Merry Jewish Christmas: an insider's guide to the unofficial holiday | Dish | Indy Week
Pin It

Merry Jewish Christmas: an insider's guide to the unofficial holiday 

Dec. 25, 2013. While other families honey-glaze ham and decorate cookies, mine huddles for warmth outside Bill & Harry's Chinese Cuisine on Route 10 in New Jersey. The wait is an hour long. To pass the time, we discuss Wolf of Wall Street, which we just saw, debate the menu ("General Tso's or Kung Pao?"), and argue why we didn't make a reservation. The same thing happens every year.

Jewish Christmas is not a calendar holiday, but where I'm from—a Garden State suburb half-an-hour due west of the Big Apple—it's celebrated with as much merriment as the real deal.

Here's the tradition:

On Jewish Christmas Eve, wish for no snow. No one wants a white Jewish Christmas. On Jewish Christmas morning, exchange zero presents, then go to the movies. Pre-buy tickets and strategize show times so you can see at least two films back-to-back. Popcorn, chocolate-covered raisins and oversized sodas are sacred. As soon as the credits roll, head to your favorite Chinese restaurant. Make a reservation, if you can, though takeout is fine.

I should mention, my hometown's demographics are a bit skewed. In the public school system, seventh grade is colloquially called "Bar/Bat Mitzvah Year" (the Jewish coming-of-age celebration). New Jersey, according to 2010 data, has a 5.6 percent Jewish population—the second highest in the country, next to New York with 8.4. North Carolina, on the other hand, has 0.3 percent. Oy vey.

I moved to Raleigh in June and, within weeks, missed bagels and lox (no offense to biscuits and fried chicken). But it wasn't until the fall that I realized I hadn't found my Chinese place for the holiday.

Serious research ensued.

I began by polling locals—many of whom responded with, "You mean, like, authentic Chinese?"

I shook my head. Jews celebrating Christmas by smuggling sesame noodles into the 6 p.m. showing of Mockingjay aren't looking for authentic anything. In many ways, that's the whole point. Jewish Christmas means celebrating not-celebrating—the inauthentic, the absence of mainstream tradition.

This does, however, complicate the search. The "authentic" choices—think Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro or Captain J's in Raleigh—are critically acclaimed, with in-depth reviews and local awards.

The "inauthentic" options—those greasy American-Chinese dives we keep on speed dial for midnight cravings—hide in a labyrinth of informal internet reviews: Yelp, Urban Spoon, and the like. There, the line between a good and bad restaurant is thinner than a lo mein noodle.

The spots where I could find my Jewish Christmas feast—General Tso's, pork fried rice, and an egg roll—are limitless. But what about a place where the General Tso's is conservatively breaded and genuinely spicy? And the pork fried rice is full of spareribs, freckled with vegetables, speckled with egg? And the egg roll is good enough to fight your brother for?

American-Chinese is a guilty pleasure novel. You wouldn't bring it up at your book club, but it's too good to put down. It hasn't won any awards, but everyone's reading it.

Before I could sample options in the Triangle, though, another concern arose: Will southern American-Chinese restaurants even be open?

Using personal recommendations and online research, I developed a list of 14 restaurants to contact. Of the finalists, only one (David's Dumpling and Noodle Bar in Raleigh) will be closed for the holiday. A merry Jewish Christmas to (y')all!

To most restaurants, the question seemed strange. "You mean Thanksgiving?" asked one. "Uh—give me a minute," mumbled another. It wasn't until I called Fu Kee Express that I heard some Jewish Christmas spirit.

"Christmas—every year—we're open," he said. "Very busy."

"Great!" I said.

"You're from New Jersey, right?"

Caller ID, I wondered, or mind reader? Either way, I was curious enough to place an order.

That night, I ventured to three Chinese restaurants and picked-up the same order from each. I selected the spots—Fu Kee Express, Beansprout, and Super Wok—based on their reputations, as well as their proximity to my home. (If you aren't similarly located, see box for other suggestions.)

At Fu Kee Express, the man I spoke with earlier elaborated on holiday business: "If you're going to do a big order, call early. People do 50, 60, 70, 100 dollar orders."

They sound like my kind of people, but the food, unfortunately, didn't measure up. The fried rice was egg yolk-yellow—lovely in texture, but off the mark in flavor. Beansprout's was well-seasoned with soy, but lacking mix-ins. And Super Wok's was just right.

The rest of the meal followed this Goldilocks pattern.

In the end, Beansprout confirmed why people confuse American-Chinese with "bad Chinese": too much dough and cornstarch where there should be meat, too much MSG where there should be punchy flavor.

For my money, I'll be dining at Super Wok. A few chopsticks-full of fried rice and, suddenly, I was back on Route 10, freezing my tuchis off. What's more, the restaurant was the only setting where I could picture my 84-year-old grandma sitting down, pulling a Tupperware of Scotch out of her purse, and flagging down the nearest waitress for "a glass of ice, bubbala." With subtle decorations and abundant seating for large groups—including two round eight-tops—the space is ripe for (faux) festivity. If you aren't slated to be smooching someone under the mistletoe, I'll see you there.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Let it tso, let it tso, let it tso"

Tags:

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Dish



Twitter Activity

Comments

A great little family Italian restaurant. Good menu. Quiet setting. Good service. …

by Anthony Dean Morgan on Pulcinella's Italian Restaurant (Durham County)

The Refectory is no longer on the Duke Campus. Their new, permanent location is on Chapel Hill Blvd, and yes …

by Beth Owl's Daughter on The Refectory Cafe (Durham County)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

If you want info about the business try the Mobile Food Vendor Academy Group on Facebook. Click Here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/174363016277860/

by Jason Hillard on A Former Harlem Globetrotter Settles in North Carolina to Open a Louisiana Food Truck (Dish)

Henry is our amazing nephew, thank you for sharing your/his story. And now I'm craving a grill cheese.

by Karen Field on Feels on Wheels: What It's Really Like Running a Food Truck (Dish)

Thanks for sharing Paul! This is Danny with Cut Bait and we all respect you and have proven to be …

by Danny (Cut Bait Cafe) on Feels on Wheels: What It's Really Like Running a Food Truck (Dish)

Yum... I don't suppose there are vegan versions?

by December27 on Booze for Dessert: The Simple Wonder of Chuck's Milkshakes with Shots (Dish)

Story idea for food trucks: Wake Tech has a "How to Start a Food Truck Business" course. http://www.waketech.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/ce-courses?course=SEF-3001B3

by Kate Pattison on Eating in Traffic: Welcome to Our Dish Special Issue on All Things Food Truck (Dish)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation