A soft spoken older man in rose tinted glasses and a blazer browsed the menu and announced he would be ordering for everyone. The three tables of family added to the din of the dining area. They chatted away, warming their hands on teacups.
Blazer browsed the two sides to the laminated sheet menu before looking up to the server and saying, “yeah, we’ll take it.”
“Go ahead sir,” the confused server held his pen at the ready.
“We’ll take it, the menu.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not understanding,” the server said slowly.
The chef popped his head out from the partition and saw the man in rose tinted glasses and a blazer. Chef smiled.
Chef shouted across the floor as he walked toward the table, “Ari!”
Ari took off his glasses, refocused his eyes and upon recognizing the striding figure, he smiled broadly, “There he is! King of the kitchen! Cheung! …tell this newbie here how we do it on Christmas.”
Cheung turned to the server and said, “they get everything. …good customers,” he added. Cheung turned back toward Ari, “Let’s catch up after you eat, I have a little cooking to do.”
“Yes, let’s,” said Ari.
I wondered about this as a kid. We would see so many Jewish neighbors and friends on Christmas eating at a Chinese restaurant, ordering up a storm and having a good time over tables stained with spilt tea and sauces. I thought it was just a peculiarity of my hometown. When I moved to New York, and I was living in the apparent epicenter of both the Jews and Chinese – Flushing Queens, I witnessed it to be a full on “thing”. Another one of those Chinese-Jewish connections.
I pulled this video from The Atlantic article which quotes Jennifer Lee giving the best explanation I’ve come across…
So while it’s true that Chinese restaurants were notably open on Sundays and during holidays when other restaurants would be closed, the two t were linked not only by proximity, but by otherness. Jewish affinity for Chinese food “reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders,” she explained.
Estimates of the surging Jewish population of New York City run from 400,000 in 1899 to about a million by 1910 (or roughly a quarter of the city’s population). And, as some Jews began to assimilate into American life, they not only found acceptance at Chinese restaurants, but also easy passage into the world beyond Kosher food.
“Chinese restaurants were the easiest place to trick yourself into thinking you were eating Kosher food,” Ed Schoenfeld, the owner of RedFarm, one of the most laureled Chinese restaurants in New York, said. Indeed, it was something of a perfect match. Jewish law famously prohibits the mixing of milk and meat just as Chinese food traditionally excludes dairy from its dishes. Lee added:
If you look at the two other main ethnic cuisines in America, which are Italian and Mexican, both of those combine milk and meat to a significant extent. Chinese food allowed Jews to eat foreign cuisines in a safe way.