Why Jews love Chinese food

November 24, 2016 22:56

A comment by Elena Kagan, the American Supreme Court nominee, has set the Jewish blogosphere and Twittersphere (??) on fire.

As part of her confirmation hearing, she was asked where she was on Christmas Day last year. She answered: "Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant" - provoking much laughter.

So what is it with American Jews and Chinese food on Christmas day? 

The obvious answer (as Senator Chuck Schumer helpfully pointed out amid the general hilarity following Ms Kagan's remark) is that there are very few restaurants, other than Chinese ones, open on Christmas. But the Jewish romance with Chinese food goes much further.

I always understood that part of the attraction was that many Chinese are lactose-intolerant, and therefore Chinese food does not involve a lot of milk products, making it easier to reproduce if you are kosher.

Hanna Raskin, who wrote a book about Jews and Chinese food, adds that Jewish immigrants to NYC thought that Chinese food was 'sophisticated' and adopted it as part of their assimilation process; they also felt more welcome in many Chinese restaurants than in mainstream, WASPish ones. But perhaps most importantly,

Location, location, location. Chinatown butted up against the Lower East Side, which made it easy for Jewish residents to grab dinner at a dumpling house. And, as Schumer would point out, those neighborhood restaurants were open even on Sundays. But here's the real importance of geography: The vast majority of American Jews trace their roots to the Lower East Side, meaning New York traditions became Jewish traditions. While Italian and Irish immigrants in New York certainly enjoyed Chinese food too, their brethren in Boston and Milwaukee and St. Louis didn't pick up the same habit -- or decide it was central to their ethnic group's identity. Jews eat Chinese food largely because that's what early 20th-century New Yorkers did.

Hey, that's good enough for me....


November 24, 2016 22:56

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive