The History Dish: Rice with Maple Syrup (Hong Sooy Un Doy)

Let’s say it’s 1880 and your in-laws are in town.  They want to “see the real New York.”  So what do you do with them?  How about a tour of Chinatown!

Long before the endless stalls of knock-off handbags, Chinatown of the late 19th century was a tourist destination.  Gangs of middle-class city visitors would swarm to the Lower East Side to take guided tours, in which they might peek into an opium den, shop in import stores, or meet one of the “Irish Brides” of the mostly male Chinese population.

The tours were meant to titillate, even to shock.  You were descending into a “foreign” country,  just a few blocks below Houston Street.  I often wonder how these visitations were received by the immigrant Chinese population: some, I’m sure, took advantage of the situation for financial gain.  Others, perhaps, were even able to chuckle at the awe-struck outsiders.  But how does it really feel when your neighborhood is filled with tourists, ogling and judging your way of life?

The tour would always end in one of Chinatown’s many eateries to grab a bowl of Chop Suey, a mix of pork, chicken organs, and vegetables which was considered the height of exoticism at the turn of the century.  You can watch me (poorly) cook a turn-of-the-century recipe for chop suey here.

My colleague Bill Wander recently had an article published  in Asian Fusion magazine, all about these “slumming tours” as they were known at them time.  He did a little investigating into what a Chinese restaurant was serving at the turn of the century:

“The Oriental Restaurant at 3 Pell St in 1903 featured the inevitable “Chop SOOY” for 15 cents and a small chicken chow mein for forty cents. Birds Nest soup and shark fin soup were $1.50 and $2. respectively. The menu was ala carte, with rice or bread and butter at 5 cents. But the most unusual item on the menu might have been “Hong Sooy Un Doy” – Rice with maple syrup – 10 cents.”

You can see the full menu here.

Rice with Maple Syrup–I was intrigued! I like rice! I like maple syrup!  And who has ever heard of that flavor combination before?  It reminded me of a dish my mother used to eat when she was a kid: cooked rice in cold milk with sugar and cinnamon.  Sweet rice, in my mind, is associated with rice pudding.  To see it so simply dressed with sweet condiments, rather than savory, seemed unique.

So I cooked a pot of rice according to this recipe and drizzled real maple syrup on top.  I dug in with a pair of chopsticks.

My first thought was “hot ice cream!”  It had the creaminess and sweetness of ice cream, but with a comforting warmth.  But after a few bites, the flavor became monotonous.  It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps it needs some improvement.  Perhaps a maple-pecan-bourbon rice pudding instead?  Or maybe, a maple-ginger rice pudding; or maple-sezchuan-peanut rice pudding, to pull out the dish’s Chinatown roots.  Now that’s worth thinking about.


Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 1

Corned Beef with Cabbage.

Breakfast: Boiled Rice with Scalded Milk
There was no recipe given for Rice with Scalded Milk, so I added 1/2 cup of rice (this item was already in my pantry, but costs about .39 cents) to 1 cup milk (cost .25 cents). I brought it to a boil, stirring constantly, then turned down the heat to low. I stirred it and let it cook until it was very thick and starchy, then add about 1/2 cup water and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
It was gross and gummy. A tablespoon of sugar greatly improved the taste. The recipe yielded about 2 cups, and I ate half.
Cost: $ .25-$.64
Dinner (Lunch): Corned Beef and Cabbage
The recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage is based on the recipe for Salt Pot-auFeu, at Ms. Corson’s recommendation. I’ll be making Salt Pot-auFeu on Thursday, and will get into the recipe in more detail then.
There were no instructions in Fifteen Cent Dinners (FCD) to make corned beef from scratch, so I assumed they were buying pre-made, possibly potted, beef that would have been less expensive than making it at home. After comparing prices of modern pre-packaged corned beef, I decided on Budding brand slices, costing a total of .86 cents.
I heated 1/2 a piece of bacon (about .15 cents, but I already had this item in my pantry) in a pot, to render some cooking fat and add flavor. I then added 1/2 of a small onion (about .05 cents) and let it cook until soft. I then added the Budding Corned Beef, browned it a little, then poured in enough water to deglaze the pan. I added 1/4 of a white cabbage (.33 cents) and added enough water to cover everything. I put the lid on the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
When I took the lid off, the broth was a rich brown color and it smelled promising. I lifted out the cabbage with a strainer and placed the slices of beef on top.
The results: the Budding beef was a bad choice. Although cheaper than its cousin in a can (which costs about $4.00) it was tough, flavourless and inedible. The cabbage was not bad. I’m not a huge fan of boiled cabbage, but perhaps it will grow on me.
Cost: $1.24-$1.39
Supper: Peas Boiled in Stock
I added 1/2 cup dry split peas (.40 cents) to the leftover broth from the Corned Beef and Cabbage. I brought it to a boil, then turned down the heat, added a little pepper and salt, and simmered it for about 45 minutes, until nice and tender. I strained the peas and saved the broth for breakfast tomorrow. Nutritious, flavourful, and economical!
Cost: $ .40
I also ate 1/2 lemon (.12 cents) and 1 apple (.33 cents)
Total Cost Day 1: $2.34-$2.88
Total Approximate Calories Consumed: 661
Right now, I’m so hungry I’m having trouble thinking.