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About: Frequent Requests

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Fall Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(3) page(s): 32 and 35

CHOW MEIN queries continue to cross our desk. Some readers ask for early recipes, some for very American ones, others want quick ones, a few want Chinese ones. Still others want to know the history of this recipe. One excellent source for general recipes is SOAR. They have a recipe for the Chow Mein served at Woolworth lunch counters circa 1950. This archive has more than sixty-five thousand other recipes, so do check it out. Its is from Berkeley, California and can be accessed at: http://soar.Berkeley.EDU/recipes/ We find the Woolworth one unusual because it is a stir-fry made in a pressure cooker, and it uses many canned vegetables.

The above recipe says it uses pound and a half of meat; we find that too much for a Chinese dish serving so few people. Surely, Chow Mein was popular in its early days in the USA, but we bet very few used that much animal protein for four people. That much meat would be a rarity in China. We believe it fed more than six.

When we were younger we do recall making a meat dish in a pressure cooker at my aunt Lil's apartment. Also recall that it blew its top making a mess on her kitchen ceiling. We had to wash her entire kitchen as we were hired to help serve guests and clean up thereafter.

Incidentally, the above web site says this recipe and others come from the Hanneman collection. If you have questions about the site, the recipe, or the collection, do contact them at phannema@wizard.ucr.edu We hope someone will respond.

We did not test the recipe, and hope several of you will; it takes twenty minutes to make. Should you wonder why we did not, we do not own a pressure cooker, do not know how Woolworth's made it then, and have no burning desire to eat it now.

CHINESE BREAKFAST FOODS are another frequent query. Many are about jook, the congee made with vegetables. Three folk asked if the Chinese ever use pumpkin or squash in theirs. Several did query if they make any without meat and with only green or yellow vegetables?

A common recipe served to us when we spent a week visiting a vegetable commune near Beijing is below. Though delicious, must confess, this dish became less so as it was served to us daily for breakfast that entire week.

PERUVIAN EATERIES were another question that did pop up a few times. I once wrote about visiting Chinese eateries in that country and never advised why there were so many with Chinese influences. I learned that from Jorge Salazar of Lima, now deceased. He studied and wrote about Peruvian foods and their Chinese influences, and said while many cultures did influence foods of his country, the most important was Chinese.

Everywhere he or others took us, they spoke about and showed us chifas. These places serve dishes of Chinese origin or dishes that mimic Chinese food, particularly dishes with rice. He emphasized connections in fried rice and with hundred-year eggs, their roots Chinese. So is Peking Duck which there is called 'Lacquer Duck.' Jorge told us the first Chinese restaurant in Lima opened about 1921 and was in business until around 1970. He knew it owned by the Chinese consul in Peru and that it did serve Chinese dishes from many regions in China.

My Spanish is limited, but I did see many chifa menus with fried rice dishes, others with bird's nest, Peking duck, bamboo shoots, steamed chicken, locally raised sweet-water shrimp, etc. From him and others we met on that trip, I did learn that many of the Chinese chefs came from what was then called Canton; and that they served wonton soup, tamarind pork---very much like America's sweet and sour pork, and stir-fried rice and noodles dishes. In the twenty-five years after 1850, Jorge advised some one hundred thousand Chinese immigrated to Peru from the Guangdong Province and other places in south China.

Rice, in those days, he said, was not grown in Peru, but was required for those Chinese hired as domestics or restaurant workers. That had to come from China, and did on Chinese ships. Peruvians needed it because their worker contracts required a generous ration of this grain every month.

When I met Jorge in Lima, he said he just uncovered Chinese food in his country during the 16th century in written documents, and he was translating it while I was there. He was exploring this economic interest information from rich Peruvians including Juan Mendoza. In addition, he was looking into records of a Spanish ship called Nuestra Senora de la Cinta that had inaugurated a commercial route from Canton to the Philippines, probably to Callao, and the date for that was 1583. He told us Juan came from Seville, wrote impressions about things Chinese when in the viceroy's Toledo retinue. He came to Peru with many servants, almost all from China, though a few were from the Peruvian Andes. Jorge was planning to publish a book about these findings, and may have before his untimely death. My lack of fluency in Spanish and his demise keeps me from learning more. Is there anyone who knows of this book, can help me locate it, even translate it?
Woolworth's Chow Mein
1 Tablespoon lard or solid shortening
1 and 1/2 pounds pork cut in half-inch cubes
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 large Spanish onion, diced
3 cups chopped celery
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons molasses
8 ounces canned mushrooms, drained and the liquid set aside
16 ounces canned Asian vegetables, drained and the liquid set aside
1 cup liquid drained from canned sprouts and canned mushrooms or vegetables
1 or two cans of chow mein noodles
1. Dust meat lightly with flour seasoned with the salt and pepper.
2. Heat lard or shortening in an empty pressure cooker and brown the meat in batches in the hot smoky lard or shortening, then add the onion, celery, soy sauce, molasses, and the liquids from the canned vegetables.
3. Cover and set rocker on top and when there is a steady rocking, cook ten minutes, remove from the heat, and let the pressure cooker cool of its own accord.
4. Then open the pressure cooker, add the drained vegetables and heat them through before serving on the chow mein noodles.
Note: Serve with chow mein noodles on bottom, steamed white rice on that, and the chop suey from the pressure cooker on top.

Congee with Pumpkin and Greens
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup white rice, rinsed
2 cups Chinese pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup slivered scallions and gai lan leaves
1. Put sesame oil in a six-quart pot with a heavy bottom. Then add the rice and toss well before adding the cubed pumpkin or squash and the ginger.
2. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for one hour.
3. Then add the salt, and half the scallions, and the gai lan and simmer another twenty minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the rest of the greens, stir and simmer another ten minutes, then serve.

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