its own, maybe as a celebratory toast, or pair it with food. I enjoyed it with some sage sausages and egg noodles, finishing the bottle after dinner. Another winner from Blomidon Estate and I'd like to try more from their winery too. 

2019 Lightfoot & Wolfville Rosé: A Crisp Treat From Nova Scotia

A couple months ago, when I visited Nova Scotia, I bought a case of wine, to explore some of what Nova Scotian and other Canadian wineries are now producing. I knew little about the wines I bought, willing to take a chance and see what I might find. I've enjoyed Nova Scotian wines before, which are extremely difficult to find in Massachusetts. Although the modern wine industry in Nova Scotia is only about 40 years old, its history extends back over 400 years. 

In 1611, Louis Hébert, a French settler and apothecary, brought some vines from France and planted a small vineyard in Bear River, Nova Scotia." A second vineyard would be planted in 1633. Jump forward almost 350 years, to 1980, for the first commercial vintage by Roger Dial of the Grand Pré Winery in the Annapolis Valley.  The second winery, Jost Vineyards, opened in 1985. 

Today, there are about 22 wineries in Nova Scotia, with nearly 1,000 acres of vineyards, about 90 grape growers, and over 70 different grapes (both hybrids and vinifera). The wine region can be divided into four general regions: Annapolis Valley, Gaspereau Valley, South Shore, and the Malagash Peninsula. The total annual production of wine is only about 211,000 cases, which is a relatively small amount. In comparison, there are plenty of California wineries which produce much more than the entirety of Nova Scotia. 

According to the Wines of Nova Scotia website, "Here in Nova Scotia, our vineyards are never more than 20km from the ocean, and the vines grow in the remains of an ancient seabed. Having the World’s highest tides, a mixture of sandstone and slate soil and being surrounded by large bodies of water all contribute to a unique yet ideal viticultural climate." It's also stated that the signature attribute of Nova Scotian wines is their acidity, produced by its unique cool climate. 

From my new case of wine, the first bottle I've sampled was the 2019 Lightfoot & Wolfville Rosé (about $21). Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards is a relatively new winery, founded by Michael & Jocelyn Lightfoot, which began planting vineyards in 2009, and produced their first wines in 2015. The Lightfoot family have been involved in farming for eight generations in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and their winery is located in Wolfville. The winery has about 40 acres of vines, split into two vineyards, along the shores of the Minas Basin, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy.  

As their website states, "Our commitment to regenerative agriculture practices is driven by a duty to protect and promote the vitality of our soils for future generations, and has led us to successfully pursue organic certification through Ecocert Canada and biodynamic certification by Demeter Canada. Minimal-intervention vinification from healthy, balanced fruit allows us to produce distinct wines that faithfully convey the purest sense of time and spirit of place."

Their website also notes, "The ultimate result is wines that are firmly rooted in a distinct sense of place, characterized by vibrancy, freshness, finesse, and a brilliance and clarity of flavor that can only be achieved in very cool climate regions."

The 2019 Lightfoot & Wolfville Rosé is a blend of Pinot Meunier, L'Acadie Blanc and Frontenac Noir. L'Acadie Blanc is a hybrid grape, developed during the 1950s to be hardy in colder climates, and is mainly planted in Nova Scotia. Frontenac Noir is also a hybrid, created in the 1970s in Minnesota, and is another hybrid developed to do well in colder climates. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and has only an 11% ABV.  

The Rosé had a nice pale pink color with a delightful nose of red fruits and a touch of herbal accents. On the palate, it was crisp, dry and clean, with juicy red fruit flavors of strawberry, watermelon and peach, with subtle touches of herbs. It was refreshing and delicious, with a moderately long finish. It was tasty on its own, but would also pair well with a variety of foods. I enjoyed the wine with some fried trout, and it was a fine pairing. This is definitely a style of Rosé that I greatly enjoy and would be a great choice for your Thanksgiving table. 

I'd love to check out more wines from Lightfoot & Wolfville.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Rant: Respect Hybrid Grapes

I feel sorry for grapes like Baco Noir, Frontenac Noir, Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc and others. Though they are used to make wine, with a number of excellent examples, they often get very little respect because of their parentage. These grapes are known as hybrids, not pure vitis vinifera like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay

Because they are not "pure," too many people look down upon them, sometimes even shunning them. They don't give those wines a chance, rejecting them without even tasting them. Shouldn't these hybrid grapes be judged by the quality of their wine rather than the identity of their parents?

Vitis vinifera is the common grape vine and the one most used for making wine. All of the major grapes of which you are familiar are likely these types of grapes, from Pinot Noir to Syrah, from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Blanc. Hybrids are a cross of two or more Vitis species, such as vitis vinifera and vitis labrusca. They are often created produce a hardier grape, especially for harsher, colder northern climates. Because they are not pure vitis vinifera, some people turn up their noses at these hybrids, refusing to believe they can produce quality wine. 

Drop that pretentiousness and judge these wines by their taste. 

This issue has arisen within me again as I start to drink the wines I recently purchased in Nova Scotia. Many of those wines were made from hybrid grapes, but they are still worthy of respect. I've previously enjoyed other Nova Scotian wines, made from hybrids, and they have been delicious, and definitely wines I'd recommend. I'm looking forward to tasting these new wines, seeing what the hybrid grapes bring to the bottle. 

Sure there are poor quality wines made from hybrids, but there are plenty of poor quality wines made from vitis vinifera too. Yet there are excellent wines made from these hybrids as well, and a wine lover would be hard pressed to guess they were hybrids simply from tasting the wine. You should approach a wine without prejudices or biases, willing to taste the wine and let it stand on its own. If you do so, you will probably find plenty of delicious wines that you might never have experienced otherwise.

It has gotten to the point that some fans of hybrid grapes don't even want to use the term "hybrid," to avoid the prejudices that the term can spawn. I believe we should embrace the term, and don't try to hide what is being used. Instead, we need to fight the prejudice by getting these people to taste these wines, to understand the quality that can be found within them.

So get over yourself and stop prejudging hybrids. Drink the wine before making any judgments. Judge a wine on its taste, not its parentage. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

New Sampan Article: For The Love Of Lard

"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

For over a year, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It is published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written thirty articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, For The Love of Lard, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Mangalitsa pigs are a heritage breed, which possess a much higher proportion of fat than most factory farm raised pigs, which give its pork a highly marbled look, like a Waygu steak, and much more flavor as well. There's a local farm in Southern Vermont which raises this breed, and they sell a variety of cuts and types of their delicious meat. Lard from this pig is also available, and lard isn't the enemy that many have made it over the years. Learn much more in my latest Sampan article.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Thursday, October 21, 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, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Café Sauvage, a French café serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, opened yesterday. Located at 25 Massachusetts Avenue (and Marlborough Street), it will be open from 10am-7pm his week. The 38-seat restaurant is was the dream of owners Anais and Antoine Lambert, a Parisian couple who worked locally at Frenchie, and Colette Wine Bistro before opening their own restaurant. 

Why the name Café Sauvage? “Café" because there’s nothing that celebrates community in France than the neighborhood café,” explains Anais Lambert. “Sauvage (“which means “Wild”) because we embrace a symbolic breaking with tradition that’s reflected in the diversity and multiculturalism that exists in France today.”

The Café Sauvage menu by Executive Chef Kendall DaCosta will include dishes from North and East Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia—dishes representative of France’s vibrant immigrant populations, whose contributions to the melting pot of contemporary French food cannot be overstated.

Look for a Vietnamese Banh Mi with Sour Pickled Jardinière and Vadouvan Dijonnaise, Injera Crepe Stuffed with Braised Coconut Swiss Chard, Jollof Roast Chicken with Sauce Vert, and Steamed Fish en Papillote with Moroccan Couscous. Guests will also be able to enjoy a selection of Charcuterie, a classic Croque Madame, and Steak Frites with Bone Marrow Sherry Butter.

2) The 12th Annual Champagne Day is tomorrow, Friday, October 22.  This is a day to celebrate all things Champagne, from the unique sparkling wine and its history to the region of France that gives it its name. To mark the occasion, retailers, restaurants, bars, clubs, and schools around the world are planning tastings and special events, both in person and virtually. Currently, I haven't seen any special Champagne events being held in the Boston+ area.  

Now more than ever, we know just how special it is to come together with loved ones and friends, and there is no better way to celebrate than by grabbing a glass of Champagne and toasting to brighter days ahead, either in-person or virtually

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The First Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown: The 1960s (Part 9)

The decade of the 1960s were turbulent times, from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the Vietnam War, from the Civil Rights movement to various riots, and much more. With all these important issues occupying the news, it's not surprising that Boston's Chinese restaurants received much less attention during this decade.

During the 1960s, there would be far fewer advertisements for Chinese restaurants, except brief ads in a column format. However, there would be many requests in the newspapers for Chinese recipes, as more homemakers were trying to cook Chinese cuisine at home.

I've previously written a couple articles touching on Chinese restaurants during the 1960s, including The Tale of Anita Chue and A Chinese Restaurant in Mayberry? This article will provide additional information on this decade, and know that it is a work in progress, which will expand and grow over time. 

The Boston Traveler, January 4, 1960, presented this column of ads for several local Chinese restaurants, including The Cathay House (70 Beach Street), China House (146 Boylston), Eddie Davis’ Steak House (444 Stuart St.), and Joyce Chen (617 Concord Ave). This type of column advertisement was very common during the 1960s. 


Joyce Chen opened her first restaurant in Cambridge in 1958, and I briefly discussed her in my prior article Peking Duck: A History In The Local Region & Chinatown. Her restaurant was the first in the Boston+ region to serve Mandarin cuisine and Peking Duck. Chen was also a pioneer in a number of other respects, such as popularizing the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and coining the term "Peking ravioli." During the 1960s, Joyce's popularity would soar. 

She owned her restaurant with her husband, Thomas Chen (who also worked as the manager). The Boston American, September 27, 1958, reported that one night, Thomas Chen had just closed the restaurant, and was walking with two employees, chefs, named Ling Chau and T.P. Liu. Two masked gunmen robbed them, including pistol, whipping Ling Chau. The gunmen got about $600, including the day’s receipts and the men's personal cash.  

In the Boston Globe, March 29, 1960, there was a larger advertisement for the Joyce Che restaurant, noting it served “Oriental Mandarin and Shanghai Specialties” and had the “Original Chinese Buffet.” The Buffet was available Tuesday-Wednesday, from 6pm-8pm, and Sunday, from 12:30pm-2:30pm. You could also get a lunch buffet, for only 99 cents, from Monday to Friday, 12pm-1:30pm. 

Joyce was becoming so popular that she began teaching Chinese cooking classes. The Boston Herald, September 9, 1960, noted that the Cambridge Adult Center now offered an “Introduction to Chinese Cooking” by Joyce Chen

An intriguing article appeared in the Boston Globe, March 5, 1961, a discussion on make vs female chefs. Louis Turco, the chef at Hotel Somerset, stated, “Blended food like blended whiskey needs a man to handle it.” He also said, “Man is a creator and divine meals are one of his greatest creations.” He was not alone in his sentiments. Joyce Chen had a much different view, stating, “Most men don’t know how to boil water. All they know how to do is make sandwiches, and they need their wives to tell them where the peanut butter is located.” She also stated, “I’ve heard men talk about the wonderful meals their mothers made. I’ve never heard any bragging about dad’s cooking.” 

In 1962, Joyce would privately publish a cookbook with over 100 recipes, the Joyce Chen Cook Book, selling about 2000 copies. In 1963, J.B. Lippincott Co., would then publish an edition. The Boston Globe, November 2, 1963, published a review, noting, "It is probably the finest book on authentic Chinese cooking ever published in the United States." There were recipes from various Chinese cuisines, including Mandarin, Shanghai, Chungking and Cantonese. It contained more than just recipes, with sections on Chinese ingredients, preparing tea, using chopsticks, growing bean sprouts, and much more.

The Boston Traveler, January 31, 1963, reported that the Boston Opera Group Guild were having special dinners before their latest productions, including one dinner at the Joyce Chen restaurant. Joyce noted that, “The fancier the foods the more honor bestowed on esteemed guests...A Chinese banquet is rarely served in this country because so much time-consuming work is done for each dish.” The article also included a recipe for Shanghai Duck, which was also in Joyce’s cookbook.

A television cooking show. The Boston Globe, September 25, 1966, reported that Joyce Chen was starting a television show, “Joyce Chen Cooks,” on public TV. There were going to be seven programs in this series. Joyce said that there’s no Chinese secret to her cooking, and that “Some of the beautiful, good things are very easy to prepare.” She added, that “there are no written recipes in real old-fashioned Chinese cooking. She learned to cook purely by ear from the family chef when she was a young girl in Peking.” 

Joyce came to Boston from China with her husband, Thomas Chen, in 1949. She was now a mother of 3, the oldest being 21. When two of her children were students at the Buckingham School in Cambridge, she made egg rolls for a school bazaar. Everyone loved them and Joyce was frequently asked for the recipe. She would then hold Chinese cooking classes for various Mothers Clubs, finally opened her restaurant in 1958. The article also had her recipes for Egg Foo Yung and Egg Drop Soup.   


One year after the opening of Joyce Chen restaurant, another Mandarin restaurant opened. Peking on Mystic, located at 66 High Street, Medford, opened in 1959. The owner was T.P. Liu, a master chef who began his apprenticeship in China at age 14, and came to the U.S. in 1957. This might be the same T.P. Liu who worked at Joyce Chen, and had been a victim of the armed robbery in 1958 with Thomas Chen. 

The Boston American, February 3, 1960, noted that the Peking on Mystic had a “Chinese smorgasbord...which has caught on with customers to whom the names on a Chinese menu mean nothing at all.” They also served Peking Duck, for $9.50, and it needed to be ordered ahead of time. 

An extensive review was presented in the Boston Globe, April 18, 1969, which mentioned they had 176 Chinese items on their menu, and a dozen or so American dishes. Their regional cooking included “subtle light dishes from the northeast (usually called Mandarin or Peking style), familiar Cantonese specialties and hot spicy concoctions from China’s southwest (usually called Chungking or Szechwan).” They also served more unusual seafood dishes like braised fish maw and braised sea cucumbers. The restaurant could seat about 120 people and their buffer cost $3.25 per person. Nine menu items needed to be ordered in advance, including Peking Duck; Spiced & Flaky Duck, Honeyed Duck, Sticky Rice & Duck, Flaky Chinese Ravioli and Steamed Silver Roll.  


Housing problems in Chinatown. The Boston Globe, April 11, 1960, reported on the issues of housing segregation and racial discrimination in the North. It initially noted, “there is more housing segregation in Boston and other large cities in the North today than in many Southern cities.” Part of the article concentrated on the specific issues of Chinatown.

Rev. Dr. Peter Y.F. Shih of the Chinese Christian Church of New England stated, “Chinatown is overcrowded and that American born children, when they get married, seek to leave the area but find it hard to obtain housing outside.” He continued, “Most families in Chinatown,…, occupy a room 25 feet by 35 feet, which they subdivide to meet the needs of their members, who average five to seven.” Terrible living conditions which obviously needed improvement. 

Rev. Shih continued, "…young people are no longer interested in going into the restaurant or laundry business and are going into mechanical and engineering fields.” However, he noted, “But there is no danger that Chinese restaurants and laundries will cease to operate. There are 2 million Chinese refugees in Hong Kong just waiting for the word that will permit them to come to this country,…

Another sad situation. The Boston Globe, September 2, 1960, reported on a murder/suicide in Chinatown. At about 9am, Wong Ho, age 85 (of 14 Tyler St), fatally shot Wong Jo Tow, age 82, and then shot himself with a .32 revolver. Wong Ho was found in his 4th floor room with a bullet wound in his head. Wong Jo Tow, of the same address, was found at the foot of the stairs near his 3rd floor room with a bullet wound in the chest. The article stated there was no known motive at the time, although the Boston American, September 2, 1960, stated,: “Police said the two men, once good friends, had become antagonistic toward each other of late.” Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any follow-up articles that might have explained what happened.

The Boston Globe, October 9, 1960, published a recipe for Chinese Duck Sauce, which was allegedly from a large, unnamed Chinese restaurant in Boston. The main ingredients include plums, apricots, other fruits, vinegar, sugar and pimiento.

In the Boston Herald, October 30, 1960, there was a large advertisement for Dave Wong’s China Sails, with locations in Salem, Revere and Chestnut Hill, alleging that it was “serving more people than any other Chinese restaurant in New England.” I haven't seen any evidence to support this assertion. 

More information was provided in the Boston Herald, October 8, 1961, which noted China Sails; uses “finest quality ingredients; mushrooms from France..." Dave Wong stated, "You have to start out with the best if you want to end up with the best,” Dave started working as a helper in a Chinese restaurant when he was 13 years old. About 9 years ago, Dave opened the first China Sails in Salem, eventually opening in Revere (managed by Warren Wong, a cousin), and Chestnut Hill (managed by Jimmy Wong, his brother).
The Boston American, October 19, 1960, published an ad for the Grand Opening of China Pearl, at 9 Tyler Street, and noted to be “Boston’s only dine and dance Chinese Restaurant.” This restaurant occupied the former site of Hon Loy Doo, a Chinese restaurant, which had been in operation since at least 1935. The China Pearl is still in existence (although currently being renovated), and is currently the oldest, still-existing Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. 

The Boston Record American, July 10, 1962, stated that the owner-manager of China Pearl was Winton Bee, a long, active civic leader and prominent in Chinese immigration affairs, however at that same time. there was a legal notice, where China Pearl Restaurant, Inc. sought a liquor license and the manager was listed as Billy Chin. The Boston Globe, February 7, 1965, noted that Billy Chin was the manager and that Winton was a previous manager. It was also mentioned that Billy Chin was born in Boston, but his parents returned to China and he grew up in a small village, Chong Lin. He would return to the U.S. in 1953.

There was a recipe in the Boston American, January 16, 1961, for Hung Yun Bang, Chinese almond cookies.

In August 1950, the Mandarin House opened in Saugus on Route 1, taking over the site over a former ice cream parlor. In 1958, Madeline and William Wong purchased the restaurant, and renamed it the Kowloon Restaurant. The Boston American, August 24, 1961, published a brief ad for the Kowloon Restaurant and Peninsula Cocktail Lounge, noting its "Delicious Chinese food and Polynesian drinks." This is an iconic restaurant, still in existence, and one of the oldest restaurants on Route 1.

Serious issues at the Lotus Inn. The Boston Globe, January 3, 1962, reported on a hearing before the Boston License Commission concerning the Lotus Inn Restaurant, at 85 Beach Street, which may have been established around 1959. It was alleged that the Chinese restaurant had used its premises for immoral purposes. The allegations were that a 16 year-old girl from Salem girl had been brought by two men to the Lotus Inn. The girl was given a pill by one of the men, and then with a third men, they toured various places in Boston where immortal acts were performed. The Lotus Inn proprietor, Louis Yee Fong, claimed no knowledge of the incidents. The matter was taken under advisement and the Boston Herald, January 17, 1962, reported the restaurant's license was suspended for an indefinite time. I didn't find any further information about the Lotus Inn, and it might have closed after this matter.

The Boston Record American, January 31, 1962, mentioned that grand opening of the Four Seas, a new Chinese restaurant at 4 Tyler St. The Boston Record American, February 7, 1962, added that the name had been inspired by a famed saying by Confucius: “Within Four Seas all men are brothers.” Unfortunately, the Boston Traveler, September 15, 1964, reported the restaurant received an indefinite suspension of its food license for the charge of liquor being exposed for sale there.

There was a brief ad for the Green Pagoda, at 1270 Boylston Street, in the Boston Traveler, May 18, 1962.

At this time, there were less than 100 Chinese restaurants in Boston, and in comparison, the Boston Globe, June 22, 1962, alleged there were about 5000 Chinese restaurants in New York. That is certainly a huge difference.

Another new Chinese restaurant. The Boston Daily Record, November 23, 1959, noted the opening of the Ho Ho restaurant at 14 Hudson Street. The Boston American, May 22, 1961, then added that the restaurant was under the management of Sam Set, and was open from 3pm-3am. The Boston Traveler, September 13, 1963, also added that the host was David Wong and the restaurant was decorated with an “exotic display of rare, hand-carved teak and ivory figurines,” They served Cantonese cuisine, prepared by their chef who had recently arrived from Hong Kong. The restaurant offered a $10 evening special for two people, which included dinner, parking, and two tickets to a theater performance. The restaurant would close around 1978. 

A disturbing decision by the Boston School Committee. The Boston Globe, October 20, 1966, reported on a decision by the Boston School Committee to reclassify about 670 Chinese-Americans public school students as "members of the white race." The decision was stated to be "a technical one designed to prevent the number of racially imbalanced schools from rising by two this year." The article continued, "The board ruled that the Quincy and Lincoln elementary schools, with predominantly Chinese student bodies, were not racially imbalanced." The Chinese community in the Boston area was shocked and upset by the board's decision, and rightfully so.

Education Commissioner Owen B. Kiernan also wasn't pleased with the board's decision, and stated "it is not the function of the School Committee to tally up the imbalanced schools." He also indicated that the standards of the U.S. Census Bureau classify the Chinese as non-white. The Boston Globe, November 8, 1966, reported that the State Board of Education had declared there were 57 racially imbalanced schools in four communities. This was one less than the year before, but Boston had increased by two. Kiernan chose to ignore the Boston School Committee's decision to reclassify Chinese students as "white."

A Chinese New Year celebration! The Boston Globe, February 8, 1967, wrote about the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ram. Billy Chin, owner of the China Pearl restaurant, told the newspaper that large Chinese-American families have associations, which help family members and arrange for family meetings and banquets. Billy belongs to the Chin Family Association, and his association, like others, will have a banquet for the holiday. There will likely be 50-80 family members at their banquet. “Meat and poultry will not be served at these elaborate dinners. Eggs, clams, oysters will be featured, as well as vegetable dishes.”; “According to Billy, the lack of meat and poultry at the dinners can probably be traced back to an old Chinese tradition of ‘no bloodletting’ during a time of celebration.
Starting in 1968, there were numerous newspaper articles about the alleged dangers of MSG at Chinese restaurants. I'll be addressing this issue in a future article.

The Boston Globe, December 17, 1968, had a small ad for the new Aku-Aku,  “Greater Boston’s Newest Polynesian-Chinese Restaurant,” located at 215 Concord Turnpike, Cambridge. It was open every day from 11:30am-2am.

Interestingly, the Boston Globe, January 30, 1969, provided a restaurant review for Yee Hong Guey, located at 34 Oxford Street, and which had been open since at least 1929. The review states, “Chop Suey and Chow Mein dishes predominate in the basically Cantonese menu,” and it was described as “typical of run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants in town.”

Chinese restaurants for newcomers. The Boston Globe, September 26, 1969, published a Newcomer’s Guide to Boston; and there was a section of restaurant recommendations. In Chinatown, the recommendations included big restaurants like Bob Lee’s Islander, Cathay House, and China Pearl; The smaller restaurants included House of Roy and Yee Hung Guey. Finally, the writers two personal favorites included Peking on the Mystic and Joyce Chen. 

The End For Now

Check out Part 1, covering the 19th century.
Check out Part 2, covering 1901-1920.
Check out Part 3, covering the 1920s.
Check out Part 4, the tale of Ruby Foo.
Check out Part 6, the tale of Anita Chue
Check out Part 7, the tale of Mary Yick
Check out Part 8, a Deeper Look into Two Restaurants

And also see my Compilation Post, with links to my additional articles about Chinese restaurants, outside Boston and in Connecticut, as well as a number of related matters.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Origins of the Pu-Pu Platter

In an advertisement in the Boston Globe, October 14, 1982Bob Lee's Islander restaurant claimed "We invented The Pupu Platter.” Is this true?

According to Wikipedia, "The pupu platter was probably first introduced to restaurants on the United States mainland by Donn Beach in 1934." In addition, it notes, "The earliest known print reference to a pupu platter served at a Chinese restaurant is from 1969." Are either of those true?

What's the actual truth behind the origins of the Pu-Pu Platter?

There’s no question that the term “Pu-Pu” derives from the Hawaiian word, pū-pū, which refers to “appetizers.” Originally, pū-pū only referred to shellfish, but eventually expanded to a variety of other foods as well. 

During the 1950s, a number of Hawaiian newspapers mentioned pu-pu. For example, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), April 10, 1954, in describing the Ginza restaurant on Honolulu, stated, “.., there’s a tempting array of pupu—LOVE that word!—chasers in the form of shrimp tempura, sashimi, abalone, and umpteen varieties of Japanese pickles and vegetables.”

The Honolulu Advertiser (HI), January 22, 1955, detailed Les Gourmets de Pupu. The article stated, “Believing that one way to eliminate the problem of dinner is to concentrate exclusively on hors d’oeuvres, a group of dedicated young couples formed one of Honolulu’s most unusual clubs several years ago.” The article continued, “They hold that dinner uses up space, confuse the issue and adds dishes to wash.” The group held monthly epicurean dinners, specializing in pupus, “the Hawaiian approximation for hors d’oeuvres.” 

Travel back about twenty years, and in 1933, Don’s Beachcomber, likely the first Polynesian “Tiki” bar, opened in Hollywood, and in 1937, the bar moved across the street and became a restaurant as well. Around this same time, Victor Bergeron Jr. opened his own Polynesian bar & restaurant which would become known as Trader Vic’s.

It would seem to make sense that maybe one of these restaurants, which popularized Polynesian-Chinese cuisines, invented Pu-Pu platters, using the Hawaiian word to refer to their own collection of appetizers. If they did so, when did that occur? Was it when they first opened or was it sometime later?

Tthe evidence on behalf of Don the Beachcomber being the first to create a Pu-Pu Platter seems to be lacking. For example, I’ve examined three menus from Don the Beachcomber, from 1954-1965 (Menu 1Menu 2, and Menu 3), and there was not a single mention of Pu-Pu Platters, which makes no sense if Don invented it

As for Trader Vic's, he wrote a book, Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink (1946) and it doesn't mention the Pu-Pu Platter either. However, there's a Menu from the 1950s (although a specific year is not mentioned) for their Honolulu location, and it had a category for Hot Pupus: Polynesian Hors d'Oeuvres. There was also a listing for PuPu Platter ($2.50), with Fried Shrimp, Egg Roll, Won Ton and Spareribs

As such, this might be the first restaurant documented to have served a Pu-Pu Platter, and provides at least some evidence that Trader Vic's might have invented the Pu-Pu Platter. I'll note though that it doesn't appear that Trader Vic's has made that claim for themselves. Trader Vic's has claimed to have invented the Mai Tai, so why wouldn't they make that same claim for the Pu-Pu Platter if it was applicable?

In 1957, a couple locations of the Luau 400, a Polynesian restaurant opened in New York City and Pennsylvania. The Daily News (NY), December 5, 1957, mentioned that the menu at Luau 400 included a Pu Pu Platter, with Tim Sam (dumplings), Shrimp Vela (fried shrimp with coconut), Egg Rolls, Barbecued Spare Ribs, and Rumaki. This might be the first newspaper mention of a restaurant serving a Pu-Pu Platter. 

As the Trader Vic's menu doesn't have a specific year, it is certainly possible that Luau 400 was the first restaurant to offer a Pu-Pu Platter and that Trader Vic's followed closely behind them, starting to offer a Pu-Pu Platter in 1958 or 1959. 

So what about the claim of Boston's Bob Lee's Islander? Around 1951, Bob Lee, a native of Canton, China, opened Bob Lee's Lantern House on Tyler Street in Boston's Chinatown. At first, it only had seven tables, although it would grow over the years, with its first expansion starting around April 1952. At that time, the restaurant served only typical Cantonese cuisine.

It wouldn't be until 1961, that Bob Lee's Lantern would add Polynesian cuisine and cocktails. The Boston Daily Record, January 2, 1961 noted the opening of the new Aloha cocktail lounge at Bob Lee’s Lantern House. The Boston American, May 15, 1961, mentioned that at this new Aloha lounge, you could find "tasty Polynesian-Chinese food and cocktails." 

By September 1961, the name of the restaurant was changed to Bob Lee's Islander, embracing the Tiki mystique. The Boston American, September 18, 1961, had an advertisement for this name change, noting they served “Exotic Polynesian Drinks, Finest Chinese Food."

The Boston Record American, December 20, 1961, had a full page advertisement for the restaurant, noting that the decor included:“Thatched roofs, Polynesian masks, ceramic figures and symbols, lush broadleaved foliage and a handsome tropical mural..” One of the items you could order were the “intriguing Pu-Pu Platters heaped with shrimp puffs, fried won-ton, rumaki, barbecued spare ribs, fried shrimp and barbecued chicken wings,..

It's important to note that at this time, Bob Lee's Islander didn't claim to be the inventor of the Pu-Pu Platter, which you would have expected them to have done if it were true. They had a full page advertisement, so plenty of room to add that information if it were correct. However, we have already seen there were Pu-Pu Platters at least as far back as the 1950s, before Bob Lee could have invented it in 1961. 

During the 1970s, Bob Lee ran into some legal problems. First, in late 1976 and early 1977, his restaurant had been found in violation of the health codes and was shut down for a day. According to the Boston Globe, February 9, 1977, he then planned to sue the city for violating his civil rights. He stated that three other restaurants which had also failed health inspections, Anthony’s Pier 4, Locke-Ober and Polcari's, had only been given warnings. His was the only restaurant shut down. He also claimed this was the restaurant's first violation in its 25 years. However, because of the public nature of the health allegations, Bob Lee also stated he had lost much business.

A year later, the Boston Globe, April 11, 1978, reported that Bob Lee had been charged with 3 counts of tax evasion for understating his taxable earnings by $158,680 from 1971-1973. The Boston Globe, May 10, 1978, then reported that Bob pled guilty to 1 count of tax evasion. He was sentenced to one year in jail, three months to serve and the rest suspended. Plus, he was fined $10,000 and had to pay the  back taxes, plus 6% interest and a fraud penalty of 50% of the overdue taxes. 

It wasn't until 1982 (in the ad at the top of this page) that Bob Lee's Islander made their first documented claim to have been the inventor of the Pu-Pu Platter. Why did they wait so long, at least twenty years, to make this claim? Why isn't there any earlier documented references to their alleged invention? And as Ive already pointed out, Bob Lee's Islander didn't exist until 1961, and there were  documented references to Pu-Pu platters in the 1950s. So their claim cannot be true.

At this time, the first documented references to Pu-Pu Platters were from the 1950s, including a Trader Vic's menu and a 1957 newspaper article about the Luau 400. From 1961 through the early 1960s, other restaurants, in New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii, would also start offering Pu-Pu Platters (including the flaming Pu-Pu Platter. 

More research would be beneficial to seek the actual inventor of the Pu-Pu Platter, but we can at least state definitively it wasn't Bob Lee and it seems very unlikely that it was Don’s Beachcomber either. Trader Vic's and Luau 400 are in the running as potential inventors, but more evidence would be needed to determine the fact of the matter. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Rant: Holiday Wines? Don't Be A Cheapskate

Next month begins the holiday season, and many people will be stop by their local wine shop to purchase wines for Thanksgiving to Christmas, Boxing Day to Festivus. You might be buying wines for parties, dinners, or gifts. I once again want to give my reader an important piece of advice, which applies to all the wine you'll purchase this holiday season.

Stop being a cheapskate! 

In preparation for the holidays, people stock up on wine to serve their guests at the various parties and celebrations. Often, because they are buying bottles in bulk, their primary concern is price. They generally want to purchase wine that costs $10 per bottle or less and usually end up buying those large, commercial "value" wines, the brand names which are known to everyone. Don't do it!

It takes almost no thought to buy such wines. Though such wines might be drinkable, they aren't going to impress anyone. You've chosen to take the cheapest route possible, in both price and time. There is a better way. 

If you're hosting a holiday party, don't you want to impress your guests? Or do you want to be known as the person who bought the cheapest wine available? Don't you want your guests to leave the party talking about the great time they had, telling others about the delicious wines they enjoyed? Or would you rather have them later complain that the wine was unappealing?

It only takes a little extra work, and maybe price, to elevate your wine selections. Or would you rather be known as a wine cheapskate by your guests, who know you bought cheap wine with no real thought?

I certainly understand the need to control your wine costs when you are providing for a number of guests. You don't have to buy $50 wines to impress your guests and you don't even have to spend $20 per bottle. I've purchased numerous $10-$12 wines and brought them to parties where the other guests loved then, wanting to know where they could buy them. There are good and interesting wines at this price point, if you know where to seek them out. If you want your holiday celebration to be even more popular, then you need to serve those type of wines. The extra effort will elevate your party and please your family, friends, and other guests.

How do you find these inexpensive but interesting wines?

To start, the easiest path is to seek out one of the better discount wine stores. These places often carry a good selection of wines costing $15 or under, much more than you will find at a regular wine store. You'll find plenty of variety in these inexpensive wines, whites and reds, domestic and imported. You'll find wines comparable in price to those large commercial "value" wines but which offer much more character, taste and value.

My top three recommendations for discount wine stores include Bin Ends in Braintree and NeedhamWine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Make the effort and drive to one of these discount spots and find better value wines. The investment of time will pay off, creating many happy guests at your next party.

For example, when I go to Bin Ends in Needham, I can purchase a couple cases of wine, averaging $10-$15 per bottle, and get a nice diversity of wines, reds, whites & rose. These wines will satisfy most people. They are excellent every-day wines, and work well as inexpensive wines for larger parties too. Rapid Liquors expanded their store, offering a larger selection and you can always find excellent values there. The Wine Connextion also offers excellent prices, even better than many you would find in New Hampshire.

If you some reason you can't make it to one of these discount wine shops, you still have options. At whatever wine shop you visit, it might be best to ask the wine store staff for recommendations of value wines. They should be able to direct you toward those inexpensive wines which will be more interesting and delicious than those cheap commercial wines. You should also remember that most wine stores offer a discount for bulk purchases, sometimes as few as 6 wines, which is another way to save money on your purchases.

But if for some reason you can't ask a store employee for some recommendations, then my best advice for selecting a good wine that is $12 or under, is to buy a Portuguese wine. At this time, I think some of the greatest value wines are coming out of Portugal, especially at this price point. Chances are that if you purchase a Portuguese wine costing $12 or less, you will find a delicious wine, much better than similarly priced wines from most other regions. And there are plenty of Portuguese wines available in that price range. There is probably no other wine region where you can find as many good wines at that price point.

You also should know that paying a few dollars more for your wine can make a big difference. When you start considering wines priced from $10-$15, your options increase drastically. You can find some interesting wines from all over the world in that price range, though they still offer value. And if you are buying in bulk where the wine store offers a discount for larger purchases, you can save enough money so that the wines end up priced closer to $10 per bottle.

So this holiday season, don't buy the same old cheap wines. It won't take much effort to select some better choices, and still very inexpensively. In the end, you'll impress your guests, make your holiday party more memorable, and drink better wines.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Chinese Restaurant in Mayberry?

The core of the story centered on Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower, raising his son, Opie, assisted by his Aunt Bee, all in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina

The Andy Griffith Show, which aired from 1960-1968, with 249 episodes, is a beloved and iconic comedy series. It always did very well in the ratings and is commonly listed as one of the best TV series ever. It was considered a wholesome show, generally upholding strict moral values. As a child, I watched the series and I’m sure many of my contemporaries did the same. 

However, nowadays, the series receives some criticism as there was almost no diversity in the show. For example, there was only a single black actor, Rockne Tarkington, who had a speaking part on the show and he only appeared in a single episode, as Opie's football coach. A few other black actors and actresses appeared as non-speaking extras, although none of them were listed in the credits.

Thus, I was recently surprised to learn that one of the episodes centered on a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry! I didn’t remember that episode from my childhood, and wouldn’t have imagined such an episode existed. Fortunately, the episode, from 1967, presented a very positive image, which would have reached many households all across the country, helping to break erroneous preconceptions and prejudices against the Chinese. Such positive depictions are absolutely necessary, so let's take a deeper look at this fascinating episode.

The episode, “Aunt Bee’s Restaurant” (Season 7, Episode 21) aired on February 6, 1967. At that time, in the fictional town of Mayberry, there were a few restaurants, primarily diners, including the Mayberry Diner, Bluebird Diner, and Snappy Lunch. There was a more upscale spot, Morelli’s, which was located just outside of Mayberry. All of these restaurants provided basic American fare, and most were relatively inexpensive. 

As the episode began, Andy and his friend, Gomer Pyle, were discussing what they would eat for lunch when Aunt Bee arrived. She mentioned that she might stop by the Spare Ribs Tavern and bring some home for dinner. However, Gomer mentioned that the restaurant had closed the day before, as they couldn’t succeed. 

Aunt Bee commented that Mayberry wasn’t really a spare rib town, which is very curious as North Carolina is well known for its barbecue, including its ribs. Aunt Bee then finished, by stating,  “The restaurant business can be so treacherous.” This was intended to mean the restaurant business was very difficult, and didn't refer to any betrayal or deception. 

Next, Aunt Bee stopped by the Spare Ribs Tavern, to speak to the owner Henry. The signs in the restaurant were interesting, providing insight into their menu. One signs mentioned, “Complete Lunch” including items like beef stew, meat balls, roast beef, roast pork, chicken fried steak, ham & lima beans, and hamburger steak (all priced $1.25-$1.35). The lower part of another sign mentioned Cole Slaw and Homemade Soup. A prominent third sign promoted Barbecued Ribs, To Go, for 85 cents. A fourth sign mentioned hot dogs, pizza, French dips, and chile. Interestingly, the sign also mentioned beer for 25 cents, even though Mayberry was a dry town. 

The Spare Ribs Tavern probably served a menu similar to many of the other existing restaurants in Mayberry, except for possibly the barbecued ribs. So why wasn't it able to compete with the other local restaurants? The tavern had far more variety on their menu than just barbecued ribs.  

Henry wasn’t present so Aunt Bee spoke with Charlie Lee, the chef, and the old her that he planned to return to Pittsburgh to work at Wong Soo’s Canton Palace. Bee was disappointed, as she felt he was an excellent chef, and Charlie then told her that he felt a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry would have been a great idea, a relative gold mine. Charlie began learning how to cook Chinese cuisine when he was 17 years old, and stated he knew how to prepare items like chop suey, chow mein, and egg rolls

However, Charlie noted it would take money, about $400, to renovate the tavern and turn it into a Chinese restaurant. Charlie lacked the needed capital so he needed a partner to invest that money, but he didn't know no one who would do so. As Bee left the restaurant, she found a penny on the floor, and Charlie told her it was her lucky day. 

Later that day, Bee was at home with Andy, and she began to sing “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” a popular song written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz back in 1906. She had already made up her mind to invest in the Chinese restaurant and was slowly trying to tell Andy about it. She asked him, “Everybody likes good wholesome food, don’t they?” This was a clear indication that she considered Chinese cuisine to be “good wholesome food.” She finally then told Andy, who was skeptical of her plans. 

Andy didn’t think she knew anything about running a restaurant, although she claimed it would be like serving a lot of company, although Andy replied that she didn’t serve sub gum to her guests. Andy’s friend, Howard Sprague, showed up at their home and Andy asked for his opinion on Bee’s plans, hoping he would be on Andy’s side. Howard though was a fan of Chinese cuisine, and especially fond of water chestnuts, and thought having a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry would be a good idea. 

Andy remained doubtful but Bee went forward with her investment. So, at least some of the people of Mayberry had some familiarity with Chinese cuisine. Had they visited a Chinese restaurant in another part of North Carolina? That information isn't provided in the episode. However, it's good to see that none of them had a negative image of Chinese cuisine. 

Charlie Lee’s nephew, Jack, arrived in Mayberry to be the waiter in the new Chinese restaurant. He was currently attending the University of North Carolina, studying for a Masters in Psychology. Charlie, Bee and Jack, helped decorated the restaurant, with large Chinese screens, lanterns, and other similar items. 

The Grand Opening of “Aunt Bee’s Canton Palace” was held and the restaurant was packed. One of the guests raved about the Moo Goo Gai Pan, a dish he’d never eaten before. Andy, his girlfriend Helen, Howard, and Gomer, ate together. Howard caught an error on the menu on the name of a chicken dish, Ling Chi Chi, which he ordered along with a bowl of something like a Chinese matzoh ball soup. Andy, Helen and Gomer ordered the $1.95 chow mein dinner, although Gomer was going to get the smaller $1.65 chow mein dinner until Andy mentioned that he was treating. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meal and couldn’t wait to return. Gomer wanted to try their fried rice. 

At the end of the night, when the restaurant was essentially closed, Bee sat down with Andy and friends, and a plate of fortune cookies was brought to the table. Bee was pleased that they had a revenue of $80 (about $633 in today's dollars) for the night, which might mean they had about 40-60 customers that evening. When Bee opened her fortune cookie and read her fortune, she seemed nervous and wouldn't tell anyone what it said, merely claiming it was silly. 

Later that night, she couldn't sleep and sat in the kitchen, looking at her fortune. Andy woke up and saw her in the kitchen. He picked up her fortune from the table and read it, which said, “Beware of new business ventures, they can prove costly.” Bee, who was superstitious, was greatly concerned about the fortune, stating, “The Chinese are very intelligent people." 

The next day, Bee tried to get Charlie to make some changes to his restaurant, from adding more seasoning to the chow mein to expanding the menu to include steaks, chops and spaghetti. Charlie wasn’t happy with such changes and, with Jack, went to speak to Andy. Charlies was worried that the changes would quickly put them out of business. Jack eventually tried to use his knowledge of psychology to convince Bee not to worry about her fortune cookie, but was unsuccessful. Rationally, Bee understood she shouldn't be superstitious, but she couldn't stop her feelings. 

In the end, Jack opted to buy out Bee, giving her back her $400 investment. The Chinese restaurant remained open, although it’s unknown if they changed its name, or at least removed “Aunt Bee’s” from the name. Jack had previously not wanted to buy out Bee's investment, but he got a fortune cookie which helped changed his mind. The restaurant wasn’t mentioned again in the series so its ultimate fate was unknown, although it seemed very popular and likely would have remained in existence. 

Charlie Lee was played by Keye Luke, a native of Guangzhou, China, born on June 18, 1904, but who was raised in Seattle, Washington. His lengthy acting career began in 1934, and some of his roles included “Number One Son” in the Charlie Chan films and Kato in the Green Hornet film serials. He would also play the blind Master Po in the Kung Fu series, as well as Mr. Wing in the Gremlin movies. He was the first Chinese-American contract player signed by RKO, Universal Pictures and MGM. He died of a stroke in 1991. In 2012, he was also the subject of Keye Luke, a short documentary and bio-pic, directed by Timothy Tau, about his early life and career. 

Jack was played by Lloyd Kino (Kinoshita), who was born on May 18, 1919; in Seattle, Washington. He too had a lengthy acting career, appearing in numerous television series during from McHale’s Navy to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (as well as one episode of Kung Fu), as well a number of movies from Mortal Kombat to Godzilla, The Cable Guy to The Last Tycoon. He passed away in 2012. Interestingly, in the Andy Griffith episode, Jack was a college student but the actor was actually 47 years old at that time.

This 1967 Andy Griffith episode depicted Chinese restaurants in a very positive manner, and due to its immense popularity, likely was influential in persuading Americans to dine at such restaurants. With Chinese restaurants receiving so much negative publicity over the years, it's always good to see a more positive depiction. And it's cool to imagine the Canton Palace having a lengthy and successful history in Mayberry.