Chinatown, March 2015


chinatown  (sonya kovacic)

chinatown (sonya kovacic)

Hong Far Low was the first Chinese restaurant in Boston opening in 1890, on 36 1/2 Harrison Street. The food would have looked different from what many Americans consider Chinese food to be. Even now, some people are shocked when they go to Chinatown and there is no orange flavored chicken on the menu. 

However, the story of Chinese food in America is a story of cultural appropriation. One example is the peking ravioli, a word unique to Boston. Leah Mennies from the   Lucky Peach investigated. Peking ravioli dates back to the 50's when Joyce Chen opened her Mandarin restaurant in Cambridge, Joyce Chen Restaurant. She wanted to introduce food from her city of Being to Boston, hence Peking. And ravioli because raviolis are known in many cultures.

Fun fact: because of Boston's Irish American population, in the 1970's, "Chinese takeout in Boston often came with sliced French bread instead of rice. "

Read the Lucky Peach story here

Watch a video of Joyce Chen cooking Egg Foo Yung.

Chinatown, March 2015


corner of beach st and oxford st in chinatown  (sonya kovacic)

corner of beach st and oxford st in chinatown (sonya kovacic)

Boston, like many cities, is constantly changing. What we know of as Chinatown is actually a  relatively new neighborhood. When Boston was first settled it was swamp land.

According to the city of Boston, "Beginning in the 1840s, waves of immigrants settled in the South Cove (modern day Chinatown) seeking jobs at the wharves, railroads and factories. The district became home first to Irish, then Jewish, Syrian, Italian and Asian families."

The first wave of Chinese immigration to Boston occurred in the 1870's after Chinese were recruited from  California to help end a labor strike at a shoe factory in North Adams. More Chinese from California soon followed.

The first Chinese restaurant in Boston opened in 1890 and the post WWII period saw an explosion in Chinese restaurant openings.

With new waves of gentrification, will Chinatown become a vestige as well?  

Take a look at what used to be on the corner of Beach and Oxford street in 1901.

January 2014, Street art, Chinatown


mural in chinatown (sonya kovacic)

mural in chinatown (sonya kovacic)

In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and subsequent rioting in Boston, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs under then Mayor Kevin White (with help from state legislator Katherine D. Kane, and artist/activist Adele Seronde) launched Summerthing, a city wide summer arts program aimed at easing tension and unrest. The program started with making murals as a form of expression, and later included more than 1200 musical and artistic events.

According to Michael Russell, who was part of a team that was considering a similar program in Washington DC, “In one summer, rock music resounded in 18 concerts at Harvard Stadium, including: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and the Supremes.  B. B. King, James Cotton Blues Band, Miles Davis, Ike and Tina Turner, Voices of East Harlem, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ramsey Lewis, Percy Mayfield, Jose Feliciano and Janis Joplin (Her last concert.) all played to Summerthing crowds, for FREE!!"

Here's a 1975 photo of a Summerthing event in Chinatown called, Under the August Moon,from photographer Nick DeWolf.

Chinatown, June 2014

mary soo hoo park

mary soo hoo park on the greenway  (sonya kovacic)

mary soo hoo park on the greenway (sonya kovacic)

From the 1960s to the early '90s, a major section of Downtown and Chinatown was known as the "Combat Zone". It was Boston's red light district — an area set aside for strip clubs, X-rated theaters, and adult bookstores. The neighborhood – centered on Washington Street – was notorious for drugs, prostitution, and violent crime.

One of the main causes for the Combat Zone's demise was grassroots activism by Chinatown residents, including a woman named Mary Soo Hoo. In 1961, Soo Hoo moved from Cambridge to Chinatown to open its first beauty salon. Over the next few decades, she started a family, helped found the bilingual Chinese-English newspaper Sampan, and opened the Chinatown Cafe on Harrison Ave. She also became a community leader and advocate — for neighborhood safety and affordable housing – and against the crime-ridden Combat Zone. Her work, along with many others, helped transform the neighborhood.

In 2011, Chinatown's park on the Greenway was dedicated in Soo Hoo's memory.

The small park's most notable feature is its xiangqi players. Also known as Chinese Chess, xiangqi is a strategic board game with pieces including the "general", "chariot", and "elephant". It's one of the world's most popular board games — but Mary Soo Hoo Park is one of the only places in Boston for a layperson to see it played.

In 2011, an amateur photographer captured the cigarette-fueled action on video. We don't know how to play (yet) — but the 2:20 mark might be a good place to start.

Chinatown, June 2014


graffiti, chinatown  (sonya kovacic)

graffiti, chinatown (sonya kovacic)

The official beverage of Massachusetts is cranberry juice, and for good reason — the bogs in the state's southeastern region produce over 25% of the country's cranberries.

We may have also invented the most famous cranberry juice-based cocktail. Although there are competing claims, there is reason to believe that the Cosmopolitan was invented and popularized in Provincetown in the 1970s.

DigBoston just published a rundown of new bars and restaurants to watch out for this summer, including a brick-and-mortar version of the "juice truck" (and Kickstarter success story) Mother Juice.

Chinatown, June 2014

scratch tickets

discarded scratch tickets, downtown  (sonya kovacic)

discarded scratch tickets, downtown (sonya kovacic)

Scratch-off lottery tickets originated in Boston in 1972. As a way to increase lottery proceeds, John Koza and Dan Bower adapted the scratchable game cards used in grocery stores for the Massachusetts State Lottery. The scratch-offs were an instant hit in the city, and retailers quickly sold out.

The lottery is still huge in Massachusetts today. We spend almost $700 per capita on lottery tickets per year — the most in the country by nearly double.

About 20% of lottery revenue goes back to provide aid to Massachusetts cities and towns. This week, The Boston Globe introduced an interactive tool to measure how much each town spends and receives.