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:
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.