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TOPICS INCLUDE: Jellies from worms; Past issues; Smaller portions; Chinese restaurants in USA; Chinese immigrant population; Sea rats; History of Din Tai Fung; Fruits on skewers; Pun Choi dishes; Foods from Macao; Soy sauce for healing

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(2) page(s): 15, 16,18, 24, and 34

From PETE via snail mail from WISCONSIN:
Thanks for all the information about green and black and the other jellies. However, they were all made from vegetable products. When we were kids, our parents collected worms and made a jelly from them. You never mentioned an animal jelly; can you enlighten me and others about it?
PETE: We did not mention the jelly you are speaking about because we know only a little about it. We think you are referring to Bamboo Shoot Jelly. It is made from a worm sometimes called 'the peanut worm.' The mouth of this crawly has many tentacles. They can be sucked in and are not always visible. This critter or one of its brethren lives in shallow water and often burrows into the sand. There are about three hundred different species, almost all symmetrical, and they grow to about four inches in length. Jelly made from them is a delicacy in Xiamen, a city in the Fujian province. It is also appreciated in Taiwan, Burma, and Japan. Botanically the worm is called Phascolosoma agassizii and it is dark in color. The jelly comes from emptying its gut and cooking what is taken from there. The jelly itself forms when cooled. Some serve it with soy sauce, any vinegar, chili, or another piquant sauce, and with or without garlic and coriander. This jelly can also be stir-fried with meat, usually pork, and it can be used in soups. Often it is prepared with ginseng added. We know the above from the literature, have neither seen nor tasted it, nor do we know anyone who has. Readers, please expand our knowledge.

From MARIO via e-mail:
Just was handed a copy of your magazine and was thrilled to know it exists. Wonder if the issue I have in hand is typical, what gets published in a year, in past years, and how can I subscribe and get back issues?
MARIO: The issue whose cover you sent is the fourth in our 13th year. The website www.flavorandfortune.com has an index of the first ten years (1994-2003), and individual index listings for 2004, 2005, and 2006. This past year's issues discussed two hundred ninety-five different things Chinese. There were thirty-six articles by thirteen authors, forty-four books reviewed, and eighty Chinese restaurants discussed. They were in eight countries (US, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, and Taiwan). Just over half of them (forty-three to be exact) were in the United States. There were forty-one other topics discussed briefly in Newman’s News and Notes, and in response to letters to the editor. Ninety-four recipes illustrated the above. As to subscribing, we welcome you and others aboard. See page 39.

From INGRID via e-mail:
Read a comment from Dr. Marion Nestle, author of 'What To Eat' that restaurants should be persuaded to serve smaller portions. Does that not fly in the face of what Chinese hosts like to do at banquet and in restaurants?
INGRID: You are quite right, for Chinese banquet hosts at least. In China and in Chinese restaurants in the United States and in other countries, a host or hostess does not want to hear that from a banquet manager or anyone else. The Chinese traditionally feel it is a loss of face for the host or hostess if there is no food left over after an honorific meal; even after any Chinese restaurant meal they invite you to. We recently read a survey that said eighty-one percent of Chinese diners could not finish all their food. Even more surprising, more than one-quarter of them never take left-overs home. This same survey found about one-third of men ages thirty to forty were the most extravagant at dinner. They ordered excessively and did not take leftovers home.
Leftovers are part of the almost one billion dollar food and beverage industry in China, and part of an even larger food and beverage expenditure in the United States. In China, there were, at the end of 2005, forty-three restaurants in Shanghai willing to persuade customers not to order excessive amounts of food. They also asked their customers to take home leftovers putting them into environmentally friendly containers. They referred to these 'doggie bags' as 'pollution-free lunch boxes.'
Clearly, ordering overkill is not all waste; that is if it is taken home and consumed there. In Shanghai alone, it is reported that more than a thousand tons of wasted food are disposed of each day. That surely does hinder that city's and the entire country's efforts to control food waste.

From JOAN via e-mail:
Saw on a food website, that no one seems to know much about the history of Chinese restaurants in the United States. Can this magazine enlighten them and us?
JOAN: Not sure what you or they specifically mean or want to know about Chinese restaurants. Do know there are folk looking into various aspects of Chinese food consumed away from home. Surely, this is no easy task, and not a new one. In the 1940's there was a Ph.D. study done on that topic area. It was published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association and done at Columbia University in New York City; it was a fascinating read. Other studies have been done in Chicago and elsewhere. Some looked at what Chinese infants eat, what Chinese women eat in Chinese restaurants, what foods were in their cupboards at home, etc. As to a survey of all Chinese restaurants, that is a gigantic task. Chinese museums in New York, San Francisco, and cities with smaller Chinese populations do have exhibits about varying aspects of Chinese restaurants and their customers. Keep in mind, the Chinese make up a large population at home and abroad. What they eat and what their restaurants serve are mega-amounts of food. Some researcher said there were four thousand and three Chinese restaurants in the United States in the 1940's. In 2006, there were ten times that number, if not more. The ethnic eateries of this one population group are important, and from the culinary perspective, they are huge. Chinese restaurants in the United States alone employ about one quarter of a million people. Chinese restaurants are not new to America. They came into being in the eighteen hundreds; four large ones known in the 1850's in San Francisco. Later (in the 1920's into the 1960's) large ones had dance floors and floor shows. After the immigration laws of 1965, the Chinese immigrants were more heterogenous, expanded where they came from, and expanded the kinds of restaurants they opened. More were outside of Chinatown than ever before. After 1972 and Nixon's visit to China, there was even greater growth in their numbers, probably due to greater acceptance of Chinese food.

From ED via e-mail:
With our growing population, many said to be Asian, how large is the Chinese immigrant population and what is their buying power?
ED: This country's overall population topped three hundred million last year. It went over one hundred million in 1915. There are fewer people per square mile in the USA than seven other countries. Bangladesh is the most populous of any nation, almost three times as many people per square mile as the next most densely populated country, Japan. China ranks sixth, followed by France, the United States, Brazil, Russia, and Canada. Of this growing population in the United States, about one-third are 'minority people.' The three fasted growing among the Asian populations are Asian Indians, Vietnamese, and Filipinos. Where do they all live; check the US census bureau website. In Queens County, one of the boroughs of New York City, one hundred seventy languages are spoken, quite a few of them Asian. And in that county, there are more foreign-born Chinese than peoples of any other ethnic group.
As to their buying power, no economists on our staff. However, we did read in an ethnic source book handed out at the Asian Food Expo in New York City that in 2006 it was four hundred twenty-seven billion dollars spent by a population, they grew by three percent between 2004 and 2005, and are expected to reach 15.6 million by 2011. The ten largest Asian growth markets (1990-2006) are not where you would expect them to be. They are in Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, Nebraska, Minnesota, Arizona, Delaware, Texas, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.

From BELLA via e-mail:
Saw an old Chinese book that said 'sea rats' are healthy. Can you elaborate?
BELLA: Think you mean the Canon of Gastronomy written, we believe, in the fifth century. That volume supposedly called them hai shu or 'sea rats' and said they looked like leeches but were bigger than most of those creature types. This animal eventually got better culinary press, and were called 'ginseng of the sea' and their name in Chinese became hai shen. A tale is told that an emperor sent huge fleets of ships to Australia (some say Africa) in search of these creatures. We have never seen a recipe for these gray to black sea animals, though we have read about them in herbal tomes. Any readers out there who can educate us?

Heard you were disappointed about Din Tai Fung in my city. Do you know the history of its owner Yang Pingyi?
SHIH: We read about this eatery and its boss in Taiwan Panorama. They advised, that in 1958 Mr. Yang set up an oil shop. He moved it in 1972 to its present location. (This very popular place was reviewed in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 13 (4) on page 13.) Yang, wanting to stake out his own place and not be like others nearby, decided to make xialongbao or steamed soup dumplings. He pleated them eighteen times and served them ten to a portion. It took lots of experiments including how much meat to put in, how much soup, and how much juice should each one have. In 1993, The New York Times said his place in Taipei was one of the world's ten top restaurants. In 1996, he opened a place in Japan in cooperation with Takashimaya. Now he has eleven more dumpling places in that country. He also has one in a suburb of Los Angeles, in Arcadia. We felt it does not match the Taiwanese one on Yungkang Street that we did adore so. His Los Angeles newcomer, a disappointment, is discussed in this magazine’s volume 14 (1) on pages 36-37.

On the streets of Beijing and in Xian, too, we saw these tiny fruits on skewers, usually five to a stick. We ate and loved them. Can you advise how we can make them here in Iowa?
ANITA: They easily could have been haw fruit or shan li hung. They are small red mountain fruits usually sold glazed and as a snack food. Below is a recipe we have used with fresh haw fruit and with crab apples, both related fruits.
Sugared Haw Fruits
4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup clear corn syrup
1 teaspoon ground Chinese cassia or cinnamon
1 teaspoon red food coloring, if desired
40 fresh haw fruit, stems twisted off, washed and dried
8 skewers, about three to four inches in length
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon superfine or bar sugar
1. In a large pot, about six inches in diameter, bring a cup of water to the boil, add sugar, and syrup, reduce the heat and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Add cassia and the food coloring, if used, and stir for about five minutes. This liquid should be boiling. Test a small ball of it dropped from a spoon into a bowl of cold water. It should make a fine thread when dropped into that bowl of cold water.
2. Oil a flat plate and set aside.
3. Insert a skewer through each five haw or crab apple fruits.
4. Dip each skewer in the syrup, hold until all excess syrup drains off, and set on the oiled plate. Repeat until all are dipped, drained, and set aside.
5. Put bar sugar in a strainer, and sprinkle the sugar over the fruits, turn once and repeat so all sides are sugared on the outside. Set aside until cooled and serve or refrigerate if not using until the next day.

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