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.
Michael Orbach is a writer living in New York.