By Jennifer 8. Lee | December 18, 2007
I have a City Room post today on pastrami eggrolls and Chinese hot dogs (beef frankfurter in egg roll skin), seen below, which is found inÂ New York City.
This of courseÂ segues into the age-old quesiton of why Jews love Chinese food so much –Â a relationship that has been the subject of many a stand-up comedianâ€™s joke, YouTube video and academic papers.
One paper, by Hanna Miller, even goes as far to say that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of the American JewÂ (subscription only, blah), arguing that they identify more with Chinese food than the Eastern European food of their immigrant ancestors. And two sociologists, Gaye Tuchman and Harry G. Levine, investigated the historical and cultural reasons for the Jewish Chinese culinary axis in their 1992 paper Safe Treyf [pdf].
So why is it that chow mein is the chosen food of the chosen people? Among the theories posited:
- Chinese food does not use dairy (unlike the other two main longtime ethnic cuisines in America, Italian and Mexican), so when many more Jews kept kosher, Chinese food was easier to eat.
- Chinese and Jews are among the two largest (if not the two largest) non-Christian immigrant groups, so they followed similar calendars. This is where Chinese food on Christmas may stem from, since Chinese restaurants were open.
- The Chinese use of garlic, rice and chicken were familiar to an Eastern European palate.
- Chinese food was not too expensive and involved family-style sharing.
- Chinese food represented a way to become cosmopolitan.
- Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where a significant number of the Jewish immigrants from around the turn of the century lived, bordered each other. Indeed, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first significant Jewish house of worship in the United States, is now squarely in Chinatown these days. (It even has an egg roll festival.)
- For the Jewish immigrants, who were insecure about their rural status way back when, Chinese restaurants allowed them to feel more cosmopolitan.
- The Chinese restaurants didn’t make the Jews feel self-conscious about their immigrant status, as the ChineseÂ owners looked more overtly immigrant than they did!
- Chinese restaurants became a place where they quietly broke kosher rules, for a variety of reasons. The exoticness of the food made it a safe place to have an exception.
To be honest, when I tried it, I found the Chinese hot dog from Eden WokÂ too thick and doughy. It paled in comparison with the Chinese hot dog at Chai Peking in Atlanta (Item No. 105 for $2.50), which was positively yummy.
Chai Pekingâ€™s hot dog has a nice twist: the hot dog is wrapped in pastrami before it is fried in wonton skin. Chai Peking, which is the only glatt kosher Chinese restaurant for a 700-mile radius, takes takeout and delivery to an extreme level. People have flown in on private planes or driven two hours each way across multiple state borders to get Chai Peking takeout.
But to top it all off, Chai Peking does delivery by FedEx. It flash-freezes the dishes, packs them in dry ice and ships them off across the southeastern United States. To anywhere, really, but most of their delivery customers are in the Southeast.
And we thought New York City was the delivery capital of the United States.
Stayed tuned for my thoughts on …Philly Cheesesteak rolls
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