Google “Jews and Chinese food” and you’ll get plenty of hits with theories contemplating the connection. I find many feasible, including the lack of Christian iconography in Chinese restaurants, geographic proximity of the two communities, and relatively low prices. But growing up, when my non-practicing family gathered together on the “off-day” of Christmas (and not wanting further fuss so close to Thanksgiving), part of the popularity of Chinese food was pragmatic: Chinese restaurants were the only ones open for the holiday. Take-out was a cheaper option, enabling (most of) us to stay inside our warm house.
While we weren’t blessed like LA with a Genghis Cohen, my adjoining town on LI had Dragon Island. If not dining there, I’d still join the ride for pick-up (we didn’t do delivery, as we wanted to save on tip money!) because I found the Polynesian tiki décor quite exotic. Upon returning home, I’d help break open the bags, as this act was reminiscent of Christmas itself. So many “gift” packages! There’d be paper sleeves with chopsticks that no one would use, clear plastic packages of fried egg rolls, stapled plastic bags full of fortune cookies for after the meal, and a variety of sauce packets in black (soy), yellow (hot mustard), and orange (duck). My favorites, though, were the white boxes with wire handles.
A couple of those white boxes would be stuffed with white rice. I was more interested in the other boxes. In one I’d find fried rice, which always seemed a bit repetitive. Another contained egg foo young, which only my dad really liked, meaning no competition for him. There’d be a box of spare ribs, my sister’s favorite. And always one with roast pork lo mein, the thin strands of meat glowing in a seemingly unnatural red color. Depending on the number of people, there might also be pepper steak, moo goo gai pan (more fun to say than to eat), and more.
But what I’d hunt for most, and what would inevitably be the largest box due to its popularity in the family, would be the shrimp with lobster sauce. With no lobster, I never understood how it got its name. Nevertheless, I loved it. Maybe because of another allure of Chinese food for Jews: This was double non-kosher, containing both shrimp and (ground) pork. Sinfully delicious!
We wouldn’t pour the box contents onto platters. Instead, we’d simply spoon the food out of the boxes directly onto our plates. Eventually, empty boxes would nestle inside each other. We’d feast until full, and then force down a fortune cookie. (And, of course, be hungry again an hour later.)
These days, I prefer to go out for Chinese food for Christmas. (Thanksgiving, too. Who really likes turkey?) Hot pot at places like Sichuanese Cuisine is always fun. Gourmet Noodle Bowl is also great for hot pot, as well as other dishes. King Noodle is an option for customizable noodle bowls. To come close to more traditional holiday meat plates, I like BBQ and roasted pork and duck at Ton Kiang and Kau Kau—both of which are also ideal for take-out.
Nowadays, you can also explore other Asian cuisines for Christmas. You’re not likely to find a Korean restaurant open, and many Thai and Japanese places are closed, too. But most Vietnamese restaurants are open, such as Green Leaf with its vermicelli bowls, Huong Binh with its grilled pork skewers, and Rainier Restaurant & BBQ with its wild array of animals for eating. Just no turkey.
Originally published on EthnicSeattle.com on 12/18.