How can you tell that you are in a Jewish neighborhood, goes an old joke- there are lots of Italian and Chinese Restaurants. Not bad for a wizened bromide and certainly it has the ring of truth. There have always been Chinese restaurants in my life- from the Pageant on the corner of Delancey and Houston to Ho Wah’s and Chef Wong. My 65th birthday party was even held in a Chinese Restaurant ( thanks to my wife, who knows my needs). My 70th birthday was catered by Chef Wong, in person.
Somehow, the idea of Chinese food is pandemic around the world. Go to London, Paris, Bruges, the Hague and you will find them. It has always been my feeling that these restaurants, large or small, grubby or gourmet, are all run by the same people. No, this is not a politically incorrect statement, but an observation over 60 years. The Pageant in New York in 1944 had the exact same teacups as those as Kan’s Restaurant in San Francisco in 1965. The Oriental Garden in Cheltenham had the same décor as the small place in Niagra Falls in 1969. It cannot be a coincidence that General’s Tso’s , or General Chow’s delectables are made the same way all over the world, whether in Penn State or in London.
Why Grandma allowed us to go to these traef (unkosher) places to eat, is still a mystery to me. I once asked Grandma why this was so, when I was about 8 years old. She said that the Chinese were very clean people. That was enough for me. Any rationale that would continue to allow me to eat my egg drop soup, shrimp with lobster sauce and egg roll was o.k.
For many ethnics, food is comfort. “Here Maria, take a cup of tea and some cake. It will make you feel better.” In a telling description about the spirit of Jewish history- They tried to kill us, we got away, now let’s eat, we may get some clue as to my own background. There is little pillaging and rapacious behavior in Jewish History, but many atrocities and much food ( even in the old testament). In all of the rules that the bible asks us to follow, the overwhelming majority of them relate to food. How do we reward our priests- with the most unblemished animals, prime grains and the purists of oils. Is this where the food predeliction comes from? Maybe!
The death of a relative is a signal for entire families to begin cooking and preparing for the shivah ( mourning period of seven days). In visiting a home where someone has just died, there is more food per square inch sitting on the tables than you might find in a small supermarket. The deceased’s whole life could be judged by the quality of the food at his home after he/she dies.