To celebrate the book's first birthday, I wanted to revive a recipe that was cut from the final manuscript because of lack of space. (I've been doing that a lot lately. Recently I taught a Sichuan class at The Brooklyn Kitchen that had a recipe for Bon Bon Chicken, a great recipe that also had to be cut. Ah nostalgia!) So, onward to rumaki, because everyone needs a good party appetizer up their sleeves during the holiday season.
Just what is rumaki? And what is its link to Chinese-American food?
Rumaki may be an unfamiliar appetizer these days, but it sported quite a hip reputation in the middle of last century. It first appears on the menus of tiki restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1940s. Trader Vic’s founder Victor Bergeron claimed it had Chinese origins, by way of Hawaii, but in actuality it was likely his own creation inspired by angels on horseback, an English pub snack of bacon-wrapped oysters.
The name’s origin is also fuzzy, but possibly a take on harumaki, Japanese for pork spring roll. Whether or not the Trader created rumaki, he no doubt deserves credit for popularizing this appetizer - skewers of chicken liver and water chestnuts wrapped in crispy bacon - with the dining public. It became such a hit as a pupu platter staple that even Chinese restaurants started serving it as an appetizer.
In the baby boomer era, rumaki became a fixture on the hor d’oeuvre platter of the suburban cocktail-swilling set. The dish’s entry into the mainstream is even captured in an episode of Mad Men, as Betty Draper serves rumaki to guests at her internationally-themed dinner party, though she does call it Japanese.