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Why Jews Like Chinese Food

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1205428244/gallery_29805_1195_6256.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an excerpt from eGullet Society member Arthur Schwartz's brand-new book Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted.

Here's an old joke about Jews, Chinese people, and food:

Two Chinese men are walking out of Katz’s Delicatessen. One says to the other, "The problem with Jewish food is that two weeks later you’re hungry again."

Here's another one:

If, according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5764, and, according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 5724, what did the Jews eat for forty years?

That Jews have an affinity for Chinese food is no secret. The Jews know it. The Chinese know it. Everyone knows it. Until the dispersal of middle-class Jews to the New York suburbs was complete in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese take-out shops opened on every corner of the city. It was said that you could tell how Jewish a neighborhood was by the number of Chinese restaurants.

Going out "to eat Chinese" continues to be a Sunday ritual for many Jewish families; even kosher families know that there are many kosher Chinese restaurants. In Brooklyn, there’s one called Shang Chai, a play on the Hebrew word for "life," chai. Any Sunday at 6 p.m., step into Shun Lee West on West 64th Street, the Upper West Side’s upscale Chinese restaurant, and you’d think they were holding a bar mitzvah reception.

Here's another joke, although it's no joke:

What do Jews do on Christmas? They eat Chinese and go to the movies.

Eat Chinese because those were the only restaurants open on Christmas. Go to the movies because all the Christians were home, and you could get into the theater without waiting on line.

That the Chinese are not Christian is important to understanding the appeal of the Chinese restaurant to Jews. If you went to an Italian restaurant, which, aside from the coffee shop, the luncheonette, or the deli, was likely the only kind of restaurant in your neighborhood before the American food revolution, you might encounter a crucifix hanging over the cash register, or at least a picture of the Madonna or a saint. That was pretty intimidating to even a nonobservant Jew. The Chinese restaurant might have had a Buddha somewhere in sight, but Buddha was merely a rotund, smiling statue -- he looked like your fat Uncle Jack. He wasn't intimidating at all.

Important, too, was that the Chinese were even lower on the social scale than the Jews. Jews didn't have to feel competitive with the Chinese, as they might with Italians. Indeed, they could feel superior. As Philip Roth points out in Portnoy's Complaint, to a Chinese waiter, a Jew was just another white guy.

Italians didn't go out to eat as much as Jews. Italian-Americans spent Sunday afternoons gathering in large family groups, eating Italian food at home. The Italians and Jews continued to live together when they left their immigrant ghettos on the Lower East Side and started moving to the boroughs, along with the Chinese who wanted to leave the impoverished conditions of the Lower East Side as much as any other group. The Chinese that lived among the Jews and Italians in the boroughs were the owners of the restaurants and the hand laundries.

So the Jews' proximity to Chinese restaurants was important, and let's not discount the fact that Chinese food tastes good and costs little. When I asked my parents why, when they were courting in the 1940s, their dates always ended with a Chinese meal, and why we continued to eat in Chinese restaurants as a family more often than at other kinds of restaurants, the answer was simple and obvious. They could afford it. In their youth, during and right after World War II, a classic combination plate of egg roll, fried rice, and usually chow mein cost 25 cents.

The attraction of the forbidden aspects of Chinese food should not be underestimated, either. Eating forbidden foods validates your Americanness: it is an indication that you have "arrived." Although both Italian and Chinese cuisines feature many foods that are proscribed by the Jewish dietary laws, such as pork, shrimp, clams, and lobster, there are two big differences. The Chinese don't combine dairy and meat in the same dish, as Italians do -- in fact, the Chinese don't eat dairy products at all. And the Chinese cut their food into small pieces before it is cooked, disguising the nonkosher foods. This last aspect seems silly, but it is a serious point. My late cousin Daniel, who kept kosher, along with many other otherwise observant people I have known, happily ate roast pork fried rice and egg foo yung. "What I can’t see won’t hurt me," was Danny’s attitude.

Even Jews who maintained kosher homes often cheated by serving Chinese takeout on paper plates. I had one neighbor who would only let her family eat Chinese on paper plates in the basement, lest the neighbors across the alley that divided the houses only by about ten feet should look into her kitchen window and see those telltale white containers on the table.

<div align="center">+ + +</div>

Chinese Roast Meat on Garlic Bread with Duck Sauce

This is an exquisite example of Jewish crossover food, "fusion food" these days. It was a dish that made first- and second-generation Jews of the 1950s, Jews who no longer abided by the kosher laws, feel like they were truly Americans as well as urbane and sophisticated. Imagine what a scandal it was to observant parents and grandparents, what a delicious act of defiant assimilation it was, to eat Chinese roast pork on Italian garlic bread.

This was invented in the Catskills and brought back to Brooklyn where, today, substituting roasted veal for the trayf meat, the sandwich survives in kosher delicatessens in Brooklyn and Queens. (It is particularly well done at Adelman's, a delicatessen on King's Highway and Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.) With pork, it is also a hot item in diners on the South Shore of Long Island, where Jews from Brooklyn and Queens moved decades ago.

By all accounts, the sandwich was created sometime in the mid-1950s at Herbie's in Loch Sheldrake, New York. It was the most popular Jewish-style deli-restaurant in the area. According to Freddie Roman, the Borscht Belt comic who years later starred in the nostalgia show Catskills on Broadway, Herbie's was where all the entertainers would gather after their last shows at the hotel nightclubs. "Specifically for that sandwich," says Freddie. "And everyone else had to eat what the celebrities ate."

Herbie's sandwich of Chinese Roast Pork on Italian Garlic Bread was so popular among the summer crowd in "The Mountains," that it was imitated back in "The City." I remember when it was introduced at Martin's and Senior's, two fabulously successful, middle-class family restaurants on Nostrand Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

In just a few years, it seemed Chinese roast pork on garlic bread became so popular in the southern tier of Brooklyn communities -- from Canarsie through Mill Basin to Bay Ridge -- that every diner and coffee shop made it. The sandwich even made it to Manhattan in the 1960s, at a place called The Flick, an ice cream parlor and casual restaurant near the then-new movie houses on Third Avenue.

Eventually, Herbie's, which closed in Loch Sheldrake only several years ago, opened Herbie's International on Avenue N in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, where many of its Borscht Belt customers lived. It, too, was a well-priced family restaurant, serving, as its name was meant to imply, a little of this and a little of that from all over. But, as would be expected in this neck of the woods, "international" was really limited to red-sauced southern Italian, Cantonese-American Chinese, and a few specialties of the Yiddish kitchen. Maybe they served French crêpes, too.

Herbie's original sandwich was undoubtedly made with something other than real butter. Who knows what grease Herbie used. And the garlic flavor may have come from garlic powder, not fresh garlic. There are garlic spreads available in some supermarkets that probably come pretty close to the original flavor. If making the sandwich with pork, you might as well use butter and chopped fresh garlic. Of course, to make it a kosher meat sandwich (using veal), the fat would have to be vegetable-oil based, like olive oil. If you are making a kosher sandwich with veal, using olive oil and chopped garlic not only makes it kosher but also more contemporary. In that case, leave off the Chinese duck sauce, too, and douse the meat with balsamic vinegar. There should be a certain "white bread" quality to the roll with either version. The duck sauce used to flavor the meat is an apricot-based, sweet condiment; Saucy Susan is a popular brand.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil

8 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 (6- to 7-inch) French-style loaves, not too crusty nor too firm

1 pound Chinese-style red-roasted pork, or plain roast veal

Duck sauce or balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Chinese mustard (optional)

To prepare the bread, in a small bowl, make garlic butter by working the butter and minced garlic together with a fork until well combined. For an oil dressing, combine the olive oil and garlic. Let the spread stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat the bread directly on the middle rack of the oven for about 3 minutes, until hot. Leave the oven on. Remove the loaves from the oven; for each loaf, hold it with a potholder and halve it the long way with a serrated knife.

Spread the cut sides of each loaf with garlic butter or drizzle with the garlic oil. Place the loaf halves, spread-side up, on the middle oven rack and toast until the edges are browned.

To assemble the sandwiches, arrange a layer of sliced roast meat on the bottom half of each loaf. Drizzle the meat with about 2 tablespoons of duck sauce, and then very lightly with Chinese mustard.

Serve open with the top half of the bread, spread-side up, alongside the meat-filled bottom.

<div align="center">+ + +</div>

Chinese-American Chow Mein

There was absolutely nothing trayf about basic chow mein. The base was all vegetables. It could even be served in a dairy restaurant, and it was. Sure it could be topped with roast pork or shrimp, but it was just as Chinese topped with chicken or beef, or nothing. Chow mein became mainstream New York food in the 1930s. It was on the menus of kosher and nonkosher restaurants, and hardly a specialty of just Chinese restaurants. Even the chichi Stork Club had a whole list of different chow mein choices. At the other end of the spectrum entirely, Nathan’s, the hot dog emporium on Coney Island, featured chow mein on a hamburger bun garnished with crisp fried noodles. It still does.

Serves 3 or 4

2 tablespoons peanut, canola, or corn oil

2 medium-large onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

4 ribs celery, thinly cut on a sharp diagonal (about 2 cups)

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

11/2 cups sliced white mushrooms (about 5 ounces)

11/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1/2 cup sliced fresh water chestnuts (optional)

About 2 cups white meat chicken, cooked any way and cut into strips (or red-roasted Chinese pork or veal, or sliced steak or roast beef)

Fried Chinese noodles, available at any supermarket

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and celery and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are slightly wilted.

Add the garlic and mushrooms and stir-fry just 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, cover the pot, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small cup, with a fork, blend together the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth and the sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch.

Uncover the pot and stir in the bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Give the cornstarch mixture a final stir to make sure the starch is dissolved. Add it to the pot and stir it until the liquid in the pot is thickened. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt or soy sauce.

Serve immediately, topped with the chicken, on a bed of fried Chinese noodles. It is best when eaten immediately, but you can reheat it, gently, if need be, adding a bit more liquid as necessary.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

Arthur Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based food critic, writer, and media personality. New York Times Magazine has called him "a walking Google of food and restaurant knowledge." His five previously published cookbooks include the IACP award-winning and James Beard award-nominated Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food. Read his 2004 eG Forums Q&A here.

Excerpted from Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted by Arthur Schwartz, copyright © 2008. Reprinted with permission by Ten Speed Press.

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Doodad   

I always like the joke of Christmas being the "festival of immediate seating."

I work for a Jewish company and really admire their culture and attitudes towards life and food.

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I am half Jewish and the nostalgia that sandwich and that chow mein brings back is funny ...there were Jewish enclaves where I lived in Providence but some fo the best Chinese was directly near Italian bakeries! ....really funny having grown up in a Southern Italian neighborhood raised by women from the Caribbean (the stories I could tell about what I ate growing up!!! very lucky!!) imagine patties with duck sauce instead of chutney! ...

anyway the garlic bread worked perfectly and we would dump any of our Chinese food left overs on it ..not just the bbq pork ...but always the hot mustard on the bread chinese food in the middle and duck sauce on top ..I loved to mix it up too so my sandwich was always way too big for my mouth ..we also topped ours with garlic bread .then drank cream soda from the Jewish deli with them!


why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Arthur's piece explaining why Jews love Chinese food brought back to mind my teen years in the 1950's, and the ONLY Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood. My parents would take our family there on Sundays, and sit in the back so no one could see us. What then passed as Chinese food would be called 'dreck' today. Pitiful.

I grew up pouring duck and hoisin sauces on everything I ate. Miraculously, my taste buds survived. Eons later I discovered Chinatown here in New York because my bicycle route to my grad school on Trinity Place took me through it. The WTC was under construction. I dallied in the shops which sold herbs, noodles, mysterious dried things in noisy cellophane bags. I was literally blown away by the colorful fish and produce stalls with the most beautifully displayed food I ever saw. I learned that the Cantonese salted and dried foods because they mostly lived on boats with no refrigeration.

Gaining courage, I'd hang out in back alleys that opened into kitchen doors while cooks worked both inside and out prepping food. I was a terrible pest, asking what this or that was, and getting the same reply, "sometheen chinee". I'd good naturedly cuss at them and demand explanations, and when I was finally taken seriously, my education began. Occasionally I'd see some strange looking thing on a shop, and bring it to my adopted freinds, and they'd show me what it was and how to prepare it. They delighted in having an American college student so interested in their food. In time, my interest in getting my MBA started to diminish as my love of cooking grew.

I also made a few bad choices, like the sea cucumber which left the most awful taste that lasted for hours, and the steamed turtle which my hosts insisted that I try. Don't ask. But despite those two memorables, I still taste everyting.

I can't imagine why anyone would feel the need to explain why Jews love Chinese food with a passion. The real stuff is, as in most cuisines, a work of art.


Edited by mymymichl (log)

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mizducky   

Heh. Nice Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York right here, been eating Chinese restaurant food literally as long as I can remember--my very first and earliest memory, dating from shortly before age 2, is that of my parents taking me to the local Chinese restaurant for the very first time. Which would put that event around 1958 or so. Even the restaurant's name and decor are etched on my memory: China Pearl, in Pearl River, Rockland County NY. A little creative Googling shows that, while this restaurant is long gone, a a succession of other Chinese restaurants have occupied its former site.

Interestingly, I never encountered that roast meat-on-garlic bread combo Mr. Schwartz describes so vividly. I suspect that, when my parents took me to Jewish deli restaurants, they trained me to fixate in on the pastrami and beef tongue sandwiches almost to the exclusion of everything else. "What, we go to the trouble of taking you to a deli and you order something other than proper deli food?!?" :laugh:

For that matter, I don't recall us eating chow mein all that much either when I was growing up. My family's favorites when we "went out for Chinese" were lo mein, moo goo gaipan, egg fu yung, and shrimp in lobster sauce (the dietary laws had already been ditched back in my grandparents' generation).

But yeah--American Jews and Chinese food. Just something about that combination. Thanks for the memories!

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One of my very earliest foodie memories is eating Lobster Cantonese (the dietary laws never applied in my family either) at about the age of four with both of my parents at the local Chinese restaurant. I still love Lobster Cantonese and even Shrimp in Lobster sauce (which is fairly similar) brings back those sense memories for me. It tastes like my childhood. It tastes like dinner with both my mom and my dad. This and drinking coffee (70% milk, 30% coffee and tons of sugar - more like melted coffee ice cream) with my dad for breakfast is a very powerful memory. My dad passed when I was five years old, so this is something really near and dear to my heart.

Thanks for this. It's really heartwarming.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Ah, a topic near and dear to my heart. I love Chinese food more than most Jews. I could eat it every day forever.

I am currently reading The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee (yes, her middle name is 8 ), which is a history of Chinese food in America, and there is a whole chapter on this.

The book is great, BTW. A must read for any lover of American Chinese food, Jew or Gentile.

See also: Safe Treyf. http://soc.qc.cuny.edu/Staff/levine/SAFE-TREYF.pdf


Edited by Turtleboy (log)

I let Jsmeeker tell me where to eat in Vegas.

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JTravel   
I am currently reading The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee (yes, her middle name is 8 ), which is a history of Chinese food in America, and there is a whole chapter on this.

Not by accident that the Beijing Olympics start on 08/08/08 ! Very lucky number in Chinese.

Going looking for that book now.

J

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I'm enjoying the book. She goes through the whole "Chop Suey" stories, and travels to China to search for General Tso's descendants, who of course know nothing of his chicken.


I let Jsmeeker tell me where to eat in Vegas.

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I am currently reading The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee (yes, her middle name is 8 ), which is a history of Chinese food in America, and there is a whole chapter on this.

Not by accident that the Beijing Olympics start on 08/08/08 ! Very lucky number in Chinese.

Going looking for that book now.

J

Here's a link that will get you the book, and send a few yuan the Society's way as well: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food


Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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My father was raised in a kosher home in Russia, and became a Socialist as a young man, abandoning religion and dietary rules, but he still still refused to eat bacon and any sort of pork. The idea made his stomach turn. But he loved lobster cantonese. He just blithely ignored what was not immediately apparent! What you don't know doesn't make you ill.


Edited by joancassell (log)

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I am Chinese and I love Jewish food.

You beat me to the punch, or in this case, to the keyboard!

i saw the look on my chinese sister in law when she was first confronted with jewish american deli food. it was pure-focused-on-the-food bliss and admiration.

i'm writing a piece right now on a pesach seder in beijing, ashkenazic foods prepared by chinese cooks, and never ever ever have i been to a seder elsewhere that the vegetables were SO CRISP! and the chopped liver so light and fluffy (hand chopped). and the eggs for dipping into our salt-water-tears, well they were tea eggs.

x marlena


Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Who doesn't like Chinese food?

As per the title of the reference book in the above post, I think Jewish people, at least those of Ashkenazi heritage, were familiar with noodles. I'm not going to argue that a Lokshen is anything like a Ho-fun, but the shared tradition could be a contributing (albeit tiny) factor.

For me, as a voracious Chinese-food eating jew, I personally really like the fact I can get brisket at chinese places. Beef noodle soup with brisket, beef brisket curry, brisket hotpot with turnips, etc. etc. Chinese places are pretty much the only other venues where brisket always available.

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Who doesn't like Chinese food?

As per the title of the reference book in the above post, I think Jewish people, at least those of Ashkenazi heritage, were familiar with noodles.  I'm not going to argue that a Lokshen is anything like a Ho-fun, but the shared tradition could be a contributing (albeit tiny) factor.

For me, as a voracious Chinese-food eating jew, I personally really like the fact I can get brisket at chinese places.  Beef noodle soup with brisket, beef brisket curry, brisket hotpot with turnips, etc. etc.  Chinese places are pretty much the only other venues where brisket always available.

Interesting.

I still think it's mostly that there was no dairy. Even people who didn't keep kosher mentally found mixing milk and meat disgusting. I still do, and I love me some pork ribs and shrimp.


I let Jsmeeker tell me where to eat in Vegas.

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Everyone knows that the only place pork is kosher is in an eggroll.....Bravo Arthur! My bubbe is smiling down on you!


BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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Please let us know when your piece runs Marlena---we look forward to it!


BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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For me, as a voracious Chinese-food eating jew, I personally really like the fact I can get brisket at chinese places. Beef noodle soup with brisket, beef brisket curry, brisket hotpot with turnips, etc. etc. Chinese places are pretty much the only other venues where brisket always available.

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Please let us know when your piece runs Marlena---we look forward to it!

thank you, you're sweet, BeefCheeks!

It should run the wed that preceeds Pesach, in the sf chronicle, at sfgate.com

right now am trying to get my recipe for tea eggs right, and figure out the other dish or two i might include. they had lovely cucumber salad, and chinese cucumber salad is surprisingly like ashkanzi cucumber salad. both are delish! so i might include.

and i'm worrying that my story part of the column won't be as funny or evocative or as alive as i want it to be--it truly was the most amazing evening. if there are any jews out there in beijing looking for a place to do seder, contact kehillat beijing, as they have a big community seder. its touching and wonderful.

x marlena


Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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just saw the thread. Marlena, I sure hope you include the cucumber salad recipe. I like a good asian cucumber salad, they are so refreshing.


Lauren

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1205428244/gallery_29805_1195_6256.jpg"  hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an excerpt from eGullet Society member Arthur Schwartz's brand-new book Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted.

Here's an old joke about Jews, Chinese people, and food:

Two Chinese men are walking out of Katz’s Delicatessen. One says to the other, "The problem with Jewish food is that two weeks later you’re hungry again."

Here's another one:

If, according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5764, and, according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 5724, what did the Jews eat for forty years?

That Jews have an affinity for Chinese food is no secret. The Jews know it. The Chinese know it. Everyone knows it. Until the dispersal of middle-class Jews to the New York suburbs was complete in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese take-out shops opened on every corner of the city. It was said that you could tell how Jewish a neighborhood was by the number of Chinese restaurants.

Going out "to eat Chinese" continues to be a Sunday ritual for many Jewish families; even kosher families know that there are many kosher Chinese restaurants. In Brooklyn, there’s one called Shang Chai, a play on the Hebrew word for "life," chai. Any Sunday at 6 p.m., step into Shun Lee West on West 64th Street, the Upper West Side’s upscale Chinese restaurant, and you’d think they were holding a bar mitzvah reception.

Here's another joke, although it's no joke:

What do Jews do on Christmas? They eat Chinese and go to the movies.

Eat Chinese because those were the only restaurants open on Christmas. Go to the movies because all the Christians were home, and you could get into the theater without waiting on line.

That the Chinese are not Christian is important to understanding the appeal of the Chinese restaurant to Jews. If you went to an Italian restaurant, which, aside from the coffee shop, the luncheonette, or the deli, was likely the only kind of restaurant in your neighborhood before the American food revolution, you might encounter a crucifix hanging over the cash register, or at least a picture of the Madonna or a saint. That was pretty intimidating to even a nonobservant Jew. The Chinese restaurant might have had a Buddha somewhere in sight, but Buddha was merely a rotund, smiling statue -- he looked like your fat Uncle Jack. He wasn't intimidating at all.

Important, too, was that the Chinese were even lower on the social scale than the Jews. Jews didn't have to feel competitive with the Chinese, as they might with Italians. Indeed, they could feel superior. As Philip Roth points out in Portnoy's Complaint, to a Chinese waiter, a Jew was just another white guy.

Italians didn't go out to eat as much as Jews. Italian-Americans spent Sunday afternoons gathering in large family groups, eating Italian food at home. The Italians and Jews continued to live together when they left their immigrant ghettos on the Lower East Side and started moving to the boroughs, along with the Chinese who wanted to leave the impoverished conditions of the Lower East Side as much as any other group. The Chinese that lived among the Jews and Italians in the boroughs were the owners of the restaurants and the hand laundries.

So the Jews' proximity to Chinese restaurants was important, and let's not discount the fact that Chinese food tastes good and costs little. When I asked my parents why, when they were courting in the 1940s, their dates always ended with a Chinese meal, and why we continued to eat in Chinese restaurants as a family more often than at other kinds of restaurants, the answer was simple and obvious.  They could afford it. In their youth, during and right after World War II, a classic combination plate of egg roll, fried rice, and usually chow mein cost 25 cents.

The attraction of the forbidden aspects of Chinese food should not be underestimated, either. Eating forbidden foods validates your Americanness: it is an indication that you have "arrived." Although both Italian and Chinese cuisines feature many foods that are proscribed by the Jewish dietary laws, such as pork, shrimp, clams, and lobster, there are two big differences. The Chinese don't combine dairy and meat in the same dish, as Italians do -- in fact, the Chinese don't eat dairy products at all. And the Chinese cut their food into small pieces before it is cooked, disguising the nonkosher foods. This last aspect seems silly, but it is a serious point. My late cousin Daniel, who kept kosher, along with many other otherwise observant people I have known, happily ate roast pork fried rice and egg foo yung. "What I can’t see won’t hurt me," was Danny’s attitude.

Even Jews who maintained kosher homes often cheated by serving Chinese takeout on paper plates. I had one neighbor who would only let her family eat Chinese on paper plates in the basement, lest the neighbors across the alley that divided the houses only by about ten feet should look into her kitchen window and see those telltale white containers on the table.

<div align="center">+ + +</div>

Chinese Roast Meat on Garlic Bread with Duck Sauce

This is an exquisite example of Jewish crossover food, "fusion food" these days. It was a dish that made first- and second-generation Jews of the 1950s, Jews who no longer abided by the kosher laws, feel like they were truly Americans as well as urbane and sophisticated. Imagine what a scandal it was to observant parents and grandparents, what a delicious act of defiant assimilation it was, to eat Chinese roast pork on Italian garlic bread.

This was invented in the Catskills and brought back to Brooklyn where, today, substituting roasted veal for the trayf meat, the sandwich survives in kosher delicatessens in Brooklyn and Queens. (It is particularly well done at Adelman's, a delicatessen on King's Highway and Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.) With pork, it is also a hot item in diners on the South Shore of Long Island, where Jews from Brooklyn and Queens moved decades ago.

By all accounts, the sandwich was created sometime in the mid-1950s at Herbie's in Loch Sheldrake, New York. It was the most popular Jewish-style deli-restaurant in the area. According to Freddie Roman, the Borscht Belt comic who years later starred in the nostalgia show Catskills on Broadway, Herbie's was where all the entertainers would gather after their last shows at the hotel nightclubs. "Specifically for that sandwich," says Freddie. "And everyone else had to eat what the celebrities ate."

Herbie's sandwich of Chinese Roast Pork on Italian Garlic Bread was so popular among the summer crowd in "The Mountains," that it was imitated back in "The City." I remember when it was introduced at Martin's and Senior's, two fabulously successful, middle-class family restaurants on Nostrand Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

In just a few years, it seemed Chinese roast pork on garlic bread became so popular in the southern tier of Brooklyn communities -- from Canarsie through Mill Basin to Bay Ridge -- that every diner and coffee shop made it. The sandwich even made it to Manhattan in the 1960s, at a place called The Flick, an ice cream parlor and casual restaurant near the then-new movie houses on Third Avenue.

Eventually, Herbie's, which closed in Loch Sheldrake only several years ago, opened Herbie's International on Avenue N in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, where many of its Borscht Belt customers lived. It, too, was a well-priced family restaurant, serving, as its name was meant to imply, a little of this and a little of that from all over. But, as would be expected in this neck of the woods, "international" was really limited to red-sauced southern Italian, Cantonese-American Chinese, and a few specialties of the Yiddish kitchen. Maybe they served French crêpes, too.

Herbie's original sandwich was undoubtedly made with something other than real butter. Who knows what grease Herbie used. And the garlic flavor may have come from garlic powder, not fresh garlic. There are garlic spreads available in some supermarkets that probably come pretty close to the original flavor. If making the sandwich with pork, you might as well use butter and chopped fresh garlic. Of course, to make it a kosher meat sandwich (using veal), the fat would have to be vegetable-oil based, like olive oil. If you are making a kosher sandwich with veal, using olive oil and chopped garlic not only makes it kosher but also more contemporary. In that case, leave off the Chinese duck sauce, too, and douse the meat with balsamic vinegar. There should be a certain "white bread" quality to the roll with either version. The duck sauce used to flavor the meat is an apricot-based, sweet condiment; Saucy Susan is a popular brand.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil

8 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 (6- to 7-inch) French-style loaves, not too crusty nor too firm

1 pound Chinese-style red-roasted pork, or plain roast veal

Duck sauce or balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Chinese mustard (optional)

To prepare the bread, in a small bowl, make garlic butter by working the butter and minced garlic together with a fork until well combined. For an oil dressing, combine the olive oil and garlic. Let the spread stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat the bread directly on the middle rack of the oven for about 3 minutes, until hot. Leave the oven on. Remove the loaves from the oven; for each loaf, hold it with a potholder and halve it the long way with a serrated knife.

Spread the cut sides of each loaf with garlic butter or drizzle with the garlic oil. Place the loaf halves, spread-side up, on the middle oven rack and toast until the edges are browned.

To assemble the sandwiches, arrange a layer of sliced roast meat on the bottom half of each loaf. Drizzle the meat with about 2 tablespoons of duck sauce, and then very lightly with Chinese mustard.

Serve open with the top half of the bread, spread-side up, alongside the meat-filled bottom.

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Chinese-American Chow Mein

There was absolutely nothing trayf about basic chow mein. The base was all vegetables. It could even be served in a dairy restaurant, and it was. Sure it could be topped with roast pork or shrimp, but it was just as Chinese topped with chicken or beef, or nothing. Chow mein became mainstream New York food in the 1930s. It was on the menus of kosher and nonkosher restaurants, and hardly a specialty of just Chinese restaurants. Even the chichi Stork Club had a whole list of different chow mein choices. At the other end of the spectrum entirely, Nathan’s, the hot dog emporium on Coney Island, featured chow mein on a hamburger bun garnished with crisp fried noodles. It still does.

Serves 3 or 4

2 tablespoons peanut, canola, or corn oil

2 medium-large onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

4 ribs celery, thinly cut on a sharp diagonal (about 2 cups)

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

11/2 cups sliced white mushrooms (about 5 ounces)

11/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1/2 cup sliced fresh water chestnuts (optional)

About 2 cups white meat chicken, cooked any way and cut into strips (or red-roasted Chinese pork or veal, or sliced steak or roast beef)

Fried Chinese noodles, available at any supermarket

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and celery and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are slightly wilted.

Add the garlic and mushrooms and stir-fry just 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, cover the pot, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small cup, with a fork, blend together the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth and the sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch.

Uncover the pot and stir in the bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Give the cornstarch mixture a final stir to make sure the starch is dissolved. Add it to the pot and stir it until the liquid in the pot is thickened. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt or soy sauce.

Serve immediately, topped with the chicken, on a bed of fried Chinese noodles. It is best when eaten immediately, but you can reheat it, gently, if need be, adding a bit more liquid as necessary.

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Arthur Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based food critic, writer, and media personality. New York Times Magazine has called him "a walking Google of food and restaurant knowledge." His five previously published cookbooks include the IACP award-winning and James Beard award-nominated Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food. Read his 2004 eG Forums Q&A here.

Excerpted from Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted by Arthur Schwartz, copyright © 2008. Reprinted with permission by Ten Speed Press.

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Matthew, thanks. That sandwich sounded so good I tried it. Of course never being able to leave well enough alone, I turned it into a panini. That little crunch on the bread made the sandwich less easy to stuff into my mouth, enabling me to savor it longer.

Also, thanks for the old jokes, the very, very old jokes. :)

Cheers,

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