The History Of Wedding Cake

Nicole Jankowsk wrote . . . . . .

On June 2, 1886, 28 fashionable guests gathered solemnly in the Blue Room of the White House in anticipation of a rare matrimonial event.

President Grover Cleveland, a notorious bachelor at 49, was to wed 21-year-old Frances Folsom after a yearlong clandestine engagement. Wedding invitations had been sent only five days before.

Never before — or since — had a sitting president taken his vows in the White House. But while many facets of Cleveland’s executive affair resembled 21st-century wedding revelry, the Blue Room ceremony would seem strange in some ways to a modern wedding guest.

The newlyweds did not kiss to seal their vows; the stoic president detested such a public display of affection. And the cake was far from a white-frosted, tiered confection.

The Clevelands celebrated with a 25-pound nut-laden fruitcake, which was common for wedding cakes until almost the 20th century, says Claire Stewart, author of As Long as We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts.

As Stewart, a former executive chef and culinary management professor, explains in her new book, “the white layered confection known today is a fairly modern invention.” But the rituals of the cake, including joint cutting and sharing, are centuries old.

Stewart believes that studying the feasts and fancies of weddings past offers so much more than historical detail. It provides insight into our own lives — why we celebrate as we do today.

For example, the symbolism behind cake traditions likely encompasses a complex mix of purity, fertility and superstition.

“Ancient Roman wedding ceremonies were finalized by breaking a cake of wheat or barley (mustaceum) over the bride’s head as a symbol of good fortune,” Carol Wilson writes in the food studies journal Gastronomica.

It’s likely this particular ritual was also a very public display signaling the groom’s new possession of his bride’s virginity. Modern wedding cakes, with their snowy white and flowery exteriors, can be seen as an extension of this same concept.

But the modern wedding cake’s rise to “visual cornerstone and iconic marriage symbol” is just one aspect of the feast of wedding history that Stewart’s book serves up.

As privileged guests raised a glass to the newlywed President and Mrs. Cleveland, they were likely unaware they were partaking in a toasting practice dating back as far as the sixth century. Stewart writes that the tradition of the champagne wedding toast “stems from a time when unions between warring factions could serve to forge peace.”

A celebratory sip from a communal cup by the father of the bride at a reception once signified to all in attendance that the provided wine was safe to consume. And clinking glasses together might be part of a long-held superstition that the sound scared away the devil. Even the term “toast” likely stems from “a time when spirits were often rancid, and a piece of spiced bread was put into the cup to improve the flavor,” Stewart writes.

Wedding trends — as well as standards of etiquette — have historically trickled down from the upper echelons, Stewart explains, “with the lower classes eager to replicate the restrained behavior of their so-called betters.”

In the Renaissance era, for example, “peasants or the lower classes had very raucous wedding affairs, with lots of drinking and games. It was considered a giant party where everyone and anyone was invited.” These boisterous parties were also meant to prove that a bride’s family could afford to throw an extravagant celebration.

But, according to Stewart, “the wealthy elite didn’t have to work to project wealth,” so their wedding celebrations were much more subdued. Soon, upwardly mobile members of the middle class took notice of how the wealthy elite incorporated specific guest lists and careful itineraries into their wedding festivities. By the 1800s, the more “staid wedding repast” became the idealized wedding for everyone.

During the Victorian age, when restraint and propriety were paramount virtues, the focus of the wedding celebration suddenly shifted away from the food and onto the decorations.

“Victorians tended to see all indulgence as filthy. The consumption of food in general seemed to them a rather animalistic endeavor — one they wanted to distance themselves from as much as possible,” Stewart says. It was impolite to even comment on the wedding food at all.

Blame this for the intense importance that some modern couples put on centerpieces and wedding favors.

An edition of the The Dodge City (Kan.) Times, dated June 10, 1886, reveals that guests at Cleveland’s wedding were sent home with “satin boxes containing dainty pieces of the bridal cake, each one bearing the hand-painted monogram “C.—F.” While presumably most revelers ate their gifts shortly after the wedding, at least a couple of pieces have been preserved for posterity.

The Grover Cleveland Birthplace museum in Caldwell, N.J., houses a 130-year-old slice in its collection — albeit with one bite missing. As the story goes, a visiting Cub Scout was dared to take a tiny nibble in the 1950s.

After more than 60 years in a decaying cardboard box, the cake couldn’t have tasted very good.

Then again, it is fruitcake: black, cement-like and heavy – so perhaps it was simply impossible to tell.

Source: npr

We Are What We Ate: Canada’s History in Cuisines

Kevin Van Paassen wrote . . . . . .

Last December, I found myself standing in a long lineup at an east Toronto storage locker complex, waiting to pick up a frozen meat pie from the back of a truck. We had all prepurchased a tourtière from Montreal restaurant Au Pied De Cochon, where celebrity chef/owner Martin Picard’s (often literal) tongue-in-cheek takes on classic Québécois dishes have made him one of the most important names in the Canadian food world.

All of us in line were hungry – not just for a buttery, rich, clove-and-cinnamon-spiced pork pie, but for a taste of “authenticity.” Some might even have been hoping for that elusive (and perhaps entirely fictional) cultural phenomenon: “Canadian cuisine.”

It’s no coincidence that tourtière is often first on a list of Canadian foods. It’s a dish that, in many ways, uniquely symbolizes the history and mythology of Quebec and its place within Canada. It’s not just a hearty dish that rural habitants have eaten after midnight mass on Christmas Eve for much of Quebec’s history. It’s also a dish that’s survived military conquest by the British, centuries of attempts at cultural assimilation by English-speaking politicians, as well as a long history of political and economic domination by Anglophone elites.

It’s a humble meat pie, in other words, that speaks to the resilience of and, in the post-Quiet Revolution period, resurgence of Québécois culture and identity.

Although many Quebec nationalists would likely cringe at tourtière being used as a symbol of Canadian (as opposed to Canadien) cuisine, it highlights the ways in which food can tell us something about how Canada became what it is today. Sure, Canada is a country of provinces and regions and peoples and even nations that don’t always share the same culinary traditions or experiences. But it’s the stories of these different peoples and their food that make up our collective history.

These aren’t always inspiring stories and the foods, themselves, aren’t always particularly good. On Canada’s 150th birthday, however, it’s worth asking how what we ate in the past made us into who we are today.

1870: Pemmican

In 1870, an American visitor to Red River, Man., remarked that pemmican was “the national dish so to speak, of a population composed of many nationalities; and like everything else in this peculiar country, it is a wonderful mixture.” That “wonderful mixture” of dried, pounded bison meat mixed with bison fat (and occasionally dried berries) had long been a staple of Indigenous diets on the prairies. Pemmican was portable, lasted almost indefinitely and had become the densely caloric fuel that made the Hudson Bay Company’s highly profitable fur trading operations possible.

But by 1870, the Indigenous nations who supplied the HBC with pemmican and bison hides could see the herds were thinning and the bison economy was coming to an end.

After the Métis took up arms against Canada in 1869 to protect their future along the Red River, many Cree, Blackfoot, Assiniboine and other prairie First Nations took a different route. They instead negotiated a series of numbered treaties with the Crown in the hopes of guaranteeing a peaceful and prosperous postbison future. But the pemmican economy disappeared quicker than anyone had predicted: bison were virtually extinct by the early 1880s.

Canada quickly reneged on its sworn treaty promises to provide relief to First Nations in times of famine. In just a few short years, thousands of Indigenous men, women and children died of starvation throughout the prairies while, in many cases, unused food rotted away in government storehouses.

1876: Red Fife wheat

This is the year that the Steele Briggs Co. of Toronto received the first shipment of wheat exported from the recently created province of Manitoba: 857 bushels of Red Fife, a strain of hard spring wheat first stumbled upon by accident by farmer David Fife in 1842.

By the 1870s, Red Fife had become the dominant wheat variety used by millers and bakers throughout Canada, defining the taste of bread in the decades after Confederation. Its adaptability to the unique climate of Western Canada meant that Red Fife would play a key role in facilitating the colonization of the prairies by Canadian settlers before 1900.

1890s-1910s: Pierogis

Sitting atop a fork that extends more than two storeys into the air, the world’s largest pierogi lords over the town of Glendon, Alta. Although the artistic value of this fibreglass dumpling colossus is questionable, few would question this Ukrainian culinary staple’s status as a symbol of prairie food culture. After all, between 1891 and 1914 alone, nearly 170,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Canada, settling mostly in what are now the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

1913: Five Roses flour

There were nearly 650,000 copies of the first Five Roses Cookbook in circulation just two years after its 1913 publishing date. In other words, at least half of Canadian households had a copy. Given that ubiquity, it’s likely that the most important single factor in ordinary Canadians’ culinary sensibilities in the early decades of the 20th century was the rise of national brands such as Five Roses and their cheap, popular corporate cookbooks.

1928: Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich

The Boul. St-Laurent stalwart is the most famous – and long-standing – purveyor of what is now known as Montreal smoked meat. Founded by Jewish and Romanian immigrant Reuben Schwartz in 1928, the deli was part of a wave that opened during this period, catering to the tastes and Kosher dietary restrictions of a growing population of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms and persecution in Eastern Europe.

1931: Pablum

This bland, mushy and nutritionally fortified infant food was the brainchild of a group of pediatricians at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. It would revolutionize infant feeding on a global scale during the middle decades of the 20th century and helped bankroll SickKids’ emergence as a leading international research institution.

1937: Kraft Dinner

First released as a meal-in-a-box solution for the time-pressed homemaker, Kraft Dinner became an unlikely and fluorescent orange symbol of Canadiana. For reasons that remain elusive, Canadians continue to consume more KD per capita than anyone else in the world.

1941: Canada War Cake

In January 1941, a Globe and Mail reader named Nancy wrote in to share a recipe “for a war cake that we used in the last war” and that she’d just purchased for five cents from a neighbour fundraising for the Red Cross. War Cake – or Canada War Cake, as it was more commonly known – was a simple eggless, milkless, butterless and sugar-stretching dessert that appeared in newspapers and cookbooks across the country during both wars. It was a potent, if not slightly chewy, symbol of the mobilization of the entire home front for total war.

1948: Margarine

If you ever doubted the power of Canada’s dairy lobby, you don’t know the story of margarine. Although it has been around since the early 19th century, this butter substitute was legally banned in Canada until 1948 and faced many indignities even after it was legalized. These included a Quebec law which prohibited margarine from being sold as any colour besides white, a law which was only lifted in 2008.

1949: Hawkins Cheezies

Although its Tweed, Ont., factory was started as a branch plant of the Chicago-based company, Confections Inc., the bankruptcy of the American side of the business meant that, by 1960, Hawkins Cheezies had become a uniquely Canadian product. And aside from moving its factory to Belleville, Ont., in 1956 following a fire, little seems to have changed. A nearly identical recipe – and the same extruder used to create the original Cheezies – continues to be used to this day by Hawkins, allowing a whole new generation of Canadian snack-food enthusiasts to ruin their parents’ white sofas with authentic bright-orange Cheezie dust.

1950s: Fish sticks

Canadian fish sticks will always be associated with the slightly menacing Captain Highliner and his friend Billy, but they’re also a symbol of the industrialization of the cod fishery. Created in part through the work of Canadian scientist William John Dyer, fish sticks solved a major problem posed by the giant, frozen blocks of fish produced aboard the massive factory trawlers that took to the seas in the 1950s. Rather than separating out individual fillets, it turned out, workers could simply cut the blocks into bite-size pieces, which could then be breaded and fried. Convenient, perhaps, but also an early warning sign of the cod collapse that would devastate the Atlantic economy in the 1990s.

1950s: Poutine

The true origins of this near-perfect combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds are murky and contested, though most agree that it came into being in rural Quebec chip shacks. It has since become the most successful of Quebec’s cultural ambassadors to the rest of Canada (sorry, Céline) and can be found everywhere from Canada’s best restaurants to, well, KFC and Pizza Pizza.

1960s: Halifax donair

Greek immigrant and restaurateur Peter Gamoulakos made a few significant changes to his beloved gyro in order to sell them to the Nova Scotian public. Though the pita remained, lamb was replaced with beef and tzatziki was rejected in favour of a sticky-sweet sauce made with, of all things, evaporated milk. Served with tomatoes and onions, these uniquely East Coast creations have developed a cult following in the Maritime provinces and continue to baffle gyro fans the world over.

1964: Tim Hortons doughnuts

It’s safe to assume that when the first Tim Hortons opened in Hamilton, Ont., few predicted that this purveyor of doughnuts and coffee would become a central plank of Canada’s national mythology. This is truly a triumph of marketing over quality – especially given that the doughnuts haven’t been made in-store since 2002 and are now shipped frozen from a central packing facility in Brantford, Ont.

1970s: California Roll

Trying to convince Vancouverites to eat raw fish and seaweed proved to be an uphill battle for chef and Japanese immigrant Hidekazu Tojo. One strategy he adopted around 1971 – namely, putting the rice on the outside rather than the inside of the maki roll – helped give birth to the now-iconic California Roll. This proved a gateway drug of sorts for sushi-wary Canadians and, by the 1990s, you could throw a rock down any given street in Vancouver and hit a hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant.

1970s: Ginger Beef

The Canadian Prairies’ answer to General Tso’s chicken, this sweet-and-savoury classic of Chinese-Canadian cuisine, was first developed by chef George Wong at Calgary’s Silver Inn. In many ways, it’s a perfect example of the hybrid Chinese-Canadian “Chop Suey” cuisine that, by the 1970s, was being served in hundreds of Canadian cities and towns.

The spread and popularization of this cuisine began in the late 19th century and is somewhat remarkable given the barriers placed before Chinese restaurateurs. There were, of course, discriminatory head taxes and an outright ban on Chinese immigration between 1924 and 1947, but also lesser-known injustices: a Saskatchewan law preventing Chinese restaurateurs from hiring white women was on the books from 1912 to 1969.

1975: McCain Superfries

Canadians of a certain age are almost universally thankful that McCain stopped running those ads of a bespectacled kid loudly munching on his fries, but Superfries are, without a doubt, one of those products that have helped McCain to corner nearly a third of the global French fry market. Started in 1957 in New Brunswick – and helped along through numerous and generous taxpayer-funded subsidies – McCain now boasts global sales of $8.5-billion.

1980: Yukon Gold Potatoes

Originally the brainchild of University of Guelph researcher Gary Johnson, the Yukon Gold remains one of the few potato varieties that shoppers actually look for by name. Johnson had originally sought to develop a potato that would appeal to recently arrived Eastern European immigrants’ preference for yellow-fleshed varieties of potatoes, but the Yukon Gold proved to be a surprise mainstream hit – adding a little colour and flavour to what, in the 1980s, was a palette of almost exclusively white-fleshed potato varieties.

1985: Jamaican Patty

In February, 1985, federal inspectors raided Jamaican restaurants and bakeries around Toronto. Their goal: to crack down on the sale of false beef patties. “Beef patties,” as it turned out, were supposed to be defined – according to the Meat Inspection Act and inspectors with the federal department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs – as burger patties, and these flaky, meat filled-pastries were not burgers at all. The raids sparked outrage within the Jamaican community and the authorities eventually backed down, so long as Jamaican restaurateurs and bakers specified that they were selling “Jamaican Beef Patties” and not “Beef Patties.”

1991: McLobster

This sandwich was first unveiled at the Amherst McDonalds in Nova Scotia and remains, to this day, unique to the Maritimes. But it’s also a perfect representation of lobster’s dual Canadian identity. While for most Canadians, it’s an expensive luxury associated with fine dining, Atlantic Canadians have long viewed lobster as a much more humble food. Children, many Maritimers insist, used to be embarrassed to bring lobster sandwiches to school because it was a sure sign of poverty; some Maritime farmers even tell stories of fertilizing their fields with these once over-abundant crustaceans.

2015: Minomiin/Wild Rice

Minomiin – or Wild Rice, as it’s more commonly known – is central to the culture, foodways and history of the Mississauga Nishnaabeg First Nations living in Southern Ontario. So when cottagers around Pigeon Lake near Peterborough began using machines to destroy the rice beds planted by Curve Lake First Nation member James Whetung, it became a flashpoint for settler unease with Indigenous resurgence.

It’s a question for the reconciliation age: Are settlers willing to give up their wild-rice-free, jet-ski-able lake? That’s what it would take for Pigeon Lake to return to a preIndian Act, preresidential school and precolonial status as a place where minomiin is grown, harvested and celebrated. But for many, interfering with a summer cottage getaway is a step too far.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Early Chinese Food History

Jacqueline M. Newman wrote . . . . .

Historians agree that two thousand two hundred to three thousand eight hundred years ago, China had a fully developed cuisine. They do not agree nor do they even mention what the cuisine was or what specific foods were in use.

In the 11th century BCE, The Middle Kingdom, as China is and was known, was no more than one-sixth the size it is today. In small separated communities, Beijing and the Yellow River delta were where people lived. By the fifth to third centuries BCE, the population had both concentrated and expanded. More food was grown in central areas, more animal husbandry practiced in the west and north, and more fisheries developed in the east. The country was one-quarter the size it is today, the west was near the midpoint of the country or just above where Xian is today. Sichuan and Hunan were not part of China and the piquancy of foods associated with those provinces had no part in the country’s early food history.

In these centuries, many grains were used, the literature inconsistent as to what they were. Historians simply call this ‘the period of five grains’ and in all probability mean two kinds of millet, soybeans, wheat, and rice.

We think of rice as a quintessential Chinese food, yet early in their food history little was known and very little consumed. It did not come into common use until the first century BCE, perhaps because the area around the Yellow River produced very little of it. About two hundred years later, rice moved south and gained popularity; climate and geography enhanced availability and use. Climate and concentration of people affects foods grown and consumed. People eat what is locally grown along with foods they can hunt, fish, or forage for.

Until 500 BCE, there was no reports of organized system of how the Chinese cooked their foods. The sage Confucius, who lived between 551 – 479 BCE, gets credit for developing protocols of cutting, cooking, and eating. His rules remain intact because there was limited contact to impact them.

Foods and related foodways changed when communities make choices among possible foods and cooking techniques in a given geographic environment. Increased population and need for additional land expands communities and contribute to food migrations. As travellers move from place to place, they talk about foods seen, they even serve them when they return home. Thus foods of different areas slip into and become localized fare.

In China, from the time of the building of the Grand Canal, ingredients and preparation variations moved. Emperor, Chin Shih Huang Ti, build this first contour canal, called the ‘Grand’ or ‘Magic Canal,’ to connect waterways of nearly eleven hundred miles (the equivalent of New York to Florida) to supply his troops on the move. On the canal’s connected pair of rivers, each flowing in the opposite direction, he ordered the shipping of grain supplies and other foods for the troops. This movement of foods, brought rice to the north, and wheat, millet, and sorghum to the south. This interchange was regional food co-mingling of the grandest proportion.

China’s early trade with the Philippines and Indonesia, and in 260 CE Syria and beyond, brought items from outside the country to the countryside infiltrating areas around seacoasts first. Broken Chinese porcelain on the beaches of Tanzania and Mozambique attest to things moving in the other direction in exchange for fruits and other foods. Tea is a good illustration of a food on the move. Before the time of the Three Kingdoms and during the reign of Sun Hao in 264 CE, tea was reasonably unknown. By the 4th century CE, some say it became China’s universal drink. Others believe that in the late Tang period, 618 – 970 CE, tea was still new and exotic, probably brought by Buddhist monks from the Burma-India border-country. In either case, tea was originally imported and it became the national drink. Today, it is common throughout China though not always considered the number one beverage.

Mongolian influences, circa 1125 CE, moved northern ideas, northern foods, and northern food preparation techniques southward. Specific illustrations include grilling and hot pot cookery. Hot Pot is now considered both a northern and southern delicacy. This period of Mongol influence was unidirectional, north to south.

From 1386 to 1398 CE, Tai Tsu also known as Ming Emperor Hung Mu, moved thousands upon thousands of people westward to resettle unpopulated areas. His reign and that of others in the Ming dynasty, 1368 – 1644 CE, limited movement of foods westward. Some years later, Manchu rulers and their subjects adopt, adapt, and incorporate foreign foods and cooking techniques moved northward. These new foods and preparation techniques, acquired from trade with the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French. One example is a food not indigenous to China, the sweet potato; it migrated all over the country. This tuber entered southern ports, became popular near the end of the 15th century, and made its way to every region of China as a common winter food. It can be found in Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, and Shanghai roasted and sold as a street food.

Cuisine, culture, and people are not static. The movement of people and food make for continual culinary melting pots. The one billion Chinese, just over one-quarter of the world’s population, still use grain as the basis and majority component of their diet and they supplement it with old or new foods that look, smell, and taste like Chinese food. Their changing foodways are expressions of cultural continuity over time.

Source: Flavor and Fortune magazine


Read more:

Top 10 Traditional Ancient Chinese Foods . . . . .

Person: Peng Chang-kuei, Chef Behind General Tso’s Chicken

William Grimes wrote . . . . . .

The British food scholar Fuchsia Dunlop has called General Tso’s chicken — lightly battered pieces of dark chicken fried in a chili-accented sweet-and-sour sauce — “the most famous Hunanese dish in the world.”

But like many Chinese dishes that have found favor with Americans, General Tso’s chicken was unknown in China until recently. Nor was it, in the version known to most Americans, Hunanese, a cuisine defined by salty, hot and sour flavors.

Mr. Peng, an official chef for the Nationalist government, which fled to Taiwan after the 1949 revolution in China, said he created the dish during a four-day visit by Adm. Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1955. On the spur of the moment, he assigned it the name of a Hunanese general, Zuo Zongtang, who had helped put down a series of rebellions in the 19th century.

“Originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty,” Mr. Peng told Ms. Dunlop, the author of “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” (2007), which is devoted to the cuisine of Hunan. “The original General Tso’s chicken was Hunanese in taste and made without sugar.”

The dish made its way to New York in the early 1970s after Chinese chefs in New York, preparing to open the city’s first Hunanese restaurants — Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan and Hunam — visited a restaurant that Mr. Peng had opened in Taipei. They adapted the recipe to suit American tastes.

“We didn’t want to copy chef Peng exactly,” Ed Schoenfeld, an assistant to the restaurant’s owner, David Keh, told the website Salon in 2010. “We added our own spin to dishes. And so our General Tso’s chicken was cut differently, into small dice, and we served it with water chestnuts, black mushrooms, hoisin sauce and vinegar.” The chef was Wen Dah Tai.

At Hunam, the chef Tsung Ting Wang — who was also a partner with Michael Tong in another prominent Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, Shun Lee Palace — put a Sichuan spin on the dish. He crisped up the batter and sweetened the sauce, producing a taste combination that millions of Americans came to love. He called it General Ching’s chicken. But as the dish traveled, the General Tso name adhered.

Both restaurants were awarded four stars, the highest rating, by Raymond Sokolov, the restaurant critic of The New York Times.

In 1973, with Hunan fever raging, Mr. Peng came to New York and, with Mr. Keh, opened Uncle Peng’s Hunan Yuan on East 44th Street, near the United Nations. Mr. Peng discovered, to his consternation, that his creation had preceded him, and that the child was almost unrecognizable.

“New Yorkers didn’t realize he was the real thing, and some treated him like he was copying,” Mr. Schoenfeld said.

The tangled history of the dish was explored in 2014 in a documentary, “The Search for General Tso,” directed by Ian Cheney.

Peng Chang-kuei was born in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, in 1918. His family was poor.

At 13, after running away from home, he began serving an apprenticeship under the celebrated Hunanese chef Cao Jing-shen. Formerly a family chef to Tan Yan-kai, prime minister of the Nationalist government in the late 1920s, Mr. Cao had opened the restaurant Jianleyuan in Changsha.

In the 1930s, after the Japanese invasion, Mr. Peng moved to Chungking, the temporary Nationalist capital, where he began to gain renown. After World War II, he was installed as the government’s head banquet chef. He emigrated to Taiwan in 1949, leaving his wife and two sons behind, and continued to cater official functions.

New York proved to be a fraught experiment, as Mr. Peng’s restaurant soon closed. “Doom trailed Uncle Peng,” the food critic Gael Greene wrote in New York magazine in 1973. “The pressures of Manhattan restaurant reality were too much for the brilliant teacher.”

Undaunted, Mr. Peng borrowed money from friends and opened Yunnan Yuan on East 52nd Street, near Lexington Avenue, where Henry A. Kissinger, then the secretary of state, became a faithful customer.

“Kissinger visited us every time he was in New York, and we became great friends,” Mr. Peng told Ms. Dunlop. “It was he who brought Hunanese food to public notice.”

General Tso’s chicken began to assume celebrity status when Bob Lape, a restaurant critic, showed Mr. Peng making the dish in a segment for ABC News. The station received some 1,500 requests for the recipe.

Encouraged, Mr. Peng reopened his old restaurant as Peng’s, bringing his signature dish with him. Reviewing the restaurant in the The Times in 1977, Mimi Sheraton wrote, “General Tso’s chicken was a stir-fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature.”

He left the restaurant in 1981 and opened Peng’s Garden in Yonkers, then returned to Taiwan in the late ’80s and opened the first in a chain of Peng Yuan restaurants there. The menu featured General Tso’s chicken. It was listed on the menu in Mandarin as Zuo Zongtang’s farmyard chicken, and in English as chicken à la viceroy.

In 1990 he opened a branch of his restaurant in the Great Wall Hotel in Changsha, but it was not a success. Peng died recently at the age of 98.

As Hunanese chefs adopted General Tso’s chicken, the dish entered a strange second career. In a sweeping act of historical revisionism, it came to be seen as a traditional Hunan dish. Several Hunanese chefs have described it in their cookbooks as a favorite of the 19th-century general’s.

Source: The New York Times

Sriracha Is a Quintessentially American Flavor

Danny Chau wrote . . . . .

In the Internet Age, monoculture is unachievable. But there remain a few things that we can all agree on.​ The Ringer is looking at this rarefied group all week. These are our Undeniables.

The iconography is simple. The palette is spare: bright vermillion fills the oblong bottle, kelly green caps the top — a multi-tiered nozzle that resembles a monastery spire. With some imagination, it can resemble a fresh-picked red jalapeno, or a neon temple whose walls are inscribed with welcomes in five different languages, a rooster perched on top. Before sriracha became a universal sauce, it had universal aspirations. David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods, which produces the most popular sriracha sauce in the world, recalled a moment early in his venture’s infancy that crystallized his vision for the company’s future. “After I came to America, after I came to Los Angeles, I remember seeing Heinz 57 ketchup and thinking: ‘The 1984 Olympics are coming. How about I come up with a Tran 84, something I can sell to everyone?’”

America’s fascination with Tran’s sauce — a blunt interplay of heat, pungence, and the comforting salve of sweetness — had largely grown through word of mouth heading into the 21st century. Sriracha’s appeal was forged in late night noodle shops and college dorms. Even when its presence isn’t made explicit, it’s been everywhere all along (see almost any preposterously cheap spicy tuna roll ordered at happy hour).

National establishments had begun harnessing the power of sriracha’s growing allure as early as 2000, when P.F. Chang’s began using it, but it wouldn’t become a full-on fast-food trend until 2015, when the industry co-opted sriracha’s cult appeal and turned it into a siren song for fast food’s target demographic: hipster stoners.

In 2015, you could apply a sriracha honey drizzle to your Pizza Hut pizzas. That was the year Denny’s added a sriracha spicy chicken sandwich to their menu and Applebee’s introduced a new sriracha shrimp dish. Two blocks from my house, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor advertised a sriracha chicken pizza; two blocks from my friend’s house, Circle K promoted their sriracha chicken taquitos.

Taco Bell released a bizarre 30-second ode to obsessives that doubled as a promotion for the Sriracha Quesarito, an ad that featured modern urbanites who make wedding dresses out of Taco Bell sauce packets and are willing to shave “SRIRACHA” into their heads. The commercial makes strong use of imagery, but outside of the word constantly appearing on the screen in one form or another, sriracha is treated as an idea best understood through color association — there are reds and greens all over, but the iconic bottles never make an appearance. That is, of course, because Taco Bell isn’t using David Tran’s product — none of these brands are.

Here’s the thing about sriracha: it’s not Sriracha. Tran holds no trademark over its name, only its logo and bottle design. Companies are free to vulture the name recognition while reengineering the sauce to fit their intended purpose. Therein lies its undeniability: David Tran’s exact sriracha recipe may not be available to the public, but with only six core ingredients (red jalapenos, garlic, distilled vinegar, sugar, salt, and xanthan gum), it’s as open source as any name-brand foodstuff available on the market. But no matter how good or bad an outside interpretation, the signifiers always lead you back to the source, to the first time you let the rooster into your life.

* * * * * * * *

Sriracha takes its name from Si Racha, a coastal town in Thailand, but you won’t find many green-topped sriracha bottles lining Thai restaurants. Tran created his version of sriracha to be used as a dipping sauce for pho, but it won’t be found at any pho restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, either. Sriracha, or at least what we popularly know as sriracha, is quintessentially American, in birthplace and in spirit. It is a constantly replenishing artifact of founder David Tran’s immigrant story, one that articulates a placelessness both literal and metaphorical.

After the fall of Saigon, the Communist Vietnamese government began disenfranchising the large ethnic Chinese community within its borders, of which, Tran and his ancestry — which had moved in the late 19th century to Saigon from the city of Chaozhou in the Guangdong province of China — belonged. The diaspora was given second-class citizen status, and in 1976, was forced out of Saigon’s metropolitan area and into uninhabited rural lands as a way of stifling political dissent. The only way out was through bribing officials and ship captains with gold to gain entry into dilapidated freighters destined for other lands; in other words, to become human cargo.

In late December 1978, Tran boarded the Huey Fong, a Taiwanese ship that took him and more than 3,000 other refugees into Hong Kong waters. As an adult boarding the ship, it cost him 12 taels of gold, the equivalent of $3,000 in that year. The freighter was en route to Taiwan, but there weren’t enough resources on board to accommodate the sheer amount of people. The ship anchored in Hong Kong, but no one was allowed to disembark because the Huey Fong had broken maritime rules by eschewing its port of call. Once Taiwan also disavowed the ship, the refugees were stuck in limbo amid an increasingly dire health situation. The standoff would last nearly a month before Hong Kong officials allowed the passengers to land. Police searched the Huey Fong after it had been cleared and discovered $6.5 million in gold within the ship’s engine room. “It was later discovered that the ship’s logs were forged and that the whole operation had been launched with Vietnamese cooperation,” a 1980 Christian Science Monitor report stated.

After a month at sea without proper ventilation and with little food or water, Tran spent another six months in abeyance waiting for the U.N. Refugee Agency to process his case. He was one of at least 840,000 Vietnamese “boat people” to have successfully fled the country since 1978, according to the U.N. He landed in Los Angeles in January 1980 and started his business a month later with what was left of his savings. It would be named Huy Fong Foods (the “e” was dropped intentionally; “Huy” is a common Vietnamese given name). Tran has said he named his company after the freighter because it would be easy for him to remember. How could he forget?

* * * * * * * *

In 2015, Jack in the Box aired a TV spot promoting a new spicy sriracha burger. It curiously decided to play up how difficult sriracha is to say, and how foreign it is to the American palate: “And the best part is, it’s not just sriracha sauce, it’s creamy srir — ” The narrator slurs intentionally. “Whatever it’s called. It’s awesome sauce.” That year, sriracha found its new place in the food industry as a kind of cultural shorthand for low-stakes adventurism available to the discerning, open-minded fast-food patron, and, in the wrong hands, became something that could only truly be considered “awesome” through whitewashing. Taco Bell used sriracha as a symbol of cult appeal. Jack in the Box took sriracha at face value, mocked it, then claimed to have made it better by turning it into something else.

Tran was urged to make his sauce less spicy in Huy Fong’s early days. Change it to a tomato base, people told him, so that the sauce would reach a wider audience. “Hot sauce must be hot. If you don’t like it hot, use less,” Tran said. “We don’t make mayonnaise here.”

The Jack in the Box commercial stepped into a cultural landscape increasingly embattled by the concept of authenticity and the unflattering realities of Asian representation. Cameron Crowe’s Aloha was under fire for having Emma Stone portray a Hawaiian with a Chinese last name. Chef and author Eddie Huang penned an aggrieved letter to distance himself from the ABC sitcom Fresh off the Boat based off his memoir because it had altered his family story beyond recognition. We were witnessing a moment of sriracha mayo-fication, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so troubling if it wasn’t made clear how easily history can be wiped away.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, and all of this applies to sriracha, too. Huy Fong sriracha is an American product that reinterprets a traditionally Thai sauce and was created by an ethnically Chinese man born and raised in Vietnam. It is not an “authentic” representation of what is served with seafood in Si Racha, but it is authentic to Tran, a former South Vietnamese army major who made chili sauces with his family to pay for their way out of Communist rule. Authenticity, like nostalgia, is rooted in origin stories that don’t necessarily exist. It’s a word I’ve largely eliminated from my lexicon, because it attempts to wrangle things as complicated and fluid as tradition and experience into a binary of acceptable or unacceptable. The company name, the rooster insignia that marks Tran’s Chinese zodiac sign, the time spent formulating the recipe in the months spent waiting for asylum to be granted — sriracha is an incredibly personal document of trauma. The “rich man’s sauce at a poor man’s price” was made for all, but none more than David Tran himself. It doesn’t get any more authentic.

From 1996 until 2010, Huy Fong Foods made its headquarters a 170,000-plus-square-foot facility in Rosemead, California, about a half-mile from where I live. I remember the air around there, oversaturated with the stinging redolence of chilies, garlic, and vinegar. After the company was sued in 2013 by the city of Irwindale for creating a public nuisance at its new facility, Tran himself opened the factory up for tours to jokingly prove that Huy Fong Foods wasn’t producing tear gas. It’s an assaultive odor, to be sure, but you don’t get to decide how involuntary memories affect you.

I was raised in a Vietnamese household that was particularly chili-obsessed. We had a row of Thai bird’s eye chili plants in our backyard; growing up, I delighted in their ripening process, transforming from lime green to aubergine to bright red. When there was a surplus, we’d make our own chili garlic pastes. At the dinner table during every meal, my dad had a can of Budweiser and a Thai chili to nibble throughout the meal. As a child, watching my dad eat bird’s eye chilies without any sign of faltering was my idea of heroism. I’d get there eventually, but sriracha was my training wheels. In my earliest memories, it was always resting in the side door of the refrigerator, the green-capped bottle was always there at the Vietnamese restaurants my family frequented. Before its presence spanned the globe, sriracha was everywhere in the small world I inhabited. A few feet from the former production facility, I awkwardly planted my first kiss.

The air around there? It smelled like home.

The old Huy Fong Foods headquarters sits at the end of a shallow cul-de-sac, adjacent to a railroad currently under renovation to provide an underground corridor for more expedient transit. The industrial building was once home to the Wham-O company that created the Frisbee and the hula hoop — postwar American relics that had, in another time, taken the country by storm. The facility, in its varying iterations, had always been a wellspring of generational Americana.

Source: The Ringer