Vintage Recipes: Old Chestnuts

January 19, 2016


The September 1984 issue of Gourmet is quite a surprise. In just a dozen pages, you can find recipes for the canonical Brazilian dish, moqueça, Greek moussaka, Japanese enoki mushroom salad, and German spatzel. Pretty amazing for the time. And then there’s an article on Wall Street.

There are also a few hilarious ads. Like this one: IMG_3974

But of all the cool recipes – manioc in palm oil! – at the moment I’m drawn to this seasonally appropriate souffle.




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Vintage Recipes: Forbidden Food

January 18, 2016

Before I understood that eating shark’s fin threatened the animal’s survival, I ate the famously subtle Cantonese delicacy (they’re prized for their texture, not their mild flavor) with enormous pleasure. But it’s been years since I’ve had shark’s fin, and I’m happy it is now illegal to possess them in many states. Sharks grow slowly, and the practice of fishing them for their fins plays havoc with the ocean’s food chain.

But thirty-six years ago – in 1980 – nobody was giving much thought to sustainability issues, and Gourmet Magazine actually provided the American home cook with detailed instructions on preparing the exotic delicacy for soup. The instructions for making this begin with a march down to Chinatown.

Here’s the rest:




The same issue offered this recipe for sea cucumber with black mushrooms. I’m one of the few Americans I know with a passion for sea cucumbers, and it would give me great pleasure to find this recipe in a modern food magazine. Next time I find a purveyor of dried sea cucumber, I’ll definitely be trying this.


(The photograph above accompanied the article; sadly there were no pictures of sharks fin or sea cucumber.)

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Things I Love: Coffee Fanatics Take Note

January 17, 2016


We’re staying with friends in a house on St. John (the American Virgin Islands). Coffee fanatics, they have some truly arcane equipment. But I’ve kind of fallen in love with this Bonavita electric kettle, which not only heats your water to the perfect temperature, but also has a little timer. So you can pour the water over the coffee and let it bloom for exactly 30 seconds.

I might have to buy one of these when I get home…..

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Another Wonderful Old Menu

January 16, 2016

The 1939 New York World’s Fair was like Bourdain’s food hall concept on speed- picture dozens of international food counters, each in a whimsical building more suited to the moon than an old ash dump in Queens. Here’s Poland’s:

polish pavilion 1939

And Italy’s:

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 7.29.08 PM

But I’m mainly here to show you this amazing menu from the Iraqi Pavillon’s “Garden of Eden Cafe,” which was part of the Hall of Nations. (Like yesterday’s Chinese menu, this is from the NYPL’s newly-digitized menu holdings.)

Every single dish here features dates, and almost every dish seems like something I’d like to eat. Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 6.43.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-15 at 6.43.47 PM

If you’re interested in further reading, Greg Morabito wrote this eye-opening piece about the food at the ’39 New York World’s Fair – and he includes a few more menus. For a surreal video, check out this archival footage of the grounds.



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Chinese Food in New York 100 Years Ago

January 15, 2016

Mapo tofu, the classic Sichuan dish that once seemed exotic to New Yorkers is now as ubiquitous as General Tso’s chicken (a sweet and purely American invention best consumed as a crossword clue). America is, at last, brimming with great Chinese food.

But it hasn’t always been like this. I’ve often written about the ways in which immigration laws drive the food we eat. If you want to read about the various changes in Chinese cooking in America, this 1994 review of Tang Pavillion lays it out.

If you don’t feel like reading it all, suffice it to say that until 1966 most Chinese restaurants in America served Cantonese food because most of the early immigrants came from the Pearl River Delta.  They were all men, they weren’t cooks, and they longed for a taste of home. They did their best to recreate familiar dishes but with a few exceptions (Cecilia Chiang‘s The Mandarin being a notable one), most of the food served in American Chinese restaurants did little to reflect the glories of Chinese cuisine.

The New York Public Library recently digitized its menu collection, and I went looking for the oldest Chinese restaurant menu I could find. Fascinating: just look at some of these dishes! Chop suey was invented in this country, but it approximates a method of stir-frying leftover scraps popular in Toy San, in Guangdong Province. Many of these dishes, however, are purely American.

Rice with maple syrup anyone?

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.27.13 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.27.22 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.27.30 AM

This is a different Chinatown restaurant, on Mott Street, in a 1907 photograph. I’m struck by both the elegance and diversity of the crowd.. Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.25.21 AM


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