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Jews and Chinese Food


Gary Soup
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Thanks for the link, Gary. We have a Jewish friend in Brooklyn. He's been pretty sheltered... 58 years old...was in a bit of cultural shcok when he visited us in Canada acouple summers ago. I'll forward the link to him and maybe he'll be braver next trip up.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Actually, Jews have been eating Chinese food for about 1000 years.

http://www.sino-judaic.org

The Jews of Kaifeng

http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/china.htm

There was a sizeable community of Jews living in the ancestral Chinese capital of Kaifeng since around 960-1000 AD or so. They migrated from Iraq, were welcomed and protected by the Emperor of China and many attained full Mandarin status. They were known as "The Sect that Plucks out the Sinews" and "The Sect that Teaches the Scriptures". They apparently had kosher shops and built a synagogue.

So the fact that Jews like Chinese food is no coincidence. Some of us BECAME Chinese.

During the 166 years beginning in 960 C.E., China was ruled by the emperors of the Song Dynasty from their capital at Kaifeng, a bustling metropolis straddling the legendary Silk Road that linked their sprawling domain to its trading partners in the West. And it was sometime during this period that a band of wandering Jews-probably merchants (or perhaps refugees) of Persian birth or descent passed through the gates of the city and was granted an audience in the imperial palace. The emperor graciously accepted the tribute of cotton goods they had brought to him, saying, "You have come to our China. Respect and preserve the customs of your ancestors, and hand them down here in Pien-liang [Kaifeng]."

Centuries later, in 1489, the grateful descendants of these newcomers inscribed the emperor's words (or, at any rate, what were purported to have been his words) on a stone tablet which they placed in the courtyard of the resplendent synagogue their more immediate forebears had constructed in the year 1163 at the intersection of Kaifeng's Earth Market and Fire God Streets. This monument is now among the holdings of the municipal museum of Kaifeng.

To this day, several hundred residents of the old Song capital continue to think of themselves as bona fide members of the House of Israel. They hold firm to this belief despite the fact that their features are indistinguishable from those of their neighbors, they have had no rabbi for the better part of two centuries, no synagogue or other communal organization for several generations, and remember virtually nothing of the faith and traditions of their ancestors. Quite surprisingly, the street on which many them now live bears a sign that was erected somewhat less than a hundred years ago and whose Chinese characters read "The Lane of the Sect that Teaches the Scriptures." However, it is exceedingly rare, one would suppose, that a passerby is moved to ask how and why a small street in the middle of China came to bear so unusual a name.

Jason Perlow, Co-Founder eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

Foodies who Review South Florida (Facebook) | offthebroiler.com - Food Blog (archived) | View my food photos on Instagram

Twittter: @jperlow | Mastodon @jperlow@journa.host

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If you are Jewish (especially New York Jewish) you know why this link is seasonal. It's a fascinating dissertation, and at the same time kinda funny for its seriousness. (Maybe we just like Chinese food because we're smarter.)

Safe Treyf: New York Jews and Chinese Food

I certainly appreciate the article but somehow feel that the Authors missed far to many points.

[1] That price was the most important point

[2] Enjoying the Forbidden Fruits: IE:

Lobster Cantonese, the cheapest best tasting Lobster anywhere

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce or Shrimp with Chinese Vegetables or Butterfly Shrimp

Roast Pork Cantonese, Pork Spareribs, Roast Pork with Chinese Vegetables

Egg Foo Young, Fried Rice, Lo Mein, Chop Suey, Chow Mein in all variations

Won Ton Soup, Egg Drop Soup, Fortune Cookies, Ice Cream and Jello

These were the basic's of Jewish NYC Chinese Food in the 1950s and 60's.

The next step was SubGum Chow Mein and subtle variations thru the 60's.

The introduction of Kosher Style Chinese Food at Schmulka Bernsteins together with Kosher Pizza started the spread into the Kosher Community.

Many Jews still kept Kosher at home, but somehow rationalized that eating Chinese on special occassions was okay.

My inlaws kept Kosher at home, but on Saturdays since the owned a business on the lower east side were closed but reguarly ate Chinese Food out at restaurants, never brought take out home or for some reason never ate Ham or mixed Meat with Dairy.

Somehow this didn't apply to Ice Cream at Chinese Restaurants or Pork, Shrimps or Lobster but Ham or Pork Chops wasn't allowed.

I never understood that rationale. It also was extended to Nathans at Coney Island or Lundys Restaurant at Sheepshead Bay where the Shore Dinner was permited with it Chowder, Lobster, Steamed Clams and again Ice Cream on the Pie a La Mode oh I also forget Juniors Restaurant on Flatbush Avenue also met the criteria.

I remember that when I opened Lindys in Hong Kong that my comment to Walter Cronkite on CBS news that we opened Lindy's in Hong Kong because if you saw a lot of Chinese Restaurants in NYC ir ment you were in a Jewish Neighborhood that opening in Hong Kong was only a way to get even was repeated Coast to Coast over 5 times by popular demand, plus the NY Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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Jason, I actually have a cousin (2nd cousin? 3rd cousin? something like that) on my mother's side who is or was a Communist and went to China after the Communist Revolution, became a Chinese citizen, served as some kind of culture official and, I think, translator in Shanghai, and married a Han Chinese woman. I've seen him, his wife, and his daughter (I think it was) on TV a few times (that show Looking East). The kid looked very Chinese - to my eyes, anyway. So in addition to the community in Kaifeng, I know of at least one Jewish Chinese man who doesn't trace his ancestry to Kaifeng.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Yes, there were no recipes, not even for Chinese food!

Yes, the paper tries to be 'sociology'. I know little about sociology, maybe even less than about Chinese food, but my wife got her Ph.D. from essentially the most 'mathematical' and 'scientific' 'school' of sociology -- J. Coleman, etc. -- and I will never forget that case of "participant observation"!

Since the paper appears to have been published, in perhaps a peer-reviewed journal of original research, I hesitate to comment. Fortunately, I was able to overcome this hesitation and continue!

The paper starts out by quoting Max Weber. Yup, sounds like the authors are trying to suck up to the reviewers! Or, in the universal wisdom of one Julia Roberts movie, sucking up is what people really like!

Notable is their:

"APPENDIX: Research Methods

Social scientists' discussions of methods usually focus exclusively on techniques used to identify and test hypotheses. We are including as well certain shared characteristics of our individual backgrounds and sociological orientations that helped turn our lifelong delight in Chinese food into a research problem that informed our approach. As Krieger suggested, we have found in conducting research in general, and especially in this project, that our visceral reactions to questions and data are often empirically relevant and theoretically revelatory."

Yup, one of the scientific approaches and mathematical methods commonly proposed to be used in research in sociology is testing hypotheses. Yup, that paper has nothing to do with testing hypotheses.

Their "exclusively" sounds like they want something else? Well, there is more mathematics! Ah, shucks! Wait 'till they get ahold of some of the other relevant mathematics! Poor people; I will feel sorry for them; I really will!

Ah, "visceral reactions" are "theoretically revelatory"? Or, as a 'scientist' we should say, in the words of some fundamental Christians, or possibly Max Weber and his 'The Protestant Work Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism', that they were not showing enough "work ethic", were being 'slackers', and were "back sliding"! Among some fundamental Christians, "back sliding" is something to be avoided and otherwise corrected ASAP! There are many examples of back sliding: Playing out of tune, eating too much, giving in to emotions, and the authors appear to be guilty of at least the last two! Shame!

As science, the paper fills a much needed gap in the literature and would be illuminating if ignited!

Apparently the authors took a wrong turn somewhere in the freshman registration line: They really wanted to pursue communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion with pathos and poignancy -- wanted to be English majors!

The paper would have been enormously improved with a really good recipe and details for, and photographs of, General Tso's Chicken!

Are the authors' "revelatory" "visceral reactions" the same as reading ones own entrails?

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Do Jews as a group eat more Chinese food than similarly situated non-Jews?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Bookmarked for later reading--------as I am on my way to NYC to have Dim Sum with Jewish friends!! (I'm not Jewish) One of the couples had their wedding in a Chinese restaurant with a wonderful Chinese banquet.

AAMOF -- my last 3 times in Chinese restaurants was with with Jewish people!

I look forward to reading the article --- and e-mailing it to my Jewish friends.

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This may have been touched upon in the essay, but if there is such a thing as a Jewish affinity for Chinese food, could part of it be that the Jews and Chinese often occupied adjacent real estate in many large cities around the turn of the century and onwards for the next half century?

That's certainly the case in Toronto, where the original Chinatown grew up in and around what used to be the garment district on Spadina Avenue.

The other point of affinity may have been that both Jews and Chinese were outsiders in early 20th century North America.

Indeed, the story of Morris ("Two-Gun") Cohen is a remarkable example of a Jewish outsider identifying with Chinese outsiders. Cohen was an outcast, even among his own community in early 20th century western Canada, because he was pretty much a career criminal. But he bonded with Chinese he met in Edmonton, when he saw how shabbily they were treated, and from there, made his way to China, became an aide-de-camp to Sun Yat-Sen, the "Chinese George Washington" and later, rose even higher in the ranks of Chiang-Kai-Shek's army.

I assume he ate a lot of Chinese food. :wink:

http://www.invisibleheroes.com/hero.asp?issue=194

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Do Jews as a group eat more Chinese food than similarly situated non-Jews?

i don't believe so.

could part of it be that the Jews and Chinese often occupied adjacent real estate in many large cities around the turn of the century and onwards for the next half century?

i do believe so. Chinatowns historically have been in some of the oldest parts of cities, because Chinese started immigrating earlier than many groups, and were quick to form a community where possible. It becamse possible when many of the buildings got older, more affluent people wanted to move to new buildings, newer sections of town, etc.

If I'm not mistaken Jews and Chinese started "coming of age" in northeastern American cities around the same time. At first, it may have been something like acknowledgement of each other as the outsiders, similarly different from the rest of America.

Ongoing, the lack of dairy used in Chinese cuisine probably also helped Jews keep kosher.

The fact they that Jews probably wanted to go out on Christmas when Americans of various other cultural backgrounds were staying home, and lookee here, Chinese restaurant X is open, probably helped cement the relationship.

I imagine that right now, as much as anything it's a good excuse for Jews to be able to go out and avoid much of the crowds that may be around most days.

On Thanksgiving, Chinese always go out and about, in part because everything is less crowded because many Americans are at home.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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I actually think that Eastern European and 1950's Cantonese cuisine had some similar base flavors, namely garlic, onion, chicken broth, egg, saltiness (soy/kosher salt), celery, chicken, beef and certainly rice and noodles were part of both also. This may seem somewhat far-fetched but not as far-fetched as you might think. Think Sub-gum chow mein, wonton soup, sweet and sour dishes, egg foo young.

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I actually think that Eastern European and 1950's Cantonese cuisine had some similar base flavors, namely garlic, onion, chicken broth, egg, saltiness (soy/kosher salt), celery, chicken, beef and certainly rice and noodles were part of both also. This may seem somewhat far-fetched but not as far-fetched as you might think. Think Sub-gum chow mein, wonton soup, sweet and sour dishes, egg foo young.

that's interesting. i can't disagree with it.

all of those are basic flavors in chinese cuisine,

i assume they are for eastern european cuisines as well.

it would help explain why i do like eastern european food,

what little i've had.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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This may be too simple an explanation for a discussion resting on a lengthy academic paper, but I have heard that the Jewish/Chinese connection was rooted in the fact that Chinese restaurants were open on Sunday, when most other restaurants were closed (as the goyim presumably gathered at home for Sunday Dinner).

Being raised in the non-NY suburbs, I was not aware of the traditionnal connection until I opened one of those hotel room visitors' guides and found Mayor Koch opening a article about Chinatown restaurants with a quote from the movie "My Favorite Year: "Jews know two things: suffering, and where to find great Chinese food."

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Do Jews as a group eat more Chinese food than similarly situated non-Jews?

i don't believe so.

It would be interesting to get to the bottom of this, because from a social science standpoint (it is after all supposed to be a science) one would think this would be a fundamental test of the hypothesis that Jews have some sort of special relationship to Chinese food. If similarly situated (geographically, economically, etc.) Jews and non-Jews turn out to eat roughly the same amount of Chinese food per person per year, the questions have to change.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As science, the paper fills a much needed gap in the literature and would be illuminating if ignited!

I'm not 'expert' enough to add much here except to nominate the above for the funniest line I've read in a long, long time :laugh:.

THW

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne." John Maynard Keynes

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This may be too simple an explanation for a discussion resting on a lengthy academic paper, but I have heard that the Jewish/Chinese connection was rooted in the fact that Chinese restaurants were open on Sunday, when most other restaurants were closed (as the goyim presumably gathered at home for Sunday Dinner).

I agree. There is definitely something to this concept of Chinese on Sunday's.

Unless there was some other holiday or event, Chinese on Sunday was almost automatic in my family, except during the summer months when a barbecue was more in order. If it rained on Sunday, there was never even a discussion as to what was for dinner. The only question was whether we were going to go at 5:00 PM or 5:30 PM.

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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Do Jews as a group eat more Chinese food than similarly situated non-Jews?

i don't believe so.

It would be interesting to get to the bottom of this, because from a social science standpoint (it is after all supposed to be a science) one would think this would be a fundamental test of the hypothesis that Jews have some sort of special relationship to Chinese food. If similarly situated (geographically, economically, etc.) Jews and non-Jews turn out to eat roughly the same amount of Chinese food per person per year, the questions have to change.

I'd be interested to hear how you would propose to collect the data.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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First, I'd get a really big grant.

Next, I'd pick a sample population. It wouldn't have to be particularly large. Maybe 50 Jews and 50 non-Jews, in matched pairs (similar geography, income, family structure, etc.).

Then I'd figure out a way to track their Chinese-food consumption for a few months. I wouldn't tell them that's what I was doing. I'd probably just try to get a log of every meal and how much was spent on it for how many people.

Then I'd find someone who knows how to use Anova or whatever software you use for this, and we'd crunch all the data.

The rest of the grant money would go to buy me a new car.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ongoing, the lack of dairy used in Chinese cuisine probably also helped Jews keep kosher.

I completely disagree with this thought. Sure, Chinese food has no dairy, but unless you're eating at a kosher Chinese restaurant, we're talking serious treyf -- the beef and chicken are improperly slaughtered and the not kashered (blood drawn out with salt). Plus, you have an abundance of pork, shrimp, and other seafood. None of this remotely assists in the keeping of kashrus.

If anything, the attraction for Chinese food is that it is so different from traditional, ashkenaz jewish food. It's a different cuisine - from another continent, no less. And you have all these forbidden ingredients. I mean, if you're going to sin, why not go all the way?

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Do Jews as a group eat more Chinese food than similarly situated non-Jews?

I would be surprised if that were true. I think someone put the nail on the head before-- NEW YORK Jews, the key word, NY. And they would have to be secular Jews as well; certainly not kosher. But I think Chinese food got to be popular with all New Yorkers-- in the 60s and 70s, Chinese food was just about the only ethnic food available-- it used to be considered exotic. So with typical NYC diversity, the food became popular.

Nowadays it is but one of a myriad of ethnic foods, and might even be considered passé-- certainly the egg roll and the wonton soup are out of date.

Will the Pew Institute be taking up this study? :raz:

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Agreed, not much is less kosher than chinese with all of the pork and shellfish.

Another fun part of the "going out for chinese" experience was the family dinner ordering. We'd first have to decide how many we were ordering for and go through the "cloumn A" and "column B" routine. Usually involved all sorts of arguments at the table and we inevitably ordered way too much food because if someone's favorite dish wasn't included in the ordering of the family dinner, he/she would order it anyway a la carte and then refuse to share. Plenty of shrimp toast vs. egg roll fights especially.

Maybe the lazy susan was the attraction. :biggrin:

Whatever happened to the pu pu platter?

All of these questions confirm that more study is needed.

Edited by sammy (log)

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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