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From Cooking to Cookbook
Spring Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(1) page(s): 13, 14, 20, and 22
For our first wedding anniversary way back in June 1964, my husband Josh bought me The Pleasures of Chinese Cooking by Grace Zia Chu. It is to both Josh and the late Madame Chu that I owe thanks for my introduction to Chinese cuisine. Josh and I enjoyed cooking together. We soon began experimenting with recipes from the cookbook. Before long we found ourselves planning elaborate Chinese dinners.
Within a year we proudly prepared our first 'big' dinner for friends who often frequented Chinese restaurants. The response was so enthusiastic that we focused on Chinese cooking when entertaining. Within a few years Josh and I had prepared more than thirty of these special dinners, at which were featured anywhere from two to ten appetizers, one or two soups, and one to six main dishes. A typical dinner would last as long as five hours.
After living in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania for some time, I found that I had served Chinese dinners to just about everyone I knew. Taking the step from hostess to teacher, I organized a six-lesson course called 'Advanced Chinese Cooking for the Beginner, drawing students first from my friends and then from the general community.
In the fall of 1974, one of my students and I sold more than one hundred Chinese luncheon platters at our town fair. That same evening my knowledge of Chinese cuisine grew dramatically. We had a visit from cousins who, over a dinner of Sloppy Joe's and Apple Pie, described some of the delicious appetizers they had been served at one of their favorite teahouses in New York's Chinatown. The moment they left I consulted my ever-expanding collection of Chinese cookbooks and found virtually all the succulent foods they had described. Several months later, I presented my first tea house meal. At the end of the dinner my cousin commented, "Do you know, these appetizers are just what we get at the tea parlor!" Yes, Virginia (it really is Virginia), I worked at that.
Shortly after moving to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1975, we joined the local synagogue. Soon, I found myself fixing tacos at the annual temple fair while I jealously watched the rabbi corner the market with his Chinese food booth. His Cold Hot Noodles and Lo Mein were major attractions at that fair. As the rabbi worked, the group clustered around his wok, waiting for the next batch (stir-frying, of course). He glanced over at me in the next booth and remarked, "You know, we're doing it wrong. What would really make money would be a whole Chinese dinner at the temple." I took the rabbi's suggestion from there, and our first fundraising "Chinese Banquet-Goldberg Style" was held, circa March 1976.
When we moved to the New Haven area in 1977 and joined a local synagogue, we brought our fundraising Chinese banquet idea with us. I also taught a series of Chinese cooking lessons as a sisterhood fundraiser. Writing a cookbook, drawing on my experience teaching Chinese cooking and preparing dozens of Chinese banquets and hundreds of home dinners, was the next logical step. Afterall, I was doing Chinese cooking in a kosher home.
About kosher Chinese cuisine: Although pork is the principal meat used in China, in the kosher home it is possible to substitute beef, veal, or lamb in Chinese preparations with excellent results. Red-cooked Whole Brisket and Barbecued Spareribs using breast of lamb and cooking methods and Chinese seasonings make dishes that have Chinese flavor.
Fresh shellfish are caught and eaten in the coastal regions of China, and classic dishes such as Lobster Cantonese and Shrimp Toast are popular in Chinese-American restaurants. In the kosher adaptation of shrimp toast, fillets of flounder or sole are substituted for the shellfish without compromising the textural interest of the authentic Chinese recipe from which it derives.
Milk, butter, cheese, and other dairy products are rarely used in Chinese cooking so it is easy for the kosher cook to avoid mixing meat and dairy products in preparing a kosher Chinese meal. One of the most versatile Chinese ingredients is tofu, which may look like a block of soft cream cheese but is neither a dairy nor a meat product. Therefore, it can be used in the kosher kitchen with any meal.
Lard is used extensively for stir-frying in China, but chicken fat, which is well-known in old-fashioned Jewish cuisine, is not unheard of in China. Chicken fat, soybean oil, or vegetable shortening can be substituted for lard in the kosher home.
The substitution of beef and other meats for pork, of fish fillets for shellfish, and of chicken fat or vegetable oil for lard, the use of tofu, and the virtual absence of milk dishes in Chinese cuisine make Chinese cooking in the kosher kitchen possible. The use of Chinese vegetables, seasonings, and other Chinese ingredients, as well as Chinese cooking techniques including stir-frying, steaming, red-cooking, and deep-frying, give kosher Chinese recipes the delicious taste of authentic Chinese cuisine.
Before the recipes: What follows was written by Rabbi Arnold Belzer in February, 1977 as the introduction to my book, Chinese Banquet, Goldberg Style:
"Perhaps it was because the Jewish Lower East Side and New York's Chinatown existed side by side, and traffic flowed from the one ethnic community into the other, that young Jews new to the New World, new to an exhilarating freedom, began experimenting with the most dangerous and exotic of 'forbidden' foods in the unpretentious, inexpensive restaurants of Chinatown."
Imagine a young Jew seventy-five or eighty years ago, just arrived from Russia or Poland, a young Jew intoxicated with the sweet wine of freedom committing himself to the new Torah of socialism and bravely declaring himself to be a Jewish Atheist. How convenient it was to walk just a few blocks and enter into yet another 'new world,' here-to-fore forbidden but surely exciting and sinfully tasty-the world of Chinese cuisine. It was love at first taste.
In the 1950's and '60s, a strange thing happened in the Jewish community of the United States. Some of the children and grandchildren of the Jewish socialist-atheists were becoming rabbis and cantors or marrying rabbis and cantors. Some others were returning to the traditions of their great-grandparents. But the taste of Chinese cuisine lingered in their tastebuds. Kosher caterers made valiant but often disappointing attempts to adapt Chinese cuisine to the requirements of Kashrut. Egg Rolls, Chow Mein, and Lamb Spare Ribs became standard fare at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. Just as Wonton soup was often referred to on Chinese menus as Kreplach Soup, so Egg Rolls and Chow Mein became semi-officially, a part of Jewish cuisine.
America was treated to the seemingly incongruous, yet successful spectacle of the Moshe Peking Restaurant and Shmulka Bernstein's Kosher Chinese Restaurant (complete with Chinese decor and surly waiters of indeterminate ethnic origin-the Jewish waiters looked Chinese, the Chinese waiters looked Jewish, and the Israeli waiters looked like Bedouins, and they all wore Chinese style yarmulkes, with 'pig tails,' if you will excuse the expression).
It is seemingly an incongruous melding of cultures-yet the Jews and the Chinese share certain characteristics in common. One day a doctoral thesis in sociology will be written concerning the comparative experience and similarities of 'overseas Chinese' and the Jews in the lands of the Diaspora. Throughout southeast Asia where Chinese communities are well organized, prosperous and highly successful in commerce and the professions, they are known as the 'Jews of Asia!'
Both Biblical commentary and historical records indicate that a Chinese Jewish culture once existed. Early Bible commentators referred to China as Eretz Sinim-"from whence..." one Bible commentator suggested "...the sons of Israel shall return to their land" (Isaiah: Chapter 49, Verse 12), suggesting a connection with the ten lost tribes of Israel.
Early evidence shows that the Jewish community of China originated with the settlement of Persian Jewish silk traders in Northern China. According to tradition of the Jews of China, they entered during the reign of the Han Dynasty during the reign of Han Ming-ti (58-76 CE). By the 17th century, when news reached Europe of the existence of (racially) Chinese Jewry, the community consisted of some five or six hundred souls centered mainly in and around the city of Kai-fung Foo in the province of Honan. It was in Kai-fung Foo that their synagogue stood.
The story of the Jews of Kai-fung Foo is fascinating but has a sad and somewhat surprising ending, for just at the time the Jews of Kai-fung Foo were once again coming in contact with world Jewry, they were experiencing rapid decline. A community which kept its traditions for over 1,000 years despite its small numbers and intermarriage with Chinese neighbors entered the modern era only to face material hardship as the silk trade with Persia declined. Catholic and Protestant missionaries (17th century) anxious to convert them contributed to the decline until the Chinese government put a stop to their efforts.
By 1900, the Jewish community of Kai-fung Foo numbered one hundred and forty souls, Jewish only in the recollection of their shared origins. It is safe to say, that today in China there exists no Jewish community whatsoever, though occasionally one meets a Chinese or an Occidental who claims to have actually met a Chinese Jew. (I am not referring here to the sizable Occidental Jewish community that existed in China especially in Shanghai and Harbin up until the establishment of the People's Republic of China.)
There is direct evidence that a uniquely Chinese-Jewish cuisine existed. The Jews of China were called Tai Kiu Kiaou, or 'Pluckers of the Sinew,' which refers to one of the laws of Kashrut found in Genesis: Chapter 32, Verse 32.
The volume: Chinese Banquet, Goldberg Style has recipes used for these great Goldberg Banquets. Three of them follow.
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