Eating the 60 Blog

Image result for chinese and jewish food images

My eating habits range from supermodel yoga enthusiast to hungry unsupervised child in a candy store.

Do you worry about weight gain during the holiday season?  I saw a post on Facebook that said something like “Don’t worry about gaining weight this holiday.  You were fat in August.”  Hey, who are you calling fat?

We’re going to a friend’s house for Christmas Day and it’s possible that we’ll be eating prime rib.  For Christmas Eve, which is also the first night of Hanukkah, we’re meeting the best-girl-on-earth (and her mom, of course, and the rest of the family) at a local Jewish deli.  Nothing says Hanukkah like Jewish food.

Unless you’re a Jewish family on Christmas Day.  That’s when we would go to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant.  Per the Huffington Post:  “Along with carving the ham and eating gingerbread cookies to our hearts’ content, there’s another big food tradition that comes on Christmas day.  For over a century, Jewish families in the U.S. have been paying a visit to their favorite Chinese restaurant for a special annual meal. Today, the occasion has become such a tradition that Chinese restaurants fill up quickly and see a business boom for the day.”

The roots of eating Chinese food on Christmas are bittersweet.  Some experts agree that the tradition is rooted in finding unity amid adversity.   Because they weren’t Christian, it’s been theorized that Chinese and Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century both understood what it was like to be “outsiders.”  Jewish immigrants felt accepted and safe at Chinese restaurants, and during the 1920s, “Chinese food was exotic and cosmopolitan.”  It was also a way for both groups to create their own American experience.

Another factor that’s been cited as the root of the tradition is how close in proximity the immigrant groups settled.  Ken Albala, history professor and chair of Food Studies at University of the Pacific’s San Francisco campus, explained that most Jews came to the U.S. in the late 1800s by way of Manhattan’s Lower East Side ― an area just under Chinatown.  Living and working in close proximity allowed for interaction between the two cultures “to which food and cultural cuisine holds great importance,” later adding that as Jews spread into different neighborhoods, Chinese food did too.

While the way Christmas is observed has evolved over time, the Chinese meal has stayed as an essential tradition; one that’s part of the Jewish experience in the United States.  “I’ve had traditional Christmas dinners in the midst of warm Christian families, and I’ve had numerous Chinese meals on Christmas day,” Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of Jewish Journal stated.  “But for me, Chinese is the real taste of Christmas.”

I recall eating Chinese food with my parents when we were children.  I will be happily eating latkes and chopped liver on Hanukkah/Christmas Eve, and I might be craving steamed dumplings and kung pao chicken the next day.





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