Tag Archives: chinese food

Chinese Food & Jewish Christmas + a Joke

Main Piece:

How would you describe this tradition?

“For American Jewry, frequently if they don’t have friends or family to spend Christmas with, they needed somewhere to go on Christmas when everything was closed, and one thing that seemed to be open was Chinese food restaurants, which were not closed on Christmas. And there’s a joke that goes along with this: If it’s the Jewish year 5749 and the Chinese year 4257, what did the Jews do for 1276 years? All my numbers are wrong, but it works because the Jewish calendar is older than the Chinese calendar. And this tradition is national.”


The informant is my father. He was raised culturally Jewish, and his career is within the science field. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Jewish people tend to not celebrate Christmas because anything related to the figure of Jesus isn’t a part of Jewish scripture. 


I have consumed Dim Sum (a category of Chinese food) every Christmas day for as long as I can remember. A tradition that emerged out of convenience became something to look forward to every year. If my family sees other non-Chinese people at the Dim Sum restaurant on Christmas, we probably know them because they’re members of our synagogue. The joke emphasizes how widespread this tradition is, and how reliant Jews have become on Chinese food to feed themselves every Christmas. Getting Chinese food on Christmas has become a stereotype, so much so that even some Jewish Channukah merchandise includes images of Chinese takeout. 

Minced Pork Stew Ng Family Style


This is a recipe passed down to my mother from my grandmother. I reached out to my mother for the receipt of Pork Stew. It is a very traditional Chinese dish, specifically within Hokkein families. Hokkein is a dialect spoken by Southeastern parts of China, and in Singapore, it is one of the most common dialects spoken.




Dried Chinese Mushroom – 6 medium pieces

(wash ns oak in hot water for ½ hour. Thinly sliced)
Tau Pok – 1 packet

Minced garlic – 2 tablespoon

Chopped onion – 3 tablespoon

Chinese wine (Hua Tiao Qiu) – 1 bottle

(around 375ml)

Chicken stock – 800ml

Rock sugar – 5 small cubes

Dark soy sauce – 4 tablespoon

Light soy sauce – 1 tablespoon

White Pepper Powder

Cooking Instructions

Add a bit of oil, stir fry the garlic lightly, followed by onion

Stir fry until both is translucent (don’t brown it)
Add mince pork and make sure all of the pieces break up nicely, when the pork is cooked, add the mushroom

Add dark and light soy sauce, stir fry a little longer until fragant

Add the rice wine, rock sugar, add chicken stock until it covers above the pork. Around 1 inch. Let is simmer for ½ hour or longer.

Add the tau pork and cooked hard boil egg (optional)
Simmer another ½ hour. If the water evaporates, add more chicken stock.



This was my absolute favorite dish growing up and the first dish I asked my mother for the recipe when I left for college and had to start cooking for myself. It is a comfort dish that reminds me of home. On a personal level, it is a recipe that everyone in my family knows how to make and something that I had eaten growing up, thus it feels incredibly nostalgic. On a cultural level, this dish comes from China but has a Singaporean take on it. Pork stew is often made using large pieces of Pork Belly. However, this recipe using minced pork instead. In Singapore, most of the Chinese population were immigrants that were working to send money back to their families. Thus, they did not have a lot of money. The pork belly was a much more expensive cut of meat and minced pork was much more readily available. This pork stew, while having the taste of the dishes in China, the cut of meat is different and that is what makes it uniquely Singaporean. On a cultural and historical level, it reminds me of what makes Singapore, Singapore. And it reminds me of the hardship that was faced by my grandparents as they worked hard to make Singapore go from a fishing village to one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Oxtail Stew – Bejing Recipe


The interviewee in this collection and I are both Chinese though we have very different backgrounds. I’m Singaporean-Chinese and she is Beijing-Chinese. We found common ground in many of the foods that our mothers made for us growing up, however always noticed that there were little differences in the recipe. The following is a recipe that she gave me that was a favorite dish for both of us growing up, but the recipe is the Beijing version of Oxtail Stew.



The following is a receipt given to me by the interviewee.

1.Blanch the chopped oxtail over boiling water for 1-2 minutes.

2.Add in 2 spoons of yellow wine and 3 spoons of soy sauce.

3.Season the beef with rock sugar, chicken powder, aniseed, cinnamon, and dried chili

4.Add in water and keep braising the beef until the beef is well cooked



Food can be a very tricky thing. You can make two dishes of oxtail stew with practically the same ingredients, but once one of them has dried chili and aniseed, it becomes distinctly a Beijing recipe instead of one from Guangzhou or Singapore or Malaysia. Because the Chinese population is huge and many Chinese people have branched away from China to various parts of the world, recipes get changed and adapted to whichever country the chef resides in. It is always fun to see a classic Chinese recipe that is just slightly different.

Bah-tzan Legend

During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My Thoughts
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.

The Dumber the Name, The Better the Food

My sister got this saying from a guy she was seeing at the time. He was extremely well traveled, and used this trick for finding close to/authentic Chinese food in America.

Allegra: “So his advice is to look for the Chinese restaurant with the weirdest name – the name that makes no sense in English. Go there and you are sure to have some authentic fare at the right price.”

Me: What do you mean by weird?

Allegra: ” Well there are names which make no sense and are a sort of enigmatic challenge for the discerning brain. Do they actually make sense and would be clear to those who were more culturally aware and cosmopolitan? Or are they purposely inscrutable so as to attract attention? Who knows, but here are some real-life examples:

I Don’t Know Chinese Restaurant

New Fook Lam Moon (was there an Old Fook Lam Moon?)

Concubine and The Shanghai

New Cultural Revolution Restaurant

Confucius Pao

The New Edinburgh Rendezvous Mandarin Kitchen

Nice Day Happy Garden

Me: Have you tried this out anywhere in New York City?

Allegra: “I haven’t yet. But now that I’m thinking about it, I fully intend to.”

Analysis: Perhaps perpetuating this rule of thumb – “The dumber the name, the better the food” is a way for people to deal with their fear of the unknown and bestow some honor on their xenophobia. Or, maybe the rule of thumb is true – at least as a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will think the food is better if they’ve found a place with a truly confusing name.