Wednesday, August 31, 2011

China Chilo.

I have a puzzle for you today. Maybe a food historian or linguist has already solved this, but if so, I don’t know about it. A popular dish of the nineteenth century in England was ‘China Chilo.’ In The Spirit of Cookery: A Popular Treatise on the History, Science, Practical, Ethical and Medical Import of Culinary Art, (1895) by J.L.W. Thudicum, this was described as “a ragout of green peas and mutton, stewed with some onions, lettuce, butter and spices, to be served with rice boiled in broth and moistened with butter. This is a most excellent dish, and is most conveniently eaten with a dessertspoon.’

It sounds quite delicious, doesn’t it? But whence the name?  Dishes with names suggesting an exotic foreign origin became increasingly popular as the British Empire extended, but there is nothing evocative of China about the dish, and ‘chilo’ is an even greater mystery.
I have found but one attempt at an explanation. The ‘chilo’ is an alternative (Italian) spelling of ‘chyle’, which is ‘The white milky fluid formed by the action of the pancreatic juice and the bile on the chyme, and contained in the lymphatics of the intestines, which are hence called lacteals. ‘The term has been used to designate the fluid in the intestines just before absorption.’ Thus, the suggested explanation that the dish was a similar colour. A cook naming a dish in recognition of it looking like vomitus? I don’t think so.
While the puzzle waits to be solved, here is the earliest recipe I have found so far:

China Chilo.
Mince a pint-basin of undressed neck of mutton, or leg, and some of the fat; put two onions, a lettuce, a pint of green peas, a tea-spoonful of salt, a tea-spoonful of pepper, four spoonsful of water, and two or three ounces of clarified butter, into a stew-pan closely covered; simmer two hours, and serve in the middle of a dish of boiled dry rice. If Cayenne is approved, add a little. This cannot be done too slowly.
A new system of domestic cookery, (1807) by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell

Quotation for the Day.

The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance.
Bryan Miller.


Liz + Louka said...

It does sound nice. This page ( quotes a suggestion that there was "an area of Bhutan that once was called ‘Chilo.’"

The Old Foodie said...

Fantastic Liz-Louka! I did a lot of searching but didnt come up with this! Naming after a place makes eminent sense.
Now to wait and see if any other commenters add to the picture.

Helen J Saberi said...

I too have been fascinated by the dish China Chilo and wondered how this dish got its name. I thought the chilo bit could be the white rice as chilo is another way of spelling chalau (plain white boiled rice). The China bit could be the stew??

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Helen - great suggestions.I didnt know the word 'chalau' - sounds like a distinct possibility!

elenar_ulathiven said...

If i get the recipe right the texture of the food is kinda thick and maybe even creamy.
The greek word "chilos" (χυλός in greek, spelled "chee-los") indicates a product with creamy smooth texture,
and sometimes describes food that contains ingrediends bind together by the use of some sort of thickening agent, like flour, corn flour or even meat parts that contain high ammounts of fat.
These meat parts are usually leg or any other part that comes with a bonem the marrow of which tends to produce a thickening matter.
Maybe that's where the word came from! :)

The Old Foodie said...

Thankd Elenar, another good suggestion.I do love the internet for this sort of sharing of ideas, dont you?

elenar_ulathiven said...

I think it's a wonderful place for exchanging ideas and informations^^
And congratulations on your blog,
i've been looking for that kind of knowledge for a long time now!