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    Chinese Food for Passover (Please Hold the Soy Sauce)

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 14, 2009

    So I co-hosted a seder this year and I was informed that I would be making the brisket. My reaction: “I’m Chinese. I cook small pieces of meat. I have no idea how to cook large pieces of meat.”

    Then I was like, well, I’ll just marinate it in soy sauce. And he told me that soy sauce isn’t kosher for passover because of the wheat and the soy. And I was like, “How do you cook meat without soy sauce?”

    The answer. One part ketchup to one part wine. Anyway that inspired me to write this piece for City Room:

    For Jews who are tired of eating Seder leftovers during Passover, there is little respite. Most kosher restaurants have chosen to remain shuttered during the observance, since there are only two full days and two half-days of business during the eight days of Passover this year — hardly worth the effort to “re-kasher,” or clean, the kitchen to religious standards.

    But there is one oasis: a glatt kosher Chinese restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens, called Cho-Sen Garden. (The only other kosher Chinese restaurant in New York that could rival it for kitschy title is Shang-Chai, in Brooklyn.)

    “We’re the only one that is open, because we know what to do,” said Michael Mo, the manager of Cho-Sen Garden.

    Staffers are swamped on the days the restaurant is open during Passover. The restaurant has a sister establishment, Cho-Sen Island, in Lawrence, on Long Island. “We spend a lot of money for Pesach,” said Mr. Mo, who is Chinese, using the Hebrew name of the holiday.

    The staff spent Tuesday cleaning the kitchen, he said, explaining that “you have to switch the place upside-down.”

    Of course, there is one little problem with being a Chinese restaurant that is open for Passover: The dishes can’t use soy sauce — that mainstay of Chinese cooking.

    Soy sauce uses soy and wheat, both no-nos during Passover. And while China has been getting in on the kosher food industry, it has not really adapted for the more niche kosher for Passover industry.

    Cho-Sen introduces a special Passover version of its menu. “One hundred percent no noodles, one hundred percent no rice — even I’m working, I can’t eat rice,” Mr. Mo said.

    Instead, Cho-Sen serves matzo to its customers. “We put a box on each table,” he said. “It’s like a cracker.”

    Indeed, now General Tso’s chicken meets unleavened bread.

    The restaurant also adds matzo ball soup alongside egg drop soups on the menu (but don’t offer matzo ball egg drop soup, which is an underrated fusion creation).

    The dishes offered include chicken with broccoli, pepper steak, and sweet and sour veal.

    How does the restaurant make those without soy sauce? The chef has a secret recipe to capture the taste of soy sauce. “He won’t give it to anybody, he won’t let anybody see it,” Mr. Mo said. (Another employee let some information slip, saying that it involved food coloring.)

    There is “imitation soy sauce” (kosher for Passover),
    The ingredients in the imitation soy sauce are water, salt, maltodextrin, sugar and spices, according to David Gross, an employee of, which sells kosher foods.

    Mr. Mo dismissed the kosher for Passover soy sauce. “Imitation is always imitation,” he said.

    Cho-Sen used to cater Seders for Passover, Mr. Mo said.

    Chinese food Seders?

    No, he said. “When we do Seder, it’s just regular food,” he said.

    Chinese food is totally unsuitable for a Seder, Mr. Mo said, adding: “Seder is a long dinner. Chinese food doesn’t stay warm that long. It’s tiny little pieces. It can’t stay warm for four hours.”

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