Strolling through the cookbook aisles of my local bookseller searching for something fun and creative for the Chinese New Year, two titles caught my eye: “From Lokshen to Lo Mein — the Jewish Love Affair with Chinese Food” by Donald Siegel and “The New Chinese Kosher Cookbook” by Ruth and Bob Grossman. These are likely combinations since Jewish and Chinese cuisines (and cultures) share many similarities, despite the presence of shrimp and pork in Chinese dishes that violate kashrut laws.
One of the greatest mysteries among food historians is the burning question: Since the Hebrew calendar dates back to 5774, and the Chinese Lunar one only goes to 4712, how did the Jewish people manage to survive without Chinese food for 1062 years?
A couple of entrepreneurial restaurateurs in my hometown of Toronto picked up this connection and launched a trendy eatery, “Ginsberg and Wong,” seamlessly blending Chinese and Jewish favorites.
As an Asian food purist, I’m not a lover of the likes of Peking duck kreplach, sweet and sour brisket or egg drop matzo ball soup, but go figure, the restaurant had a
ood run for many years — and was especially busy on Christmas Eve.
Legendary entertainer Danny Kaye (who was Jewish), became known as a master Chinese chef, calling his kitchen “Ying’s Thing.” It was specially outfitted with a stove having metal rings to produce the super heat concentration needed to prepare authentic Asian dishes.
Frequently flying guests in on his private plane, Kaye regaled them at his home with Chinese feasts. He also shared his passion by teaching Chinese cooking classes at a San Francisco restaurant in the heart of Chinatown.
The approaching Chinese New Year is, in many ways, similar to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana.
Both of these holidays are a treasured time of family reunion shrouded in rituals and superstitions, while feasting on symbolic foods.
Chinese families eat “jai,” a vegetarian medley of lotus seeds, nuts and noodles — a testosterone token, wishing for a crop of male offspring; dried bean curd for the fulfillment of wealth and happiness; and bamboo shoots to endow the members of the household with good health.
Other foods eaten during the 15-day feast that begins Jan. 31 include a whole fish to symbolize togetherness, and a chicken for prosperity (the presentation includes its head, tail and feet to represent completeness).
During the Jewish High-Holidays, round challah (egg bread) is served to symbolize fullness and completion and is dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
Fish heads are also eaten so that “we be as the head and not as the tail.” If you’re as hungry as a horse and have a yen for Asian/Jewish cuisine try celebrating this Chinese New Year with hot and sour soup and lokshen (Jewish egg noodles). It wouldn’t hurt. Have a double happy, healthy and prosperous new year! —
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Chinese Hot and Sour Soup with Lokshen
• 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or broth
• 1/2 pound of thinly sliced chicken breast (optional)
• 1 can of sliced bamboo shoots
• 1 can of sliced water chestnuts
• 1 cake of soft tofu (12 oz.) sliced into 1/4-inch cubes or strips
• 1 cup of sliced shitake mushrooms
• 1 can of peeled straw mushrooms
• 1/4 cup of black fungus (cloud ears), soaked in water for one hour, drained and thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup of white vinegar
• 2 tablespoons of garlic and chile paste
• 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
• 3/4 tablespoon of white pepper
• 4 eggs, beaten • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
• 1 teaspoon of sesame oil • Scallions (green part only), chopped • 6 ounces egg noodles, cooked, drained
Heat the stock to a boil and add the soy sauce, chicken, mushrooms, garlic and chile paste. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the white pepper, vinegar, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, fungus and tofu. Simmer for another 10 minutes.Make a roux with the cornstarch and 5 tablespoons of water. Slowly add to the mixture. Bring back to a simmer and pour the eggs in a thin stream over the surface. Let stand for 10 seconds, and then gently add the sesame oil and stir. Finally, add the egg noodles. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with chopped scallions.