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Eating Jewish: Chinese Food and Christmas

General Tso chicken.

Photo by Katherine Romanow.

Szechuan Broccoli.
Courtesy of Katherine Romanow.

A quick read through the food sections of many newspapers and you’ll find a multitude of articles suggesting what to make for holiday (read, Christmas) meals. On the other hand, a read through Jewish newspapers, magazines and blogs leads one to find articles discussing the relationship between Jews and Chinese food that has long defined Christmas for many in the community. The Jew and the Carrot have a short video about the history of this relationship, while an article in Tablet entitled “Jewish Christmas” discusses the modernization of this tradition happening at the Mile End diner in Brooklyn along with some of the history relating to it.

The history of this relationship is intriguing and speaks to the issues that were central to the Jewish community at the time this relationship with Chinese food was beginning to develop. Yet, what I found particularly interesting was the discussion in the Tablet article of the way in which this tradition is evolving and the way it’s being practiced by a younger generation of Jews who are making their own Chinese food. I think this interest stems from the fact that through my own academic research I am constantly looking at the evolution of food practices in Judaism and what it means for those maintaining and carrying out these rituals. Essentially, eating Chinese food on Christmas has become a way of asserting one’s Jewish identity on this non-Jewish holiday par excellence, while at the same time upholding a tradition that we can truly call a Jewish North American one. All this reading and thinking about Chinese food and Jews left me with a serious craving for some (and I just couldn’t wait to have it). Yet, if you’re like me, going out for some Chinese is always a better idea than it ultimately turns out to be because I’m usually left feeling sick after eating it. So in this case I decided that I would try my hand at making some of my own Chinese food.

Seeing as General Tso chicken has to be one of my favorite dishes to order, I knew I wanted to make this dish. Although it isn’t hard prepare, making this dish does take between an hour or two but the results are most definitely worth it. The resulting dish was one of crispy chicken nuggets coated in a sweet and spicy sauce that left both my roommate and I returning for second and thirds. It looked exactly like what you would get from your favorite Chinese restaurant but without being greasy, heavy or cloying because of too much sauce. Served along with some rice and baked broccoli whose flavors of ginger, garlic and chili marry wonderfully with the chicken, you will have yourself a delectable Chinese feast.

I think spending an afternoon making your own Chinese food along with friends and family is another great way to update and celebrate this delicious tradition. Yet, if you don’t subscribe to eating Chinese food at Christmas, what other traditions do you have for this time of year?

General Tso Chicken
Adapted from http://appetiteforchina.com

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (you can use more or less depending on how spicy you would like it)
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 cup cornstarch
1 big pinch white sesame seeds, for garnish

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons tomato paste, mixed with 2 tablespoon water
2 teaspoon cornstarch
6 teaspoons white sugar
4 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons chicken stock or water

  1. Mix the ingredients for the marinade. Slice the chicken into 1-inch cubes and add it to the marinade mixture. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.

  2. Mix the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.

  3. Drip the excess marinade off the chicken, and toss the cubes in 2 cups cornstarch. Shake off the excess cornstarch before frying.

  4. Add about 2 inches of peanut oil to your wok. Heat the wok until just smoking, then add the first batch of chicken cubes and deep-fry until golden and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

  5. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil. Reheat the wok over medium-heat. Add the chili flakes, garlic, and ginger to the wok and stir-fry about 1 minute. Add the sauce mixture and stir until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.

  6. Return the chicken to wok and stir well to coat with sauce. Transfer the chicken to serving dish. Garnish with white sesame. Serve with white rice and vegetables.

Szechuan Broccoli
Adapted from http://www.inmamaskitchen.com

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups broccoli florets

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Heat a small skillet, and sprinkle in sesame seeds. Cook, stirring, for one minute to toast seeds until they are golden brown. Remove and set aside.

  3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a roasting pan and bake until the broccoli is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

  4. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Topics: Food, Recipes
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How to cite this page

Romanow, Katherine. "Eating Jewish: Chinese Food and Christmas." 26 December 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 9, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/eating-jewish-chinese-food-and-christmas>.

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