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Why Jews Like Chinese Food


Daily Gullet Staff
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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.

Was that statement a slag, or one that is supposed to denote cameraderie? Hmmm, I'm not sure whether to be offended or to laugh.

Edited by cwyc (log)
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I learned that the Cantonese salted and dried foods because they mostly lived on boats with no refrigeration.

Hong Kong is mostly comprised of Cantonese-speaking people, so I suppose the people living on the boats might do that, but there's a huge number of Cantonese in mainland China as well. I think for most Cantonese, salted and dried foods are made for about the same reason anybody else would have them made.

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I learned that the Cantonese salted and dried foods because they mostly lived on boats with no refrigeration.

Hong Kong is mostly comprised of Cantonese-speaking people, so I suppose the people living on the boats might do that, but there's a huge number of Cantonese in mainland China as well. I think for most Cantonese, salted and dried foods are made for about the same reason anybody else would have them made.

If you take a close look at the coastline of the Canton region, you'll see that it's filled with miles and miles of irregular coastline that goes inland and then out to the sea again, inland and out to the sea. It ain't smooth is what I mean to say. This allows for ten fold the number of families which at first glance would fit there. Millions live on boats and historically have had no way to preserve food other than salting, drying or drying to remove water. Even today refrigeration on Cantonese boats is rare.

On my early visits to Chinatown here in Manhattan the shops were filled with cellophane packages of dried everything including shrimps, fish, mushrooms, chestnuts, noodles, and a few unmentionables. I learned a lot by picking up some strange looking thingy and asking someone what it was, and how to prepare it. It took a while until I could convince anyone I was serious, and longer to find anyone who spoke English. I had the feeling people felt I was either well meaning but stupid, or that I'd never understand their cuisine. But this was years ago. Wonderful times, a wonderful people, fantastic cuisine.

Edited by mymymichl (log)
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  • 1 year later...

Ok, so I'm not Jewish, but there are plenty of Jews in my family - all of them eat Chinese food voraciously. My Uncle Harvey used to sit down with my Dad and eat ribs almost non-stop. The contest ended when the first one got indigestion.

But every other Sunday, after church at Saint Brigid's, we would head to New Garden Chinese Restaurant, on Avenue B, somewhere between 8th street and 3rd. I just remember it was on our way home. My grandmother knew the owner, servers, and chefs, all by first name, and they all knew ours.

Alternately, on the off Sundays, we would head down Houston street to Katz's, for corned beef on club bread. We preferred the club to rye, because the rye would turn to mush from the steam emanating off the meat.

I have to admit, our palates had it good when we lived there. I'm in PA now, and you can't get good Chinese food here since Joe died (the owner of my former fave Chinese restaurant, NYC quality), and the Jewish foods, well, since 7th Street Deli closed, the local idea of hot corned beef is to heat it on the flattop until it is crispy. It tasted like jerky gone wild, so I send it back, and never returned to that restaurant again.

It's a good thing I taught myself how to cook a corned beef in the New York City style. Now, if I could only find club bread here....

Theresa :biggrin:

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

- Abraham Lincoln

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Ok, so I'm not Jewish, but there are plenty of Jews in my family - all of them eat Chinese food voraciously.  My Uncle Harvey used to sit down with my Dad and eat ribs almost non-stop.  The contest ended when the first one got indigestion.

But every other Sunday, after church at Saint Brigid's, we would head to New Garden Chinese Restaurant, on Avenue B, somewhere between 8th street and 3rd.  I just remember it was on our way home.  My grandmother knew the owner, servers, and chefs, all by first name, and they all knew ours.

Alternately, on the off Sundays, we would head down Houston street to Katz's, for corned beef on club bread.  We preferred the club to rye, because the rye would turn to mush from the steam emanating off the meat.

I have to admit, our palates had it good when we lived there.  I'm in PA now, and you can't get good Chinese food here since Joe died (the owner of my former fave Chinese restaurant, NYC quality), and the Jewish foods, well, since 7th Street Deli closed, the local idea of hot corned beef is to heat it on the flattop until it is crispy.  It tasted like jerky gone wild, so I send it back, and never returned to that restaurant again.

It's a good thing I taught myself how to cook a corned beef in the New York City style.  Now, if I could only find club bread here....

Theresa :biggrin:

I always chose club rolls for the same reason. Not too many good kosher delis around anymore!

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For years it has been no secret why Jewish peoples go out for Chinese food and almost always early Sunday eve. They eat a late breakfast of bagels, lox, CC, whitefish, sturgeon, and sable such that they get hungry around 5:30, six o'clock and crave an antidote to all that appetizing. What more polar-opposite than Chinese food, especially Cantonese. So-called European/American fine dining is out of the question if only because these restaurants open later, whereas the Chinaman is open all day. Japanese food is also out of the question since lox, sturgeon, etc. are a form of sashimi. Eastern European food is too heavy even though you would expect the Jews to have an affinity for that, given their roots. So there's your answer. Or as my grandmother used to say, "That's it and settled."

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  • 1 year later...
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.

Was that statement a slag, or one that is supposed to denote cameraderie? Hmmm, I'm not sure whether to be offended or to laugh.

My father's family was Jewish, and my mother's Italian-Catholic, so I'd have to say that the social dynamic described, did exist. At least until the dispersal to the 'burbs. Where the "Chinese" food was often Polynesian. I didn't know what the difference was until I was in high school and had a friend who lived in Chinatown.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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  • 2 years later...

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.

I doubt this dynamic/sentiment has died out

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Of course we went out for Chinese food every Sunday, my husband, son and daughter. My daughter, aged 4, always pre-empted the banquette. A few minutes after imbibing the wonton soup, her favorite, she would gently slide sideways and fall into a sound sleep. It took us a while to figure out this was probably because of the MSG and another while to request that the chef leave it out. Problem solved. One of my fondest memories.

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Growing up on the upper west side--and around the corner from Barney Greengrass--the lox and bagels on Sunday morning was a no-brainer. As for dinner on Sunday, it was likely the only night my family ate out, and yes, usually it was Chinese. There must be a myriad of reasons for this tradition. First of all there were a million Chinese restaurants within walking distance. And they were open on Sunday. Now most restaurants that close one night a week chose Monday, but I think it was very common in the 50's and 60's for Italian restaurants to close on Sunday. Another reason why Chinese might have been appealing to extended Jewish families is that cheese and dairy was not a major part of the diet, so anyone who ate semi-Kosher would have a wide array of beef and chicken dishes that were dairy free. And if, like my family, you were into pork and shellfish but didn't typically cook them during the week, this was a big opportunity. Plus, all children eat Chicken Sizzling Rice soup, right? Oh, and don't forget the value of sharing: no one gets stuck with a plate of food they don't like, since Chinese food is the equivalent of eating off each other's plates, only much more civilized.

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As for Christmas, my immediate family gave up on Chinese food... too many restaurant are closed on Christmas. So, on Dec 15 it's Thai food for us!

However, for the last 40 years or so, my entire extended family gets together (usually around 2pm) to celebrate Thanksgiving at Chinese seafood restaurants.

Snails, clams, crabs, salt-pepper shrimp, whole fish, peking pork chops, lots of dim-sum dishes, is on the menu, depending on the restaurant selected for the 14 to 20 people attending.

We give thanks that no one has to cook for a crowd that day. Lauren and I cook a turkey (this year, the first time sous vide) for our immediate family, later in the week.

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