Last week, I offered some homemade latkes to my upstairs neighbor, Caitrin Kiley. As she happily ate a few (with sour cream, for which she has a slight preference over apple sauce), she casually mentioned her family’s Christmas morning tradition.
The Kileys, a Catholic family from Connecticut, have a longstanding routine. Assorted relatives sleep over on Christmas Eve, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to open presents and then they start making breakfast, filling the house with the smell of — what else? — latkes.
How long had this been going on? I asked.
As far as Caitrin knew, her entire life.
Jewish relatives? A few, by marriage, but they don’t come on Christmas.
Some obscure Quebecois custom? Caitrin wasn’t sure. All she knew was that latkes had always been an integral part of her family’s Christmas morning.
God bless America, I thought to myself, and resolved that this merited further investigation.
(Haaretz) — My kids love Christmas. It’s the only time of year we eat Chinese food, a cuisine I’m not particularly fond of. But tradition is tradition, and I’m not the one to break the generations-long ritual of Chinese and a movie.
This tradition is indeed so well established, that when I called to make dinner reservations at our local Chinese restaurant, the friendly receptionist offered me the desirable spot for 4:00 in the afternoon. “But only if you’re done eating by 5:00”, she added.
Hmmm, it might be easier to just make it at home, I thought.
Israeli Jews do not have that special relationship with Chinese food as their American brothers do.
For years, what Israelis did know about the Asian cuisine was delivered to them by original and first Israeli master chef, Israel Aharoni, who opened the first fancy Chinese restaurant in Tel Aviv in the early 80’s and wrote the “Aharoni’s Chinese Cooking” cookbook (in Hebrew) a few years later (the same Aharoni later introduced Israelis to the French and Italian cuisines as well).
Something is special about Wednesday. You may wake up with a warm fuzzy feeling, and perhaps there will be fresh snow on the ground. Smells of sugar and spice might fill your apartment hallways, and outside, all will be quiet. The groceries will be closed, the convenience stores too… and even your Twitter feed will slow to a trickle.
Wednesday is special, very very special. Wednesday… is Chinese food day.
Egg rolls, stir fry, soup dumplings, oh my. (I’m so excited I could cry.)
But you know what could make the day extra special? Freshly made fortune cookies, complete with festive, one-of-a-kind, no-dictionary-needed fortunes.
They’re really not difficult, and they’re a million times better than the restaurant ones.
So go on, give yourself the fortune you always wanted, and have a very Merry Chinese Food Day!
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.
A popular Italian saying advises: “Dress like a Turk, and eat like a Jew.”
Jews have enjoyed an uninterrupted presence in Italy for more than 2,200 years, producing a delicious cuisine with almost endless regional variations, that profoundly affected broader Italian cuisine. Contrary to the all-too-common American assumption that most Jewish food is bland or boring, Jewish Italian cuisine tends to be seen as a delicacy by non-Jewish locals. Some of the most popular restaurants in Rome serve traditional Jewish dishes, like the famous fried artichokes.
Rome’s unofficial Christmas dessert, cassola, or a baked ricotta cheese cake, was originally a Jewish dish. In the 16th century, while some Jewish communities in Northern Italy made a fresh cheese baked sandwich-like dish sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon called pizza dolce, Roman Jews used ricotta to make large sweet pancakes cooked in a skillet. The dish was called “casciola” (from “cascio”, cheese), says Italian food historian A.Toaff in his “Mangiare alla Giudia.”
‘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.
The first Jews to arrive in New Amsterdam in 1654 came fleeing persecution in Brazil. What did they eat for Shabbos when they arrived? Brazilian rice casserole. [JPost]
No plans for Christmas? Make your own fortune cookies at home. [The Kitchn]
A California inmate, who claimed to be celebrating the “Seinfeld” holiday Festivut, “used his devotion to Festivus as an excuse to get kosher meals.” Apparently, he didn’t like the prison’s salami dinners. [KTLA]
Going to be in New York on Christmas and looking for a break from Chinese food? Eater NY gives us a list of 22 restaurants where you can enjoy a delectable meal. If you’re afraid to stray too far from the classic Chinese feast, they recommend trying Brooklyn’s Mile End Deli’s interpretation. [Eater]
‘Tis the season for brisket. It seems brisket recipes are everywhere at the moment. The Kitchn supplies us with a recipe cooked in pomegranate juice from James Peterson’s new book “Meat: A Kitchen Education.” [The Kitchn]