Very smart piece in Tablet magazine by my colleague Marc Tracy on the history of Jews and Chinese food on Christmas. Marc quotes food maven Matthew Goodman, who points out that historically, Italian restaurants had little appeal for Jewish immigrants — all that blood-red Christian iconography and Virgin Mary statues! Whereas 1950s Chinese restaurants — which were primarily Cantonese — featured sweet-and-sour sauces, overcooked veggies and plenty of garlic and onions. Familiar! Marc also quotes a couple of academics who point out that Chinese food doesn’t mix milk and meat because there ain’t no milk to mix (they say this in a smarter way than I just did) and though there’s plenty of trayf, it’s all chopped up into unrecognizable bits and hidden in kreplach-esque wontons. And finally, eating Chinese food let Jews — who so often felt like awkward outsiders — feel cosmopolitan and worldly. Marc writes:
It also let them feel superior, a truism that has achieved the most definitive canonization available: its own Philip Roth quotation. “Yes, the only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese,” Alexander Portnoy tells us. “Because one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield; two, the insides of their heads are just so much fried rice anyway; and three, to them we are not Jews but white and maybe even Anglo Saxon. No wonder they can’t intimidate us. To them we’re just some big-nosed variety of WASP.”
Marc goes on to look at the psychology of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas today. It’s a great read. Yalla!