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Chinese-Japanese Cookbook

by: Bosse, Sara and Watanna, Onoto

Chicago IL: Rand McNanny 1914, Hardbound
ISBN: None

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(4) page(s): 25 and 33

Fascination comes from exploration. And exploring cook books certainly fascinates. Such is the case when looking at one volume simply titled: Chinese-Japanese Cookbook. It is by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna. The copy that sits on my desk has a reddish-brown fabric cover with a paper picture of a Japanese lady in her kimona and obi; it is pasted on. The book is sixteen and six-tenths by ten centimeters and bound with what probably was gilt lettering on both the cover and the spine. Inside, there are one hundred and twenty pages of information and recipes followed by two pages of advertising. The first ad is for three books published by Rand McNally of Chicago and New York, this edition’s publisher. On its reverse is another Rand McNally book called: The House of Good Juveniles. The book was published in 1914.

Ravenna Rare Books of Seattle once listed a copy, same title, authors, publisher, and date, but their size was sixteen and six-tenths by eight and four-tenths centimeters. Also, theirs was covered in brown cloth and had gilt lettering in the same two places. However, Ravenna indicated slightly rounded corners while my copy has square ones. Mine is also the larger of the two books. In addition, Ravenna indicates 'printed endpapers depicting a pattern of half-inch by five-sixteenth-inch squares showing a man outside the door of an inn ringing a dinner gong (with a spoon and pan, perhaps) with the initials H.M. by J.W.' That stands for Hotel Monthly and John Willy. There, information also indicates one advertising leaf that 'the advertisements at the end are for The Hotel Monthly Handbook series put out by John Willy.'

Should anyone reading this have a different copy, do share its details. While on the topic of fascination, in an article by Yuko Matsukawa in a 1994 book titled Tricksterism in Turn-of-the-century American Literature, she says that the above mentioned book is full of tricks. When I first acquired my copy, I never expected nor suspected them.

As already indicated, the cover and title pages of both copies tell that the authors are Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna. Sounds like an American lady and a Japanese person. Right? Wrong! The book was written by Winnifred Eaton and her sister, Sara Bosse. Why the tom-foolery or trick in this book published by Rand McNally & Company of Chicago and New York?

My copy is barely a half an inch thick. It's cover picture shows the well-dressed Japanese lady wearing a beautiful blue kimono. She is kneeling and using her right hand to stir something, maybe a bowl of rice or soup. The bowl sends forth lots of steam, she is on a mat, and there is a Chinese lantern and a scroll in partial view. This book is in two parts; the first of sixty pages with eleven sections is titled: 'Chinese Recipes.' The second part, of forty pages in seven parts is called: 'Japanese Recipes.'

The sixty-two Chinese recipes are divided and spelled: Rules for Cooking, Soups, Gravy, Fish, Poultry and Game, Meats, Chop Sueys, Chow Mains, Fried Rice, Omelettes, Vegetables, and Cakes. The forty-seven Japanese recipes are divided and called: Soups, Fish, Poultry and Game, Omelettes and Custards, Vegetables and Relishes, Cakes, Candies, Sweetmeats; Bean Sprouts and Beverages; all spelled as given. The Chinese recipes come with rules for cooking, the Japanese recipes do not.

The Preface of the book informs that Chinese recipes have been "handed down from Vo Llng, a worthy descendant of a long line of noted Chinese cooks, himself head cook to Gow Gai, onetime highest Mandarin of Shanghai." Is this another trick? Perhaps. In the article, we learn the mother of the authors is Chinese and was adopted by an English missionary couple. Their father was British. As the Preface says: There is no reason why these dishes should not be cooked and served in any American home.

Yuko Matsukawa's wonderful article, actually a chapter in the Tricksters in Turn-of-the-Century American Literature book is edited by Elizabeth Ammons and Annette White Parks. In it, one learns that Sara was the older sister; she lived from 1885 to 1914. Winnifred, who was younger, lived from 1875 to 1954. One trick is that Winnifred took on the name Onoto Watanna to assume a Japanese identity. Another trick is that her 'pen name' turns out to be the name of an acutal pen called the 'Onoto.' No, she did not select the name of a pen, rather the Onoto pen was manufactured by the Thomas de la Rue Company after she had assumed that pen-name. Maybe theirs is another trick on us. For the record, they did so with her permission for Winnifred was a successful author of several popular romances, all set in Japan, as well.

In this cook book, most of the Chinese recipes are not sophisticated, and they do seem Chinese-American. There are several for chop suey and for chow mein, and many of them use lots of celery and bean sprouts and many of them produce lots of gravy. Do they imitate the cooking of most immigrants in the United States where the book was published? These newcomers to America were, at the time of this book's publication, from Canton. Is that another trick?

The two female authors might be the first Asian-American sister-writers who professed to be of Anglo-Chinese descent. Is another trick of the younger one's cross-naming a tale she tells in her sister's obituary? There, she says that their mother was a Japanese noblewoman and that her sister adopted the Chinese pseudonym of Sui Sin Far when she wrote about American communities on the west coast.

The article/chapter goes on to share much more information and it advises that the Japanese pen name may be Japanese sounding but is truly not Japanese. Another trick is that in it, the family-name part, the first two syllables are, in Japanese, words meaning 'to cross.' It also advises that pictures of Watanna in some of her other books shows her cross-dressing for success. Is the authors' goal to make the exotic and unfamiliar familiar? Why did they select dishes that would appeal to Western palates?

Another serious trick might be that they did not like to eat Chinese and Japanese food. Maybe they felt repulsed when they did so. Why, because they say, "When it is known how simple and clean are the ingredients used to make up these Oriental dishes, the Westerner will cease to feel that natural repugnance which assails one when about to taste a strange dish of a new and strange land."

We may never get answers to all of these questions. There is no indication that their mother actually cooked Chinese food for them, her husband, and her fourteen other children. We believe that, because she herself was adopted at the age of three or four. We also take that position because the recipes are attributed to someone from Shanghai. How would a Shanghainese chef know about chop suey and chow mein dishes? Would he deep-fry noodles? The authors recommend going to restaurants to taste the various Chinese and Japanese dishes. In those days, most Chinese restaurants in the United States served Cantonese food. Rare was the Shanghai chef, so is that another trick?

Yoko Matsukawa believes the book's recipes are culled from local restaurants catering to Chinese-Americans. She believes the authors are defining what they see as conventional frontiers of ethnicity. She thinks they succeed in tricking and blurring the boundaries of food culture.

When the book was written, people were fascinated with Asia and Asian, yet knew little about their countries or their people. Is it another trick to believe that people wanted to be fooled? The father of these two authors made many trips to the areas they wrote about. Did Onoto Watanna, at least, believe the cook book was more story than reality?

What do you think of a recipe in the book titled Boiled and Deviled Cucumbers? The boiled cucumber is sliced and served with a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of vinegar, and a dash of cayenne powder. And, what do you believe if you knew that one beats the yolks of two hard-boiled eggs? Is another trick that the reader should believe that these authors know how to cook? When was the last time anyone successfully beat long-cooked solidified egg yolks? Are these 'yolks' another 'joke?'

The few early English-language Chinese cookbooks written before 1920 included Americanized Chinese recipes. Twenty years after this book was published, they included more authentic Chinese recipes. By then, most authors seemed to know more about cooking Chinese foods than the two ladies who wrote this book. That is neither joke nor trick, but a fact.

There is a lot more to learn from this small cookbook. First, we know of it in two sizes. We know that it was printed with two different covers and with different advertisements. What were their intended audiences?

A recommendation: Look at the Chinese cookbooks you own and see how authentic they are. Do they have a recipe for Extra White Chop Suey as this one does? What about Duck Chop Suey made with only a quarter of a tablespoon of syou, their way to spell 'soy sauce?' Do your comparably aged cookbooks have a recipe for Pineapple Fish that uses two pounds of fish cooked for thirty-five minutes? How long do you cook a fish?

In the 'Rules for Cooking' pages, one gets impressions that the authors either had a cleaning fetish or never saw a kitchen for more than a few seconds. One of our favorite cleaning bon mots is: All vegetables and fruit should be washed in cold water, if necessary, in fifty different waters. In how many changes of water do you wash your vegetables?

Last questions: Do you know a cookbook with more tricks than this one? If so, tell us its title and its tricks. And, do you know of other Chinese cookbooks that wrote their recipes as this one did, all in two paragraphs and with such unrealistic amounts of ingredients (see the amount below for the dried mushrooms)? The recipe is provided as an example, not for its culinary value nor its nutritional content. Do take note of the writing style; is that a trick, too? The recipe below is for reading only, it is copied out of this Chinese-Japanese book.

"Meat Chow Main One quarterpound noodles; one quart peanut oil; one half dozen water chestnuts; one half pound of pork; one half pound of veal; two tablespoon of syou; one half bunch of celery; one onion; one half pound of dried mushrooms; two eggs; one quarter pound of ham.

Into a quart of peanut oil put a quarter pound of noodles, and cook until crisp; then remove and drain. Meanwhile take one pound of pork, cut it in small pieces, and fry a golden brown. Cut up half a pound of veal, and fry with the pork for five minutes. Add two tablespoons of syou and half a tablespoon of salt to this, and let it simmer slowly, while preparing the following: Wash, and soak for ten minutes, half a pound of Chinese dried mushrooms, pulling off the stalks; half a bunch of celery, cut small; also one onion, chopped fine, and half a dozen water chestnuts, sliced fine. Place the noodles on a hot platter as a bottom layer, then the meat and vegetables. Garnish the top with the added ham and the crumbled yolks of two hard-boiled eggs.”

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