Thursday, May 8, 2014

Up the Yangzi River

U.S.S. Helena, 

The chronology of holiday menus from the U.S.S. Wilmington begs the question as to what the sailors in the Asiatic Squadron ate on normal days in the early twentieth century. For that, we turn to a menu from her sister ship, the U.S.S. Helena, on December 2, 1906, while anchored off Hankow some 602 nautical miles up the Yangzi River. This Sunday dinner for the chief petty officers features delicacies like roast venison and roast pheasant. For dessert, there is the ubiquitous peach pie, presumably made with the local fruit for which this region of China is known. Indeed, it seems that they ate very well, confirmed by a note at the bottom which reads: “This is a fair sample of our usual dinner.” (The CPO cook, J. J. Pinkerton, was reputedly the best chef on the Helena, outclassing those who prepared meals for the crew and the officers.) 


This small menu card was folded so that it could be enclosed in a letter. The inscription on the back describes the exotic scene in the photograph: “All native tea houses are about the same in style and only differ, as ours, in quality. In the big ones in Shanghai they also have separate rooms like this when tables are replaced by their square couches or beds for opium smokers. Again there are stalls with a tea taburet (sic) and a few chairs and the opium bed. This is a coolie joint and to most of these there is no front. You can notice a big joss poster in rear and in front of it are the candle sticks or joss stick receptacles…”

1 comment:

sarah c said...

Very interesting. Especially the remarks about the Shanghai tea houses. Thanks!