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TOPICS INCLUDE: Past thirteen years; Writing food words; Chopstick ettiquette; Bamboo shoot jelly; Chinese-Japanese cookbook; Dragon fruit; Tucson Chinese; The Gifts, Favors, & Banquets book

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Winter Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(4) page(s): 8, 9, and 17

From RODRIGUEZ via e-mail:
Just found your website, and started to browse through. What a large collection of items on it and in magazine issues not yet there from 2000 on. Know I can count up, but truthfully, I am too busy reading what is there; so can you provide me and others who also have no time to count, with totals of what you have published in your first thirteen years?
RODRIGUEZ: Counting from the very first issue in 1994, through the fiftieth issue, which was Volume 14(1) published in Spring 2007. We were amazed, and you may be, too. In the first fifty issues there were:
440 articles,
302 books and video reviews,
345 restaurants discussed (not including the Top 100 listings),
327 topics in brief,
945 recipes, and
105 people and the editor authoring the articles.
We hope to continue this explosion of information about Chinese food and all aspects of its food culture in this and future issues of this magazine. Many articles, but not all of them, are inspired by suggestions from interested and committed readers. We look foreword to the next one hundred issues and hope you do too. Should you want hard copies, as many recently have, do contact us.

From INA JEAN via e-mail:
Know your concentration is on food, but you once did an article on Chinese writing. I am less than artistic, but I can follow instructions carefully. Is there any book you know that teaches how to write food words. Figure if I can write them, I could recognize them and then learn to read a menu?
INA JEAN: The article you are referring to 'Chinese Calligraphy: The Art of the Written Language;, it was written by Karen Comstock and was in Volume 9(2) on pages 7 and 33. Karen's article discussed the various types of writing throughout China's history. It did not teach how to write Chinese. The two books we would recommend to help you do so are: The Chinese Calligraphy Bible by Yat-Ming Cathy Ho; it was published in New York by Barron's Educational Series in 2007, and does a fine job of teaching how to write Chinese characters. However, food words are not among its lessons. There is a great book of Chinese characters for foods and menu items, but that is all it has. That book is called The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters by James D. McCauley. Long out of print, you will need to search the web and used bookstores for this 1984 University of Chicago Press volume.

From LP JETER via e-mail:
Spent yesterday reading the Summer issue and I especially enjoyed the 'Food and Chinese Funeral Practices' article; also the article about chopsticks. I am keen to learn even more about chopstick etiquette; some questions attached.
Mr. JETER: Your appreciation of both of those articles was received multiple times; and we thank you and all. As to additional chopstick etiquette, here are a few items you may not know about. Keep them aligned by tapping them on the table, never in food. Never point them anywhere or at anyone between bites. Best to put them down on a chopstick rest; and if there are none, take the wrapping of disposable ones and fold lengthwise in four then in half the log way making your own. Chopsticks traditionally go on the right-hand side of place settings. In China, children are trained to use them in their right hand, so folks like this editor who is a lefty, eats slowly and a mite sloppily at formal meals when she feels obliged to eat with her right hand. Tea, water, and wine are also held in the right hand; they sit on the right side of a place setting. Never signal with chopsticks for wait-staff, that is considered rude. Never hit an empty bowl with chopsticks, nor plant them upright in rice or any other food, Never reach over another person to pick up your food with them or for any other reason, nor wave nor point them at anything or anywhere. Lastly, lazy Susans are not the place to park these eating implements. As to how they turn, usually clockwise.

From LENA via e-mail:
Re: your answer to Pete about bamboo shoot jelly. When I visited Xiamen in May 2006, we ate some. This may be a long forgotten dish but it is still tasty. In Pinyin on that menu, it said "earth/dirt shoot jelly" and FYI, the worms look like earthworms except shorter and gray in color.
LENA: Thanks for that, and for the question: Why do you refer to the worm "botanically?" Our dumb error, for sure. Thanks for pointing it out.

Some issues ago, and I can not seem to locate it in any index, you wrote about a lady who assumed a Japanese name but wrote about Chinese cooking. Forgot her name and would like to learn more about her, can you provide the reference?
DIANE: The article you refer to was called: 'Tricks in a Chinese-Japanese Cookbook.' It was in this magazine's Volume 10(4) on pages 25 and 33 and it discussed a book written in 1914. Fortunately, that very volume was recently reprinted by Applewood Books (Bedford MA), and discussed in Volume 14(1) on pages 8 and 9. Do you believe in mental telepathy? As I read your letter, a book about one of the authors sits on my night table. Called Onoto Watanna, The Story of Winnifred Eaton, it was published in 2001 and written by Diana Birchall, Winnifred's granddaughter. She says Winnifred developed her persona and decided to capitalize on her exotic appearance making herself Japanese. Her elder sister Sara wrote Asian-American fiction while she wrote Japanese romance novels. Together, they wrote the Chinese-Japanese Cook Book. It was one of the first Asian cookbooks published in the United States; and she said they did so with an eye for what would sell. Items in it were from a series of cooking and entertaining articles published in Harper's Bazaar and the Ladies Home Journal. Sara Bosse was their sole author because Winnifred was then posing as a Japanese lady. Later, they were rewritten, put into book form, and published by Rand McNally (Winnifred's first publisher). The implication is that Sara wrote the Chinese ones, her sister the Japanese ones, hence the book's title: Chinese-Japanese Cookbook. Birchall says Winnifred was "thoroughly used to presenting a facade that bore little or no relation to the truth" and that Winnifred's culinary skills were such that "she boiled everything until it was inedible, and her husband Frank Reeve flatly refused to eat it." For these sisters, the articles and the cookbook were conspiratorial fun. For readers, the fun is in locating their trickery.

From E.N. ANDERSON via e-mail:
Love your magazine, as always! May I enlighten about some questions, as follows: Dragon fruit, a.k.a. fire dragon fruit or 'huo long guo,' is indeed Central American, and to be more exact, native to south Mexico and around there. The Maya may have domesticated it (specifically 'Hylocereus undatus'); it is very common in Mayaland. Many families have it all over the place, using it as a living barbed wire fence more than for the fruit. The Yucatec Maya name is 'wob' which rhymes with 'robe.' FYI, all cacti are New World (except for a tiny population in Madagascar--heaven alone knows how they got there). None comes from anywhere in southeast Asia. I first saw dragon fruit in Asia in Taiwan, I forget when. I never saw them in Malaysia when I was there in 1970-71.
And, on another topic: As to 'sea rats,' I was amazed and delighted to find that old term. The name haishen applies to sea cucumbers or trepang which are sometimes miscalled 'sea slugs.' Scientifically, these 'Holothuria' come from oceans worldwide. They are normally dried. What you do with them is soak them to reconstitute them, then boil them in a rich stew with other healthful things. There are many recipes. Use them fresh and they are very good. They tend to self-clean by expelling their innards when caught, but if not, do clean them before boiling them. Rather glutinous but pleasantly with 'cui' texture, and a slight fish or calamari-like taste. I love them. Many westerners are repelled by the thought of eating anything squishy, but they should try good fresh well-kept sea ginseng, their other name. Forgot to mention, sea cucumber, the 'haishen' or sea rats, are easily digested protein with lots of minerals, which in biomedical terms, explains their health value. Many further virtues are ascribed to them in Chinese medical tradition.

Dr. ANDERSON: Hearing form you is always a learning experience. From day one, when I began to study foods Chinese, you have been a model, a guide, and a mentor. You are the most knowledgeable person vis-a-vis Chinese foods and food habits I know. You ended your e-mail with "I hope this helps." I and others are always helped by your input. Many thanks.

From BILLIE via e-mail:
Enjoyed the article about menus in Northern Mexico, did you take that trip in and out from Arizona and go to the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center while there? Any eateries to report about there?
BILLIE: Time never long enough to do all we want. While we did that trip in and out of Tucson, did not explore that city's rich Chinese heritage on this trip. Do know that at the start of 2006, that museum moved to larger quarters, thanks to donations by local foundations and supportive individuals. The local Chinese population is about three thousand folk (learned from 2000 census data). Nonetheless, the center, open to all, has more than twelve hundred members and a very active program with Chinese language, art, dancing, and other classes. Want to know more about this city's early Chinese population, read Florence and Robert Lister's The Chinese of Early Tucson: Historic Archeology from the Tucson Urban Renewal Project. More recently, last year to be specific, there was a week-long Chinese festival complete with firecrackers, dragon dance, etc. Suggest you and all contact the Chinese Cultural Center; 1288 W. River Road and check their website: www.tucsonchinese.org or phone then at: (520) 292-6900. They are open seven days a week and do have a calendar of upcoming events.
Next, as to Chinese eateries in the Tucson area, most were buffet and we tried not a one. We did see a Chinese tea house but it was closed and we had no time to return for tea. We had little time in this city but did eat a pair of Chinese meals at Thai China Siam Restaurant; 5849 N. Oracle Road; phone: (520) 293-9199. Its owner is Thai, its menu more than just Thai. The reason is that kitchen staff includes one Chinese, one Laotian, and one Thai chef. Almost half their dishes are Chinese, and we had fine B-B-Q Ribs. The Pot Stickers were good, the Hunan Duck (which they also make with chicken or beef) was OK, the Shrimp and Scallops in Black Bean Sauce and the Mongolian Chicken (also available with beef or pork) likewise. All dishes came with pink paper umbrellas dating this eatery though their food was more current. Popular they are, and with considerable longevity; they have been here since 1994. This restaurant does not serve between lunch and dinner (2:30pm to 4:30pm). On Sundays they never serve lunch and begin serving dinner at 5:00 pm.

Yes, we do write for other Chinese magazines, most often for Asian Restaurant News. They are the sister magazine of Chinese Restaurant News, and they publish others magazines in Chinese about this culture. They are are published by SBS, Inc., the subscription form follows; and they are the folks who sponsor the 'Top 100 Chinese Restaurants' each year. In the future, please contact them directly.

Read about a book called: Gifts, Favors, & Banquets. Could beat around the bush, but what I really want to know is, because the book is pricy, will I be able to plan a birthday banquet using that volume?
HARRIET: That book to be reviewed in an upcoming issue--am reading it now, is by Mayfair Mei-hui Yang (New York: Cornell University Press, 1994). It is about guan xi or practices that underlie everyday social relationships in contemperary China including class struggles. More attention is paid to techniques of power than plates of food. Emphasis is more about purchasing train tickets, housing, and getting into hospitals than buying food, raw or cooked. Recently, I did make what my guests called a 'phenomenal seventy-fifth banquet.' An article about that, in an upcoming issue, will be more valuable than the book. Why, because the book is not about an actual banquet nor about banquet food. It is a great read about social relationships in China, some of which require making or reciprocating with a banquet. If you trust the book's index, fifteen pages are on that topic, not one of them discusses any food item or banquet dish.

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