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Kosher Chinese Simply Sucks

According to a master chronicler of Chinese food (and plenty of others)

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If you’re looking for good kosher Chinese food, don’t bother. Or so says restaurant expert David Chan, who achieved internet fame when the Los Angeles Times profiled Chan, a third-generation Asian American, who has the dubious honor (and indigestion) of chronicling his experience eating in more than 6,200 Chinese restaurants in 40 years. He kept an extensive spreadsheet of all the restaurants and the dishes he ate. While, surprisingly, Chan doesn’t give off the impression of being a food snob, when The Scroll asked him about kosher Chinese restaurants he wasn’t too impressed with the cuisine.

“I’ve been to a probably a half dozen Kosher Chinese restaurants, all in West Los Angeles, and none were very good, and all were quite expensive,” he explained over the phone. “My secretary has had kosher Chinese in Toronto and Vancouver and her reports are the same… Only go there if you’re following kosher dietary laws.  If not don’t bother. No offense.”

Jews have long had a special affinity for Chinese food, especially during Christmas time (as both Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and David Mamet so eloquently pointed out). Jews who adhere to Kashruth have a much more limited range of options when it comes to kosher Chinese. Most dishes, like General Tzo’s Chicken or Hot and Sour Soup, resemble a form of Americanized-Chinese food that developed, according to Chan, during the wave of Chinese immigration in the 1960s.

“I see a similarity between Kosher Chinese, Indian Chinese, and Korean Chinese food, in that they are all effectively subcategories of what is typically referred to as Americanized Chinese food, with a slight twist in the preparation,” he said.

When I asked Jennifer 8. Lee author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food,” about kosher Chinese food, she wasn’t too shocked by Chan’s assessment. Though she did add:

“They obviously have a constituency or they wouldn’t exist,” she explained. “I think the best part of kosher Chinese restaurants are their names, like Chosen Island in New York.”

It seems that even that constituency is rapidly disappearing. New York’s oldest kosher Chinese restaurant, Shang-Chai, closed a few months ago and Elan Kornblum, editor of Great Kosher Restaurants, said that kosher Chinese restaurants are going “the same way as the deli.”

“I definitely think they’re ‘out of favor’ as compared with Japanese/Sushi and other ethnic foods within the Jewish community,” concurred Dani Klein, editor at YeahThatsKosher.com. (He also admitted that he just ate kosher Chinese food this week and found a bug in one dish.)

On the positive side, at least those who keep kosher won’t have to put up with this.

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Chopstix in West Orange, NJ and Teaneck, NJ is very good, but they only do take-out, so if you are looking for delivery or a place to sit and eat, you are SOL. Otherwise, their Oriental (yeah, they’re somewhat Americanized and not particularly PC) Hot Dogs are an excellent variation on the Pig in a Blanket.

MikhaelMeir says:

Shang-Chai closed?! They were never that good, but they were an institution.

I don’t think kosher Chinese is disappearing, but Shang-Chai closing is a reflection of the neighborhood it was located in changing.American kosher Chinese is so much better than Israeli Kosher Chinese, though, that’s for sure.

Annie Chans in Queens (Fresh Meadows) has abseloutely great food. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

New Kosher in Elizabeth New Jersey is amazing. I used to eat non Kosher chinese and their food has seriously great flavor and is high quality. They employ a full staff of experts who make this food amazing. This isn’t your restaurant style chinese with the delicious wonton noodles, its the take out type.

Kosher Chinese food is an oxymoron…it just doesn’t work.

Tsingtao Tootsie says:

Kosher Chinese is possible, but only if you cook at home. Believe me, it’s delicious: I grew up with my mother making Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, and French food at home (besides the usual briskets, et al). Funny, but one day in Qingdao I had a cabbage soup, and I had to peek in the kitchen to make sure my grandmother wasn’t in the kitchen. And I’ve lived in China without eating shellfish or pork. Just don’t try the “baked goods” – they’re AWFUL.

Steven Sacks-Wilner says:

Not True. Cognoscenti from the Tri-State area flock to Lin’s Kosher Chinese Kitchen in Manville, NJ. http://www.lin-kosher.com/

Disclaimer: I have NO relationship with Lin’s except as a consumer.

cipher says:

Buddha Bodai in NYC’s Chinatown

http://www.chinatownvegetarian.com/

Paul Starr says:

I’ve eaten at both Kosher and tref Chinese restaurants in Montreal, Toronto, LA and NY, and the best Chinese dinner I ever had was at Moishe Peking in New York City – delicious food, great service and Kosher to boot. I heard that they are not around anymore – too bad…

Heide Estes says:

Passing judgment on Kosher Chinese based on six restaurants, when he’s been to 6,200 in all, seems rather capricious. And I’ll second the recommendation for Buddha Bodai on Mott Street.

I’m not surprised that Chinese people would find Kosher Chinese food paling next to the “real thing.” And “the real thing” in America ain’t what it is in China, true? Then again, do I really want to eat chicken feet and crab and other stuff that is not only non-kosher but, IMHO, unappealing? (I chose a nice word…) So I’ll take either Buddha Bodhai and other vegan Chinese cuisine, or the kosher stuff. The author can be the food-snoot he is. And the last time I ate a (vegetarian) meal at a non-Kosher Chinese joint, it was flat-out disappointing. (Emmons Av in Sheepshead Bay)

Chosen Garden on 108 Street in Queens is superb. I suspect that the secret ingredient is the fact that it is owned and operated by Chinese. The food is delicious, the service is warm and friendly, and the ambience is very pleasant. Chosen is one of the few things we miss about
New York. (We’ve resettled in Florida.)

The real problem is that is is becoming nearly impossible to find good (forget about great) Chinese food at all. The quality of Chinese restaurants has been declining for years as people have migrated to other ethnic fare. The only good kosher Chinese restaurants I have eaten in are vegetarian Chinese Restaurants which also happen to have a hecksher.

I’ve had Kosher Chinese in New York (including Chosen) and Rockville, Maryland, and I concur with David Chan’s assessment. It doesn’t begin to hold a candle to real Chinese restaurants. Why? Maybe it’s because everything has pork and oyster sauce residue, even if you don’t want them. LOL

I’ve had good Kosher Thai and sushi, but so much Kosher Chinese reminds me of the MSG-laden goop that used to pass for Chinese food in the early 1970s.

The people who rave about Kosher Chinese remind me of those who wax poetic about French onion soup topped with non-dairy cheese. If you don’t know the difference, you’ll never know the difference.

Lynne T says:

Ah, cue the terrible joke about the guy reprimanded by his rabbi for eating in a Chinese restaurant on Shabbat of all nights, only for the culprit to point out that everything he ate that night was eaten under rabbinic supervision … by the rabbi who stood watching him eat.

Jonathan Eron is correct. In downtown Toronto, good Chinese restaurants are hard to find. I hear the best ones are out in the ‘burbs of Markham and Mississauga.

On the other hand, what about what gets passed off as bagels these days, in bakeries often operated, if not owned, by non-Jews? This Pesach just past, I made a point of checking out the (Jewish owned) What-a-Bagel down on Spadina Avenue to see what they would be selling to the locals, few of whom are Jewish only to spot a sign on the wall by the bin of bagels proclaiming them to be Passover bagels. I asked one of the bakers, who appeared to be south Asian how these bagels qualified for the holiday and, to no surprise, she had no idea what I was talking about.

Der Bala Rebbe says:

You should come to Philadelphia where we have a Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant with such delicious foods like Kung Po Shrimp, Steamed Pork Dumplings. Black hats and Sheitels eat here, the New Harmony Restaruant on 9th St. 1/2 a mile from the Liberty Bell. And of course spare ribs. My friends tell me the vegetarian shrimp even have the crunchy outer layer, like a true shrimp does.

Must never have been to Kaifeng, in London.

Agree! Very good food, and the owner thanks everyone with a “Toda Raba.”
If you’re in Philly, it’s worth the visit. Right in the heart of China Town.
Here in Toronto, we’re down to one, Golden Chopsticks, which is pretty good too. There are a few good ones in Israel, the famous one on the water in Tiberius and a few very good places in Jerusalem are kosher and delish.
But the big question is what to compare it too. If you’re kosher, you can only compare to other kosher places, although these come out pretty well, with good tasty food. Does it taste like real shrimp or pork? Who knows or will admit to knowing!

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Kosher Chinese Simply Sucks

According to a master chronicler of Chinese food (and plenty of others)

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