Chinese Americans at Jewish Restaurants for Christmas

[Catch up posts for Christmas, I Am Legend, and the Stage Crew reunion to follow.]

For some reason this year, much has been made of the traditional Jewish American affinity for Chinese restaurants, especially at Christmas. (See YouTube, Jennifer 8. Lee, and NPR). No one has talked about how much Chinese people like Jewish food.

My dad got me hooked at an early age, as he was good friends with Freddy the bagel guy, and spent many a weekend in the back of the store kicking back Nedicks orange sodas and watching the bagels boil into nice dumplings before being baked to chewy perfection. I probably know more about appetizing than any Chinese person ought to know. The day my sister was born, Freddy came and picked us up from school and took us home. P-‘s neighbors were all Jewish growing up; she can get mean cravings for latkes.

OK, it’s usually nowhere as cheap as Chinese food, and it’s certainly in the same league health-wise,with their wide variety of fatty, high carb and fried foods. However, also coming from a culture of survival, you can count on Jewish food to be prepared with meticulous precision, creatively using ingredients, with nothing wasted that is edible (at least permitted under kashrut laws). Also, having no dairy works out for us lactose intolerant folks.

First stop this past week was at the newly reopened 2nd Avenue Deli (now at 33 St. between 3 Avenue and Lexington, around the corner from Koreatown). Warning: 30-45 minute waits for a table are usual, even at the time I went at 3 PM. I hear the line was 100 deep at lunch time. Good thing that they are now open 24 hours. Our waitress (as well as about a quarter of the staff) was Chinese. My usual – matzo ball soup (lighter in color than Katz’s, but fluffier), and a hot pastrami sandwich. They are exactly the same as before. A meal will set you back $20 or so, but what are you waiting for? The 2nd Avenue Deli is kosher certified by a Conservative rabbi, so while no dairy is served, it is not strictly kosher as Orthodox standards goes, and then there is the issue of being open on Saturday. But hey, we’re Chinese, so that’s something somebody else has to deal with, while we eat. Way Recommended if you don’t need to ask too many questions.

The day after Christmas, P and 4 of her high school friends (all Asian and female) went out with one of their old teachers (who is Jewish) to Grille de Paris, a French restaurant located on Kings Highway in Brooklyn. They are under strict glatt Kosher supervision, and the other patrons were obviously very observant. We sure made an appearance there, although I guess it’s not any weirder than Jewish people in a Chinese restaurant.

Bowls of garlic bread were put out to begin. P had the pre fixe of fatush salad (traditional), eggplant napoleon (tasty breaded eggplant slices somewhat like that for eggplant parm), beef shish kabobs with vegatables, and a chocolate mousse (I shared it – it was a bit sweet, but I liked it – P thought there was too much of the non-dairy creamer in it). I wanted an all mushroom all the time meal, so I had the tri mushroom salad, which was large, tasty and fantastic, french onion soup (was really wishing for the melted cheese) and fillet Wellington (pretty good and full of red wine and mushroom flavor, but under Kosher rules, the meat cannot be bloody, so it has to be cooked to at least what we would normally call medium-well, so be forewarned). A piped stack of mashed potatoes (using obviously real hand-mashed potatoes, not reconstituted potato flakes) was accompanied by a trio of snow peas, peppers and onions which would be familiar in a stir-fry, all well-sauteed. We asked one of the servers to take our picture at the table at the end of the meal. He cracks a joke: “say ‘meat’, not cheese -we’re a meat restaurant”.

While it isn’t Le Cirque, there were plenty of delicious food, and they put a lot of effort in service and presentation (see the photos in the flickr strip). Even though it’s perhaps the only Kosher French restaurant in the city, it’s not a take it or leave it situation – it’s actually not bad. Recommended if you’re avoiding dairy.

The Third or Fourth Day of Christmas

On Christmas: watched “Sweeney Todd” with the siblings at the Cobble Hill movie theater. Sondheim musical; the music was excellent; movie was otherwise eerie and creepy. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter turned out to be talented. Alan Rickman – thumbs up as the villain/victim. Timothy Spall, as eerie as ever as Rickman’s kind of sidekick (Spall – who plays Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies, and Rickman who’s Prof. Snape, plus Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange of the Potter movies)? — honestly, British actors get around). Sasha Baron Cohen (the ex-Borat/ex-Ali G) was quite good too. But, as the movie critics noted (including NY Times’ A.O. Scott), it is a bit bloody; beware to the squeamish…

Stuff I noticed in the Times from Christmas day:

NY Times’ Jennifer 8. Lee on NYC Chinatown’s Church of the Transfiguration.

In the op-ed of the NY Times, Prof. John Anthony McGuckin, of religious history at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia U., writes on St. Nicholas.

A Christmas poem by Patrick Muldoon: “Myrrh.”

A New York Times’ story on Christmas in Iraq, as observed by Christian Iraqis. I thought it was a poignant story, as Damien Cave writes:

The service began with traditional hymns. Some songs were sung in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. It was a reminder of the 2,000-year-old history of Iraq’s largest Christian group, the Chaldeans, an Eastern Rite church affiliated with Roman Catholicism.

Initially the sermon seemed equally traditional, beginning as many do with phrases like “This day is not like other days.”

Yet the priest, the Rev. Thaer al-Sheik, soon turned to more local themes. He talked about the psychological impact of violence, kidnapping and a lack of work. He condemned hate. He denounced revenge.

“We must practice being humane to each other,” he said. “Living as a Christian today is difficult.”

A few moments later he asked, “If the angel Gabriel comes today and says Jesus Christ is reborn, what do we do? Do we clap or sing?”

His parish, quiet and somber — with the drab faces of a funeral, not a Mass on Christmas Eve — took the question seriously. And responded.

“We ask him for forgiveness,” said a woman, her head covered by a black scarf. Her voice was just loud enough for everyone to hear.

Then another woman raised her voice. “We ask for peace,” she said.

Father Sheik looked disappointed. “We are always like beggars, asking God for this or that,” he said. “We shouldn’t be this way. First, we should thank God for giving us Jesus Christ. He would say, ‘I came to live among you. I want to teach you how to be compassionate. I want to teach you how to be more humane.’” [….]

But even Father Sheik could not resist asking God for a little help. He ended his sermon with a request that all Iraqis would love to see fulfilled.

“We call on God for equality, freedom — an end to war and an end to hunger,” he said. “We only demand from God peace for all of you.”

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.