As many of you, my co-religionists out there, may have done, I chose to spend my 25th of December as I have for much of my life: I ate Chinese food and watched movies. So what’s with Jews and Chinese food? I mean, I love the stuff, but you have to admit, this is a pretty ridiculous tradition. Songs and literature have been written on it; this year social media was even buzzing with mock halachah on why Jews eat Chinese food on X-mas. But as ridiculous as it is, it is pretty delicious, so I’m going to keep doing it. But this year was the first year that I decided to cook the Chinese food myself, which proved a lot more difficult than I would have thought.
Menu planning was the easy part. I just posted a question on Facebook, asking what I should make, and sure enough, I got upwards of twenty suggestions within a few hours. The bill of fare: string beans, mu shu beef, sweet and sour chicken, and general tso’s chicken.
For many Jews, going out for Chinese food on Christmas is a time-honored ritual — almost as classic as eating matzo on Passover. But as with any tradition, the fun lies in making it your own. Go beyond cookie-cutter Christmas Chinese with our picks in New York and beyond.
Eddie Huang Does Kosher
BaoHaus chef Eddie Huang is serving up a multi-course authentic Chinese kosher dinner at Soho’s new kosher hotspot Jezebel. The meal will draw on Huang’s past Chinese New Year dinners and include a few items from BaoHaus’s menu. Scrooges take note: it’s $88 per person, family-style and first come, first served from 1-10PM on Christmas Day.
Christmas in my family means one thing — our annual Dumplings of the World Party. All of our friends come over and spend the evening sitting at little tables around our house shaping potstickers, pierogies, empanadas… the offerings change from year to year, but there are a few favorites that would never be left out — including everyone’s favorite, pillow-y soft barbecue chicken buns.
A kosher answer to the dim sum star, cha siu bao, from the Guangdong region of China, these sweet steamed rolls that house juicy, tender chicken in the center, have been my kryptonite since the day I could chew.
While the meat and dough are a bit time consuming to make, shaping them is less stressful than shaping a soup dumpling, which I showed you how to make last year (check out the video here). The only thing you have to worry about with these petite buns is sealing the dough well enough so that chicken doesn’t get all over your steamer.
On one occasion, Michael Levy just had to say no. While he would try eating dog in China, fried millipedes was just taking it too far. This culinary experience opens the preface to “Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion,” a book about Levy’s two-year stint living in rural China while serving the Peace Corps. The 35-year-old had traveled deep into the interior of China to teach English and learn first-hand about another culture.
Last month, Levy stood before an audience at BookCourt, an independent book store in Brooklyn, where he spoke about his two-year Chinese sojourn. A history teacher at the local Saint Ann’s School, Levy opened his presentation by handing out a quiz for the audience to test how much they knew about China. The Forward caught up with Levy last week by phone to discuss “real Chinese food” vs. American Chinese food, why he was constantly compared to Karl Marx and learning to play mahjong.
‘Twas the night before Christmas (well almost) and Jews around the country were pondering their Chinese dinners. There is a funny history of Jews frequenting Chinese restaurants on Christmas Eve Check out our related video here. For some Jews, Chinese restaurants were the one place where they would order treyf – perhaps because they couldn’t recognize what they were eating or maybe just because they were the only restaurants open on Christmas Eve.
But for so many, Americanized Chinese food means another thing — a terrible headache. With many restaurants still using MSG or other products you’d never dare keep on hand at home, maybe this year we should consider making our own Chinese feasts at home.
While it’s near impossible to replicate the heat of a restaurant wok at home, don’t be intimidated by the cuisine. One of my favorite dishes to make in my kitchen is fried rice. It’s very easy to make delicious fried rice if you have a few key ingredients on hand, including mirin, which is Japanese rice wine and toasted sesame oil, which gives Asian food that amazing, nutty flavor.
Chinese food is the most prolific cuisine on the planet, and, aside from the Chinese themselves, no one loves it more than American Jews, according to Andrew Coe, author of “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.” On Christmas, noodle, rice and savory dish consumption quite possibly peaks among Jews, but this is no new phenomenon. Below, we look at the relationship and history of a food-loving people to a most unlikely cuisine.