Peking on Mystic

Continuing food reminiscences from the early 60s in the Boston area, some recollections of the restaurant Peking on Mystic in Medford MA from those days (that would be the Mystic River, since made famous by Dennis Lehane’s novel and Clint Eastwood’s movie). A bunch of summer interns at the MITRE Corporation (in Bedford MA) hung out together outside of work. I was one, and Jacqueline Wei Mintz (then a linguistics student at Yale) was another. In (I think) 1964, Jackie arranged a dinner at Peking on Mystic — an adventure in eating — for the interns and their guests; the deal was that she would order all the food (in Chinese) and explain it to us. It was wonderful, and Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I went back to the restaurant, on our own, many times thereafter. We also learned to cook some of our favorite Szechwan / Sichuan dishes, including the wonderfully named Ants Climb Tree (a.k.a. Ant Climbs Tree, Ants Climbing a Tree, Ants on a Tree) and Lion Head (a.k.a. Lion’s Head).

On Jackie and her husband Sid (Sidney W. Mintz). Jackie went on to get her law degree; worked as Associate Provost for affirmative action at Yale, resigning in 1976; as an Associate Counsel at the AAUP (the American Association of University Professors); and as Maryland Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Consumer Protection 1988-1996. She and Sid were married in 1964; from his Wikipedia entry:

Sidney Wilfred Mintz (born November 16, 1922 in Dover, New Jersey) is an anthropologist best known for his studies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Mintz studied at Brooklyn College earning his B.A in 1943. He got his doctoral degree from Columbia University under the supervision of Julian Steward and Ruth Benedict. Mintz was one of a group of students who developed around Steward and Benedict. Many prominent anthropologists such as Marvin Harris, Eric Wolf, Morton Fried, Stanley Diamond, Robert Manners, and Robert F. Murphy were among this group.

… Mintz had a long academic career at Yale University (1951-74) before helping to found the Anthropology Department at Johns Hopkins University.

… More recent work by Mintz has focused on the history and meaning of food (e.g., Mintz 1985b, 1996b; Mintz and Du Bois 2002), including ongoing work on the consumption of soy foods (Mintz and Tan 2001).

Two of Sid’s cool books on the anthropology of food:

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred (1985b). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1996a Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Now, the restaurant, in retrospect. From Robert Nadeau’s review of Sichuan Garden in the Boston Phoenix 8/13/10:

I thought I knew all about Sichuan food, back from when Joyce Chen and Peking on Mystic introduced what was then called “Mandarin-Szechwan” food to the United States via greater Boston. [but now I know better] (link)

And from commenter “cape cod bob” on another site:

For a nice recap of Boston eateries in the 70s see here.

They mention Peking on the Mystic in Medford, which as I recall opened within a year or two of Joyce Chen’s [in Cambridge]. We and a group of friends would make up fantasy menus combining the best of both restaurants – Peking’s Moo Shu Pork and Chen’s Peking Ravioli were always top picks as I recall. We all thought we were so very sophisticated and wise when some older couple would come in and look for their favorite chow mein and chop suey dishes.

Peking on Mystic later moved to Cambridge near where the current MBTA mega station is located.

(Back in those days, Ann and I lived in a great neighborhood, about a mile north of Harvard Square, just off Concord Ave. Among the amenities were a fantastic grocery store, Egan’s, where Joyce Chen also shopped, and an excellent liquor/wine store, Mannix’s (Mannix was Egan’s son-in-law).)

Now back to that first Dinner on the Mystic. Three dishes, two entirely new to me, stuck in my mind. The one I knew about, but don’t think I’d experienced before, was Peking Duck:

Peking Duck, or Peking Roast Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era, and is now considered one of China’s national foods.

The dish is prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with pancakes, spring onions, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce. (link)

It’s not only a fabulous thing to eat, with its contrasts of textures and tastes, but also a food ritual: the slicing of the crispy duck, the offering of the pancakes, the spreading of the hoisin sauce on them, the assembling of the duck slices and scallions in them, the folding of the pancakes around their contents to make extraordinary hand-food. In a picture:

But that’s from Peking. Ants Climb Tree and Lion Head are from the culinary-incendiary West of China, Szechwan / Sichuan. The names are metaphorical, as I noted a while back, in my lobster posting:

As Bill Poser pointed out …, Chinese food names are big trouble, since so many of them are metaphorical. I wonder what the EU regulators do with “Ant Climbs Tree” (a.k.a. “Ants on a Tree”), which contains neither ants nor a tree. [or “Lion Head”, which has neither lions nor heads in it]

Recipes and photos, from a cookbook of the period:

Robert A. Delfs. 1974. The Good Food of Szechwan: Down-to-Earth Chinese Cooking. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

[Comment 8/25/12:

Mr Zwicky, I’m the author of the “cookbook of the period” that you blithely reproduced four pages from in your blog above. This really isn’t on, you know. The cookbook may be out of print, but the book is still copyrighted — it is not in the public domain. Please remove the pages, ok?

—Robert Delfs

Not wanting to be sued over this, I have removed Delfs’s “Ants Climbing a Tree” recipe and photo and his “Lion’s Head” recipe and photo. I would recommend that you look up these dishes from another source. Or you could get the book, used, from Amazon, for $1 — and, of course, whatever you pay, the royalties won’t go to Delfs.

Very much dog in the manger, it seems to me.]



22 Responses to “Peking on Mystic”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Two related comments on Google+:

    From Bob Moore: Wow, I probably have not thought about Peking on the Mystic in 35 years. I think I only went there once. We went to Joyce Chen a lot, though, and still have her cookbook, which I still make stuff out of once in a while, usually chicken with green peppers or spicy cabbage relish.

    From John Gintell: I remember when Peking on the Mystic and Joyce Chen were the only non-Cantonese restaurants in the area. And there was one Indian restaurant.

    My, how things have changed. And there are plenty of good Chinese cookbooks now, in particular Gloria Bley Miller’s compendious The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (1984). Still, Buwei Yang Chao’s How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (1945) has a special place in my heart, since I knew the author and her husband, the great linguist Yuen Ren Chao.

  2. Jean Berko Gleason Says:

    This does bring back memories. We used to go to Peking on Mystic, too. And Joyce Chen, of course. I still have her signed 1962 cookbook with the foreword by Paul Dudley White. Egan’s was patronized by all the Old Cambridge families. And when Andy and I got married in 1959 we bought a case of Moet & Chandon from Mannix’s, who also supplied glasses for the reception, which was catered by the ladies from the Window Shop. I bet you remember them, too!

  3. mzanger Says:

    Lovely to read more about these culinary pioneers. One factual correction, it was Joyce Chen who added a larger restaurant near what is now the Alewife red-line station to her original “Small Eating Place.” I too treasure B.Y. Chao’s books, and the work of another linguist Jim McCawley, “The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters.” McCawley was such a fan of Chinese food he learned Chinese and devised a way of indexing characters by the number of strokes previously used for Japanese to make it work.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thanks for the correction. The claim about Peking on Mystic was in one of my sources, and I had no easy way to check up on it; and these developments were after my time in the area.

      And I very much recommend Jim’s Eater’s Guide. It came out in 1984 and was a great help to me when I taught in Beijing in 1985. It was out of print for a while but was reprinted in 2004.

      • Jean Berko Gleason Says:

        Joyce Chen did move to a larger place in Cambridge on Rindge Avenue, not far from where the Red Line Alewife Station is, but Peking on Mystic also moved to Cambridge, to a spot not far from there on Fresh Pond Parkway between Concord and Huron that was later occupied by a Japanese restaurant called Tokyo. Neither Peking on Fresh Pond nor Tokyo succeeded.

  4. Musical memories « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] rolls upon us and I’m resurrecting memories of food in the Boston area in 1965-69 (here and here), I’ve come up with musical memories of the period, starting with the Christmas music of Noah […]

  5. More memories « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the tradition of my Chicken Verdicchio, Peking on Mystic, and musical memories postings, more recollections of the Boston area in the early 60s. Something […]

  6. Things she did « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] several times about eating in Boston and Cambridge (on chicken verdicchio here, on Peking on Mystic here, on restaurants in Cambridge and Boston here). That’s when Ann became celebrated, in our […]

  7. arnold zwicky Says:

    [Comment 8/25/12:

    Mr Zwicky, I’m the author of the “cookbook of the period” that you blithely reproduced four pages from in your blog above. This really isn’t on, you know. The cookbook may be out of print, but the book is still copyrighted — it is not in the public domain. Please remove the pages, ok?

    —Robert Delfs]

    I’ve altered the posting:

    Not wanting to be sued over this, I have removed Delfs’s “Ants Climbing a Tree” recipe and photo and his “Lion’s Head” recipe and photo. I would recommend that you look up these dishes from another source. Or you could get the book, used, from Amazon, for $1 — and, of course, whatever you pay, the royalties won’t go to Delfs.

    Very much dog in the manger, it seems to me.]

  8. robert d Says:

    In an email to me that included the comment above, Arnold Zwicky added a question and also a comment — and an ungracious one at that, given that I felt my request that Zwicky remove the pages from my book he had used was phrased in a polite way and could not be construed as a threat to sue! Mr. Zwicky wrote:

    “I can’t imagine what you hoped to achieve with your complaint, but I’m now happy to consign your book to oblivion.”

    I’m happy to explain to Mr. Zwicky what I hoped to achieve, which was simply what I asked—that he remove the recipes and photos of mine from his blog that he used on his blog without asking permission.

    Hundreds of people have posted copies of recipes from my book on the internet and/or circulated them by email and through other means over the years. A few actually asked permission first, which I have invariably granted. After all, the book has been out of print for years. My royalties were paid at the time of each printing, so I’ll never make another dime out of this book unless I arrange for another printing, which doubt I will happen. But in principle, I appreciate it that people like the book enough to want to share it with their friends. I’ve never objected to anyone who posted a single recipe on their own website or someone else’s website before.

    So why did I object to Zwicky’s use of material from my book even though in the past I had let this sort of thing go? Probably because Zwicky was the first person who apparently believed it was his right to reproduce four entire pages from the book without permission. That seemed a bit rude.

    There is a principle at stake here. I make a partial living from the sale of photographs and articles. Many of close friends are professional writers and/or photographers. People steal material from me and my friends—mostly photographs but also sections of books and articles—all the time. We don’t like it.

    I note that Zwicky has a “” email address, so I assume he is an employee of the university, possibly a faculty member, certainly literate, and presumably aware that authors and artists enjoy certain legal rights over their creations for a number of years under the Copyright Law of the United States. If he is an academic, then he would also know that the doctrine of “fair use” under that law allow “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment” and other similar restricted use of short passages. but that it would not allow photo-reproduction of multiple pages (or in this case, multiple recipes and photographs) from a copyrighted book.

    Under the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, protection for works published prior to January 1,1978 extends 95 years from the date of publication.Those rights are not extinguished when a work goes out of print. That means we still have another 59 years to go before Arnold Zwicky can treat my book as if it were his personal property.

    I will confess to being amused that Zwicky imagines that removing the stolen recipes and photos from your website will in some way “consign [my book] to oblivion”—or that I would care if it did. The book—something I did in my youth in order to pay the bills of graduate school and overseas language study—eventually went through 12 printings and was widely reviewed. Almost 40 years later, it frankly amazes me that copies are still around and that people use the book, but apparently they do.

    My advice to Mr. Zwicky would simply be this: the next time you feel inclined to reproduce someone else’s work on your blog, try googling for the email address of the author(s), or contact the publisher, and ASK permission. In most cases, provided it is not going to be used for a commercial purpose, that permission will be readily granted.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The briefest of replies:

      One, it hadn’t occurred to me that one recipe would be fair use, but two not.

      Two, if there’s a way to find Delfs’s e-mail address by googling him, I haven’t found it. (In contrast, googling on my name gets you to vast amounts of information about me — including links to on-line copies of a huge number of my publications.)

      Three, the copyright lies with Kodansha, not Delfs, and my experience in getting free permissions from non-academic publishers (even for distribution in forms that earn no money for anyone) is poor.

      Four, I could see no way that I would be harming Delfs by reprinting these two recipes.

      • robert d Says:

        One, no, the “fair use doctrine” does NOT give you the right to print even ONE full recipe from a copyrighted book. It’s just that I’ve never bothered to complain about anyone’s stealing single recipes from my book before. Your use of four complete pages from the book, however, seemed completely over the top.

        Two, many people have managed to contact me by googling my name. It’s not difficult. Try forwarding a message via Linked In. I just checked — my Linked In entry was the second item after googling my own name. You could also use the Stanford alumni association or Princeton graduate student alumni association website — I understand that you have taught at both institutions, and I believe the fact that I attended them is mentioned on the dust jacket of the book whose pages you scanned. How hard would it really be to look me up and send an email asking permission to use a recipe?

        Three, you are misinformed about the copyright status this book. Whatever may be printed inside your copy, Kodansha’s copyright terminated as soon as the book was allowed to go out of print, and all rights in the US, Japan, and internationally then reverted to me. Your previous difficulties in securing permission to use copyrighted materials for free is therefore irrelevant. But even if Kodansha were still the copyright holder, why would the fact that other copyright holders have previously turned down your request to use material for free lead you to believe you could use material from my book without paying or asking permission of whoever you believed the actual copyright holder to be?

        Finally, I never claimed that your use of material from my book harmed me, what I said is that you should not have used material from the book without first asking permission from the author and copyright holder. This is a legal requirement, but also an ethical obligation. As I understand it, you are a professor, and you have published articles and reviews yourself. You should know better.

  9. amiel cooper, MD Says:

    your blog on Peking on Mystic brings smiles and sadness! I was serving in the U.S. Navy as LCDR at Chelsea Naval Hosp. during Vietnam war (1968-70) and POM was my favorite restaurant ever, along with my favorite waitress, “Paula”. When it later closed, my heart and taste buds cried. Every time I enter (or leave) a Chinese restaurant I wish “my Peking On Mystic” would reappear because there is no comparison. Perhaps ephemeral as a teenage love that moistens the memory. Thank You!! Amiel Cooper, MD

  10. Dona Williams Says:

    Stumbled on your blog looking up Peking on Mystic. During High School I was a waitress there and consider it a privilege to have done so. Paula was the daughter of the owner and my boss. I remember the dish Lions Head,dim sum on Sundays,
    ( with Chinese opera playing in the background.) and many others. I compare all Chinese food to those days and usually find it lacking.
    Thank you for the memory.

  11. Paul Says:

    Hello all,

    reading all your comments about POM makes me feel good to know my father and mother had a restaurant that many of you remember so fondly. My father passed away this past week. If you are interested, please see the attached link to read his obituary.

  12. Andrew Cranin Says:

    Thank you for these marvelous posts and reminiscences about one of my earliest authentic Chinese cuisine experiences. What few people no, not at all surprisingly, is that POM has a musical legacy of sorts as well. In 1973 for former members of the Tufts University Beelzebubs convened for dinner at this establishment. As lifelong singers and musicians, they longed for a way to extend their vocal group experiences. So, following the consumption of a table full of dumplings, noodles, and (no doubt) Tsingtao, Peking and the Mystics, and a cappella quartet, was born.

    Some 41 years later, the group is still clicking on all cylinders – five of them, today. PATM includes three original members, a “new guy” from 1982 (that would be me), and a fifth member who joined “just last year,” in 2002. All five members saying with the Beelzebubs in their undergraduate days, though none of them overlapping with any of the other four. The group has traveled internationally (including a trip to, of course, mainland China) and has recorded three CDs, the last of which, “To Go,”pays homage to the eatery that was the root of the group’s origin and name. Just two weeks ago, PATM sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park.

    Sorry to divert the conversation from the gustatory nirvana that was Peking on the Mystic (and incidentally, didn’t it have two sister restaurants, Peking on Fresh Pond and Peking at Prudential?). You may now resume your stroll down Szechuan food’s memory lane.

  13. Robert Says:

    I was sharing a scanned recipe from Joyce’s cookbook with a young friend and wanted to also share information and memories The Google site omits Peking on Mystic. I have fond memories of my introduction to Mu Shu pork, Peking Duck, hot and sour soup, and a 12 course banquet while her son was fixing his bike along the side wall:-) Very fond memories. I’m delighted to find I’m not alone. How amazing is the Internet.

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