Tokyo’s Omurice (オムライス)

Russell Thomas wrote . . . . . . . . .

Whittling down the best spots to eat such an iconic dish as omuraisu was never going to be easy.

A portmanteau of the Japanese transliteration of “omelet” and “rice,” this is a staple of the nation’s yо̄shoku tradition, which is best understood as Japanized Western cuisine. Under this umbrella sit dishes essentially frozen in time since their first creation in the mists of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) — things like karē-raisu (British-introduced curry), hambāgu sutēki (hamburger minus the bun) and katsuretsu (pork cutlet). These immutable dishes reflect a time when not only fashion but also nutrition dictated a change in diet for many Japanese people.

Often Anglicized as “omurice,” this dish consists of a fluffy, yellow omelet atop Japanese rice dyed pink from ketchup. Maybe there’s demi-glace sauce ladled over it, or perhaps it’s sitting in a shallow pond of bīfu karē (beef curry). There’s no other dish that’s both totally outside the popular concept of “Japanese food” and also such a quintessential Japanese dish.

It is loved, admired, immortalized in film — for example, in 1985’s “Tampopo” — as well as in ryо̄ri (cooking) or gurume (gourmet) manga and anime. There’s a cinematic quality to omurice when the bulging, sunflower-hued omelet is cut open and spills over the rice in a cavalcade of creamy, steaming goodness, almost as if it had been alive.

Where omurice came from exactly is hard to say with certainty. Rengatei claims to have invented it in 1900 (the chefs allegedly wanted something easy to eat with a spoon in the kitchen, but customers saw the new creation and began asking for it). This Ginza institution of a restaurant also claims to have invented tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet), but that’s another story. Another claim dates from 25 years later at Hokkyokusei, a restaurant in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district.

Though it’s more like speculation, it’s possible that omurice has Chinese colonial DNA. When Westerners first arrived in Japan in the 1860s, they brought with them a distrust (or dislike) of Japanese cooking. Many also had whole entourages with them, including Chinese cooks, according to a 2021 article in the Journal of Asian Studies by historian Timothy Yun Hui Tsu. They worked in hotels and restaurants in the foreign settlements, in Westerners’ homes and “on board international steamers connecting Japan’s treaty ports to the wider world,” Tsu writes.

Worlds collided at these venues. While Bakumatsu (1953-67) and Meiji Japanese chowed down on Western cuisine, it’s highly likely, Tsu theorizes, that Chinese cooks were the ones orchestrating this “gastronomic experience of the exotic West.”

Chinese cooks were behind the food served up at places like the fledgling Yokohama Hotel (opened in 1860; considered the first modern hotel in Japan). This was most likely taken by Japanese patrons to be quintessential Western cooking. Seiyо̄ ryо̄ri (Western cuisine) was also offered at Yowaken, a restaurant opened by a Chinese cook in Hakodate, Hokkaido, in 1884.

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Read more at Japan Times






How a Shipping Error 100 years Ago Launched the $30 billion Chicken Industry in the U.S.

Kenny Torrella wrote . . . . . . . . .

Some archaeologists believe that when future civilizations sort through the debris of our modern era, we won’t be defined by the skyscraper, the iPhone, or the automobile, but rather something humbler: the chicken bone.

The reason? We eat so many chickens. So, so many. In 2020 alone, people around the world consumed over 70 billion of them, up from 8 billion in 1965. Just this Sunday, Americans will likely eat a record-breaking 1.45 billion chicken wings as they watch the Eagles take on the Chiefs at Super Bowl LVII. And that makes it all the more astonishing that, according to chicken industry lore, the system that makes it possible for us to eat so much chicken in the first place originated with a minor clerical error.

The story begins 100 years ago in 1923, with homemaker and farmer Cecile Steele of Ocean View, Delaware. Steele, like many other rural Americans in her time, kept a small flock of chickens that she raised for eggs and waited to slaughter them for meat once their productivity waned. But one day by accident the local chick hatchery delivered 500 birds, 10 times more than the 50 Steele had ordered.

Five hundred hens was a lot — bigger farms at the time had only 300. Returns weren’t really an option in these pre-Amazon days, so she kept them anyway, feeding and watering the chicks by hand in a barn the size of a studio apartment — 256 square feet — that was heated by a coal stove. Four and a half months later, over 100 of the original 500 chicks had died, but she still made a sizable profit off the 2-pound survivors — almost $11 per pound in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation — and began to ramp up her operations.

Her husband, David “Wilmer” Steele, quit his job in the Coast Guard to help Cecile expand, and within three years, they were raising 10,000 chickens. Word of the Steele family’s success spread, and by 1928 there were hundreds of farmers in the area raising chickens primarily for their meat (before Steele, most farmers raised chickens just for their eggs).

Two adults and two children stand among a couple hundred chickens outdoors. There’s a row of small barns nearby.
Ike Long, a farmer, Cecile Steele’s children, and Cecile Steele. National Archives and Records Administration
By today’s standards, a 10,000-chicken farm is tiny — a single industrial-style chicken barn will now house upward of 40,000 birds at a time, and farmers usually own several barns apiece. But in Steele’s day, her operation was massive. And the hatchery accident occurred at a fortuitous time — it was the Roaring ’20s, a decade of immense economic growth in the US, which meant Americans had more money in their pockets to eat more meat. Simultaneous advancements in agricultural refrigeration and transportation, along with the rise of chain grocery stores and the expansion of agriculture financing, made that meat more plentiful.

Around this time there were also seemingly small advances around nutrition that had huge implications for mass agriculture. One was the discovery of vitamin D in 1922, according to Emelyn Rude, author of Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird. Chickens would often die of rickets when kept indoors during cold winter months (rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D, stemming from lack of sunlight). That helped cap the number of chickens that could be raised at any given time, especially in cooler climates. But once farmers began fortifying chicken feed with vitamin D, they could suddenly raise them in larger numbers indoors and year-round.

Not only was Steele’s timing lucky, but so was her location. The Delmarva Peninsula, where Steele’s farm was located, was also the perfect place for large-scale chicken farming to take off. There was cheap, abundant land a relatively short distance from the hungry consumers of Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

Steele’s accident set off the chicken revolution as we know it. In the first half of the 20th century, chicken accounted for well under 20 percent of meat consumption in the US. Today, it’s about 44 percent. Over time, chicken benefited from perceptions that it was healthier than red meat, and became cheaper to produce, thus cheaper for consumers. Today grocery stores charge $4 to $10 a pound for beef and pork, while chicken can cost as little as $1.80 a pound. Bacon and steak may take center stage for meat lovers, but when it comes to what’s for dinner, the answer is more often poultry.

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Read more at Vox . . . . .

A Kansas City Family Created Wish-Bone Italian Dressing. It Became an American Obsession

Mackenzie Martin and Jenny Vergara wrote . . . . . . . . .

Before the supermarket aisles, before the ad campaigns, and before the iconic curvy bottle, there was just the Wishbone restaurant in Kansas City.

A classy establishment located at 4455 Main Street, the Wishbone served family-style bowls of fried chicken along with prime rib, lobster tails, brook trout, corn fritters, mashed potatoes and gravy — and, of course, salad.

“I used to go to the Wishbone when I was very, very young,” says Jasper Mirabile Jr., owner of Jasper’s Italian Restaurant in Kansas City. “That’s where I fell in love with fried chicken.”

Mirabile remembers dining at the Wishbone religiously, every Sunday, with his family. It was a popular place for Italian restaurateurs like his father to socialize.

Opened in 1948, the old Victorian mansion overlooking the Country Club Plaza became equally as famous over the decades for its antique Italian chandelier, neo-Roman style statues, elegant fireplaces, solarium and fine china.

The iconic restaurant is gone now. But if you walk into almost any American grocery store, you’ll see its name everywhere, even if you didn’t realize it — immortalized in the form of Wish-Bone salad dressing.

“People don’t realize about Kansas City and what we have here and what started here,” Mirabile says.

From restaurant tables to grocery shelves

Something important to know about Phillip Sollomi Sr. is that he liked to stay busy. Originally born in Cleveland, Ohio, he found his way to Leavenworth, Kansas, after being drafted to serve in World War II.

“He was a veterinarian, believe it or not,” says Phil Sollomi Jr. “And during the war, somehow he also opened a little restaurant with my grandmother called Brooklyn Spaghetti House.”

Lena Sollomi, an Italian immigrant from Sicily, had previously operated a café in Ohio. After the war ended, the pair moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to start another joint venture: the Wishbone restaurant, in the space of a former cocktail lounge.

Sollomi Jr. said operating the restaurant was a family affair: “My sister and my parents lived on the third floor.”

The Wishbone was reportedly a hit right off the bat. But even the popularity of Sollomi’s fried chicken was eclipsed when the restaurant debuted a zesty Italian vinaigrette based on a recipe that Lena Sollomi brought over from Sicily.

The back of the Wish-Bone bottle shows that the dressing includes garlic, onion, red bell pepper and a handful of other seasonings, along with oil, vinegar and sugar. (The Sollomi family still has their original recipe — but of course, they won’t disclose what’s all in it, only “a little bit of this” and “a pinch of that.”)

Patrons started bringing in their own bottles to be filled with the dressing so they could take it home. In 1950, Sollomi began mixing the dressing in a 50-gallon vat and bottling it himself in a converted carriage house behind the restaurant.

By 1952, the salad dressing had become more important to Sollomi than the fried chicken and other food. He sold the Wishbone restaurant to Joe and Dora Adelman — who kept it up for the next two decades — and instead operated Wish-Bone Salad Dressing Co. on Harrison Street.

“When Wish-Bone was first invented, it was sort of a signature salad dressing and people loved to have the bottled form that was the same as they could buy in the restaurant,” says Ken Albala, a food historian at the University of the Pacific. “That’s a phenomenon that is uniquely American — that a restaurant could market a product that they have so broadly and make much more money at that than running a restaurant.”

Food companies and restauranteurs had begun commercially bottling and selling salad dressings in the 1910s and 20s. But Wish-Bone is widely thought of as the second mass-produced Italian dressing, right after Ken’s Steak House in 1941.

“Those are really Italian American foods. They’re invented here,” Albala says. “They’re not things that people in Italy would recognize.”

According to Albala, Italian salad dressing has a lot in common with products like beefaroni from Chef Boyardee, which was founded by an Italian immigrant in 1928. These products helped marked the start of convenience food, which rose in availability and popularity after World War II, and also appealed to Americans who were just starting to learn about Italian cuisine.

“I think that’s the way Wish-Bone did very well,” says Albala. “They told people, ‘You don’t have to mix salad dressing because you are incompetent in the kitchen and we’ll do it for you.’”

Sollomi initially sold his dressings to grocery stores in Kansas City, Cleveland and St. Louis. In addition to the original Italian flavor, Sollomi Sr. is credited with adding three more salad dressings to the Wish-Bone brand: cheese, French and Russian.

“It was like almost an overnight success. It was very, very popular and it started becoming almost national in scope, certainly regional,” says Phil Sollomi Jr. “But some of the big boys in the salad dressing company didn’t like it. And they were out to kind of squash him.”

At the time, the industry was dominated by larger players like Kraft, who could afford to sell their products at a lower price point if it meant knocking out competition.

When Sollomi Sr. would consult business partners and family about how to take on the competition, everyone told him the same thing: “Lower the price.”

“And my dad, after hearing all this, he looks at ‘em and goes, ‘Nope, we’re gonna raise the price,’” says Sollomi Jr. “’We have a great product. We’re not gonna sell it for nothing and people are gonna realize it’s a great product worth paying for.’”

While other brands sold bottles of salad dressing for 29 cents, Sollomi Sr. ended up charging 39 cents.

“He was just such a visionary on some things,” says Sollomi Jr.

Sollomi Sr. wanted to play up his dressing’s quality, boasting “just the right touch of garlic” and more herbs and spices than the competition. Right down to the crisscrossed design of the bottle itself, Wish-Bone billed itself as a luxury good.

In a 1977 commercial, the narrator compares the craftsmanship of Wish-Bone Italian to the “care and skill” of cutting a diamond.

“It was all natural,” recalls Sollomi Jr. “It was the finest ingredients.”

Overwhelmed by a salad dressing empire

Eventually, the business became too big for Sollomi Sr. to handle, so he sold Wish-Bone to tea tycoon Thomas J. Lipton in 1957, for an estimated $3-4 million.

“When they bought it, I mean, our company was a fairly sizable company,” says Sollomi Jr. “The Sollomi way, the Italian way, is you just worked and you put your nose down.”

Sollomi Sr. is remembered as someone who was hardworking and tough, but who also treated employees like family. Former Wish-Bone workers told the Kansas City Star in 1996 that he “never sat still” and “always had a cigar in his mouth.”

Phillip Sollomi III remembers how his grandfather always wore suits and had a look in his eye that dared people to mess with him: “He was 5’1″ but I remember him as 7′.”

At first, as a condition of the sale, Sollomi Sr. stayed on at Lipton as an executive, sitting in on board meetings in New York City. But he hated the idea of working for a corporation and traveling so much — plus, Sollomi Jr. says, his dad was “scared to death” of planes.

“He wasn’t into the hierarchy and the strategy and all that kind of stuff,” says Sollomi Jr. “So after a year, he resigned.”

For 65 years, the dressing continued to be produced in the Kansas City area, at a factory in Independence built in 1961. By the time parent company Unilever sold the brand to Pinnacle Foods in 2013, the salad dressing plant employed nearly 200 people. (Pinnacle Foods and the Wish-Bone brand were acquired by the giant food conglomerate Conagra in 2018.)

Today, Wish-Bone still claims to be America’s number-one Italian dressing, and around the Midwest, it remains the key ingredient for meat marinades, pasta salads, potato salads and more.

But taste buds have changed since Sollomi Sr.’s time. American consumers have gravitated away from bottled vinaigrettes and towards creamy, mayonnaise- or buttermilk-based dressings.

A 2017 survey from the Association for Dressings and Sauces found that Italian dressing no longer holds the title of the most popular salad dressing in the U.S.

The new champion? Ranch.

“You know, someone once quipped that ranch dressing in the Midwest is a beverage,” Albala says, laughing.

While Wish-Bone now offers seven varieties of Italian dressing, it’s got nine different versions of ranch — from chipotle to light parmesan peppercorn.

After selling Wish-Bone to Lipton, Phillip Sollomi Sr. moved his family to Phoenix, Arizona. He mostly left his old company behind, apart from keeping a bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing in the family fridge at all times.

Sollomi Sr.’s original plan was to retire in Arizona, but, according to his son, that idea got scrapped after a month: “He was bored out of his brain.”

Instead, Sollomi Sr. opened more restaurants. There was the Arizona Ranch House Inn (which served a familiar pairing of fried chicken and Italian dressing) and an Italian deli, co-run by Sollomi Jr.

Sollomi Sr. did eventually retire, and both he and his son forgot about the restaurant industry — apart from occasional anecdotes that would come out when nostalgia hit.

“Dad was really a modest guy. He didn’t tout that,” says Sollomi Jr. “But we certainly knew about the Wish-Bone story and were proud of it.”

Now, the youngest Phillip Sollomi is hoping to bring his family name back into the conversation.

Sollomi III grew up in Arizona and had no plans to come to Kansas City — until he met his fiancé, Amy, who was from there.

“It was actually during COVID. So, long story short, she ends up going back to Kansas City,” he says. “You weren’t going anywhere. Everything was shut down. So, we FaceTimed every night. And fell in love.”

Sollomi III says the pair traveled back and forth for months before he moved to Kansas City himself in April 2022.

“Now I’m living like down the road from where he started this whole journey,” he says.

In between preparations for his upcoming wedding, Sollomi III is investigating his family history. He’s spent time digging into old archival material and asking around for old stories people remember about his grandfather.

“It’s just fun to relive some of the experiences of people that interacted with him,” says Sollomi III. “The more research we do on the Wishbone, the more questions I have.”

And it’s not just him. Sollomi Jr. now has a regular excuse to come home to the city he was born in. He has questions about the family legacy, too — but mostly he’s just excited to relive old memories.

“It’s really cool to be back. If he had to move somewhere, we’re glad it’s here,” Sollomi Jr. says. “It seems like we just have dad’s spirit in this town when we’re driving around.”

Source: npr





How Cooking Food and Gathering for Feasts Made Us Human

Maddie Burakoff wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you’re cooking a meal for Thanksgiving or just showing up to feast, you’re part of a long human history — one that’s older than our own species.

Some scientists estimate our early human cousins may have been using fire to cook their food almost 2 million years ago, long before Homo sapiens showed up.

And a recent study found what could be the earliest known evidence of this rudimentary cooking: the leftovers of a roasted carp dinner from 780,000 years ago.

Cooking food marked more than just a lifestyle change for our ancestors. It helped fuel our evolution, give us bigger brains — and later down the line, would become the centerpiece of the feasting rituals that brought communities together.

“The story of human evolution has appeared to be the story of what we eat,” said Matt Sponheimer, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has studied the diets of early human ancestors.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is based on material from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel — a watery site on the shores of an ancient lake.

Artifacts from the area suggest it was home to a community of Homo erectus, an extinct species of early humans that walked upright, explained lead author Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University.

Over years of “digging in mud” at the site, researchers examined a curious catch of fish remains, especially teeth, said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who led the excavations.

Many were from a couple of species of big carp, and they were clustered around certain spots at the site — places where researchers also found signs of fire. Testing revealed the teeth had been exposed to temperatures that were hot, but not super-hot. This suggests the fish were cooked low and slow, rather than tossed right onto a fire, Zohar explained.

With all of this evidence together, the authors concluded that these human cousins had harnessed fire for cooking more than three quarters of a million years ago. That’s much earlier than the next oldest evidence for cooking, which showed Stone Age humans ate charred roots in South Africa.

The researchers — like many of their colleagues — believe cooking started long before this, though physical evidence has been hard to come by.

“I am sure that in the near future an earlier case will be reported,” study author Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University said in an email.

That’s in part because harnessing fire for food was a key step for human evolution.

Cooking food makes it easier for the body to digest and get nutrients, explained David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University who was not involved with the study. So, when early humans figured out how to cook, they got access to more energy, which they could use to fuel bigger brains.

Based on how human ancestors’ brains and bodies developed, scientists estimate that cooking skills would have had to emerge nearly 2 million years ago.

“If we’re out there eating raw items, it is very difficult to make it as a large-bodied primate,” Braun said.

Those first cooked meals were a far cry from today’s turkey dinners. And in the many, many years in between, humans started not just eating for fuel, but for community.

In a 2010 study, researchers described the earliest evidence of a feast — a specially prepared meal that brought people together for an occasion 12,000 years ago in a cave in Israel.

The cave, which served as a burial site, included the remains of one special woman who seemed to be a shaman for her community, said Natalie Munro, a University of Connecticut anthropologist who led the study.

It seems her people held a feast to honor her death. Munro and her team found large numbers of animal remains at the site — including enough tortoises and wild cattle to create a hearty spread.

This “first feast” came from another important transition point in human history, right as hunter-gatherers were starting to settle into more permanent living situations, Munro said. Gathering for special meals may have been a way to build community and smooth tensions now that people were more or less stuck with each other, she said.

And while the typical feast may no longer involve munching on tortoise meat in burial caves, Munro said she still sees a lot of the same roles — exchanging information, making connections, vying for status — happening at our modern gatherings.

“This is something that’s just quintessentially human,” Munro said. “And to see the first evidence of it is exciting.”

Source: AP





Video: Jumbo Kingdom – World’s Largest Floating Restaurant (2018)

Watch video at CNN (2:55 minutes) . . . . .