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Certain foods, depending on what your ethnic or family traditions are, have a strong association with the Christmas holiday. For some, it's a feast of fish on Christmas Eve, or turkey, ham, duck, or lasagna on Christmas Day.

For others, especially my Jewish friends, it means Chinese food. I've known for years that on occasions of major Christian holidays, when many restaurants are closed or feature a menu geared toward that specific holiday, the Chosen People chose Chinese food.

I was reminded of this over the past week, when I saw an article in the Jewish online magazine Tablet, on "Jewish Christmas."

The article notes that on Christmas Eve and Day a Jewish deli in Brooklyn will feature a "Traditional Jewish Christmas" $35 prix fixe menu, which will include egg drop soup, roast duck, smoked meat fried rice and Chinese broccoli, and end with fortune cookies.

The article points out that the Jewish love for Chinese food originated about a century ago, on the Lower East Side of New York. Marc Tracy writes that, "according to Matthew Goodman, author of Jewish Food: The World at Table, Italian cuisine and especially Italian restaurants, with their Christian iconography, held little appeal for Jews. But the Chinese restaurants had no Virgin Marys. And they prepared their food in the Cantonese culinary style, which utilized a sweet-and-sour flavor profile, overcooked vegetables, and heaps of garlic and onions. Sound familiar?"

Tracy also says that eating Chinese food on Christmas "reinforces their Jewishness" and while it may not be a demonstration of faith, necessarily, it is, well, as the song says, "tradition," and one that speaks to their hearts.

After Tracy's article I glanced at the "Community Calendar" of the Chicago Jewish News, and saw notices for not one, not two, but three, Shabbath services on Dec. 24 that include Chinese dinner. And I know there will be many, many gatherings throughout the area at Chinese restaurants or at homes where Chinese takeout will fill the tables.

So while some of us are hearing "We Three Kings," or "Little Drummer Boy," others will be singing the praises of General Tso. And as I bite into some Christmas biscotti, I'll be thinking of those who are opening their fortune cookies, and I'll wish us all a merry season and a happy, healthy, tasty new year.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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