RE: Shanghai Jimmy's Chili Rice
Probably Greyghost and / or other interested parties have GOOGLED for SJ references by now and learned more if interested, but if not, I believe you'll find SJ was from Minnesota originally. It may be that I or others, on this board or the Dallas History board have already mentioned most of what I am about to say (repeat?), or told similar versions of the stories, but the following is based on personal experience. SJ and his chili made a big impression on a kid, that I remember these things across fifty years.
I started SMU in 1955 and was in the AFROTC. There was a man attached to the unit although he was a civilian, perhaps some kind of a civil service worker or maybe even a University employee, who took care of the uniforms worn by students who were members of the unit. I think his name was Mulkie and everyone referred to him as Mr. Mulkie. I think that was at SMU and not the HS JROTC unit in which I had previously been enrolled. Probably Mr. Mulkie had been in the service at some point but I don't remember ever hearing anything about that. I heard him mention the campus branch of Chili Rice one day and say that it was about the best chili ever. He also had some kind words for SJ. I ate lunch there one day soon after and returned often and eventually there were at least half a dozen of us, all students who hung together, who were regulars. Mr. Mulkie was probably who I learned about the location in down town Dallas from also, but that is NOT something I'm certain of.
A man named Archie ran the SMU branch. He (according to what Jimmy said later) was a master barber. Maybe he thought serving lunch to college kids would be more lucrative, I don't know. After not too long, Archie was taken ill and unable to continue his one man operation and the SMU branch closed. As a matter of fact, I never saw anything other than a one man operation at any of Jimmy's locations until he was very old. By the time Archie's operation closed we were eating chili rice down town also and had met Jimmy. I don't know what happened to Archie.
From Archie I learned that Jimmy had a brother in Tyler who also ran a chili stand, but that it was not Jimmy's chili that was served there. That might have been pretty good chili also, but I have no first hand knowledge. Archie I think also said that Jimmy had previously had a location in east Dallas near the Ford plant but had moved down town because of the larger lunch time crowds. I may later have heard SJ himself say something si,ilar, that the key to a succesful fast food place which is what we would now call something like a Chili Rice location was to be near a lot of people. The first down town location was a block or two away from department stores, banks, offices, and the Dallas Times Herald newspaper. Eventually I saw several references to SJ and Chili Rice in columns by Blackie Sherrod, the sports writer. I don't know what organization took over the TH archives when it went under, but if they are extant and searchable a few more SJ facts could be established. Once Sherrod said that Jimmy told him (Blackie) that he had gotten magazines that were too old for his dentists' office to keep and put them on the counter for his (SJs) customers. That was true - the original down town location had a collection of old Reader's Digests and so on.
The back side of some of the menus - early ones anyway - had Jimmy's biographical information on them, through the time he came back to the USA permanently after the communists took over China. One of the factoids was mention of his restaurant in pre-Communtist China, Jimmy's Kitchen. I am not sure that the story about feeding the POWs was included. Like some people who have posted on this board I had once some doubts about SJs earlier career including the time in China. However, I have read several books of personal experiences about like in China between WW 1 and WW 2 and seen references to Jimmy's Kitchen. It was said to have been a good place to get a cup of real American coffee. Also, I believe that you could GOOGLE places to eat in Shanghai and / or Hong Kong today and find places named Jimmy's Kitchen, at leat I did several years ago.
In writing the above I want to make clear that I am not questioning the origin of chili which was surely in the southwest and quite possibly Texas, only affirming that there was a Shanghai Jimmy who began to cook in China and who later served a distinctive product in Dallas.
If I ever come across one of those books again I will post a citation.
I do hope some one has or will post a copy of the menu on the 'net. It might help current Dallas residents who have the will and time to research further. I'd sure like to see one of those menus again!
In closing - and I know I am being repetitious now, I don't think Jimmy used any really extraordinary ingredients. I have tried using various oriental peppers such as the cans of red Szechuan peppers and the hot Korean bean sauce or bean paste and while they made a slightly different flavored chili I did not replicate Jimmy's chili. Those ingredients were not so readily available in the late fifties anyway. I only remember one oriental grocer in Dallas then and I doubt they had either item, although I must confess I never looked.
I do remember Jimmy saying two things about his chili. One, he mentioned being somewhere away from dallas and making a pot of chili for the people he visited. To me that argues for readily available ingredients. Two, he said he could make a cheaper chili and I have the idea that he meant a finished product with more grease and connective tissue. His chili was very "dry" or greaseless and that was one reason (I think) why he offered the pat of margarine to those who wanted it. Most bowls of chili I've seen in cafes have more grease than Jimmy's did even with the margarine added. I believe that Jimmy used something like round steak trimmed of all fat and so on. I suppose he used suet or vegetable oil in the cooking and then chilled it over night and skimmed the solidified fat. Also I don't think that celery was the secret ingredient, if any. As I've said, celery in chili is not to my taste (I was surprised to learn on this board how many enloy it) but I certainly agree that fresh celery as a topping or addition - as Jimmy offered - makes for a crunch and texture that you don't get otherwise.
I remember seeing menus in Texas where "regular" and "skimmed" chili was offered, where you could pay extra and get degreased or defatted chili where the oil was removed after the chili was dipped from the pot into the bowl. I don't remember the term used for the defatted chili. Can anyone help me with that? Anyway, SJs was the only chili I've ever seen where fat was added back!
And I sure agree that there are not many of us left who had the real Chili Rice. I doubt the original recipe can be recovered but I enjoy hearing accounts of people who remember it. Especially I'd like to hear more first hand accounts from people who knew him although I know that number must be very small also.