March 22, 2017
If you read about Peranakan cooking in the NY Times today, and you’re curious about this fascinating cuisine of the Nonya people of Singapore, you might want to know about this terrific little cookbook. The Peranakans are the descendants of Straits Chinese people who settled in the Malay peninsula, and their food is a delicious blend of Chinese and Southeast Asian techniques and ingredients.
I got my copy of the book at Kitchen Arts and Letters; the store makes a point of importing interesting food books from foreign publishers; I doubt it’s available anywhere else.
If you’re interested in a little taste, here are a few of the recipes I find most enticing.
March 9, 2017
Americans have a reputation for being the most outrageously gluttonous eaters in the world. Translated that comes down to this: we eat an incredible amount of meat.
That has been a defining characteristic of American food culture since the very beginning. In Frances Milton Trollope’s cooly disdainful Domestic Manners of the Americans, first published in England in 1832, she notes, “The American poor are accustomed to eat meat three times a day.” Which proves, mainly, how extremely unusual that was.
As our population – and our economy – has skyrocketed, eating meat has never gone out of style. As calculated by the World Food Organization, most years the United States leads the world in per capital carcass availability. In 2010, that was 120 kilos per person; as a comparison, India’s was a mere 5 kilos.
But reading Cvoco Secreto di Papa Pio Quinto (Cookbook Secrets of Pope Pius V) written by Bartolomeo Scrappi in 1570, I’m reminded that the only thing new about this is that Americans do not reserve meat exclusively for the rich. In most corners of the world, throughout history, those who could afford it have indulged in eating meat.
Take a look at this menu for an official Papal meal with its lavish variety of fowl and game; there are 27 savory dishes and not a single one lacks meat. (A few interesting features to note. For one, dessert was served both first and last. And for another, beef appears only in the form of calf or veal.)
Domestic Manners of the Americans
March 8, 2017
Still thinking of Charleston, I find myself poring through Southern cookbooks seeking out the spirit of that food. People EAT there! Only in the south would leftover chicken be considered glamorous.
This recipes is from Virginia Cooking Past and Present, by the Woman’s Auxiliary of Olivet Episcopal Church in Franconia, Virginia. I’m not sure I’ll be making this recipe anytime soon, but it does make me smile.
As does this incredible account of the original salamander (hint: not electric) and several historical chicken pot pies. Wouldn’t you like to try Mrs. Washington’s candied lettuce stalks?
March 3, 2017
Forget Le Pavillon. The hardest reservation in the sixties in New York City might have been Little Kitchen, Princess Pamela’s soul food restaurant. The Princess moved around a lot; at one point her restaurant was in a walkup apartment in the East Village, but by the time I nervously rang her bell she’d moved to a narrow storefront on very east Tenth Street. Princess Pamela didn’t let just anybody in: she had to size you up first, and if you passed muster, she might open the door. That did not, however, mean you got to stay.
When I visited the Princess in the summer of 1971, I was already a fan. I’d found a used copy of her cookbook, Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Recipes, and practically memorized it. I was hoping for something exotic – chitlins maybe – but you pretty much ate what the Princess gave you. In our case, that meant nothing. One of my friends made a joke about “a soul food restaurant with no sweet potato pie.” He thought he was being charming; the Princess was not amused. “Out!” she shouted.
I’ve been thinking about Princess Pamela because her cookbook has just been re-released. The Lee Brothers, who brought the book back, set out to find out as much as they could about Pamela Stroebel. It’s a melancholy tale. Orphaned at the age of ten, she wended her way up the East Coast, working in kitchens until she opened her own place. Then, somewhere around 1998, she simply disappeared. The Lees think she may have been interred at Hart Island, where the city buries unclaimed bodies.
Reading about the Princess in this great Food 52 piece by Mayukh Sen, it’s impossible not to mourn the untold numbers of black chefs whose stories’ we’ll never fully know. It makes me doubly grateful that Princess Pamela’s book has been given a second chance. Here’s her recipe for fried chicken, which she served with Sauce Beautiful (named for her mother, Beauty).
(I see I cut a few things off. That’s “3 tablespoons peach preserves” and “1/2 cup water,” “2 tablespoons brown sugar” and “1 tablespoon butter.”)
February 24, 2017
A friend brought back this incredible English-language cookbook from a recent visit to Myanmar. The book was first published in 1975 by Mi Mi Khaing, who had quite a distinguished career writing about Burmese life.
It’s hard to resist the recipes. Unfortunately, many require Burmese staples – special tea leaves, pressed fish, soybean powder -that are hard to find unless you live in a city with a good Burmese market. And how many American cities have those?
But I did find this delicious recipe for pork. (Shrimp paste can be found at any Chinese or Southeast Asian grocery store. )
Unless you happen to be in the backwoods of Burma, I doubt you’ll find any of the ingredients below. Still, just reading these names makes me happy.