Random Old Fogey Thoughts

September 13th, 2011 § 0 comments

Why was New York’s Jewish population so fond of Chinese food? It was a Sunday night tradition to eat (in the ignorant parlance of the times) at the “Chinks.” When HG was growing up Moms cooked family dinners throughout the week and the whole family was present at these meals. Sunday was a vacation day for Mom. Therefore the journey to the “Chinks” and the joyful gastronomic mix and match game of putting together (from rows A & B, which were what how most Chinese menus at the time were organized) a fine “combination platter.”

The HG family bypassed Sunday Chinese cuisine for platters of corned beef, pastrami, cole slaw, potato salad and sour pickles from the neighborhood delicatessen (the HG family favored the Tower Delicatessen on Kingsbridge Road in The Bronx). Following that meal there was tea and pastries with family friends and vigorous games of pinochle. The Sunday-Vacation-Day-For-Mom theme was set by obligatory listening to the Sunday morning Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour which consisted of music (instrumental and vocal) from gifted kiddies. Horn & Hardart (renowned for its Automats) was promoting its take-out stores. The program’s theme song was: ” Less Work For Mother, She’ll Understand.”

Now, none of this actually explains the original question of why New York Jews loved (and still love!) Chinese food. For a searching analysis, HG turned to perceptive SJ. Here’s what SJ has to say on this cross cultural subject: SJ cannot definitively answer such a weighty and complex question. But, it is worthy of intellectual speculation. SJ suspects that it had something to do with immigrant Jews (who were trying desperately to fit into their new American homeland) feeling a sense of ease while dining in establishments where the Chinese staff was, if anything, more foreign then them; and furthermore, a staff who saw no difference between Jewish customers and any other customer — which could not be said for many restaurants of the time. Plus it was cheap, salty and delicious. The fact that linchpins of Chinese cuisine were un-kosher pork and shrimp, was blithely ignored.

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