One of the things that I often find myself explaining to my friends who are not Jewish is that, contrary to popular misconception, kosher is not a specific type of food. Those of us who eat kosher can eat pretty much any kind of food because the term describes a type of preparation in accordance with Jewish law, not food from a specific origin.
Many are surprised to learn that kosher foods can include everything from classic American junk foods, such as hot dogs and fried chicken, to delicious Chinese dishes such as ban mian and hokkien mee.
Kosher Chinese restaurants may be found around the world, and are an excellent example of just how varied kosher cuisine may be.
Since China is such a vast territory, you’ll find that the different regions have developed their own culinary traditions, from Szechuan dishes such as mapo dofu to Cantonese dishes such as dim sum.
You can find a great list of kosher Chinese restaurants around the world at the Yeah That’s Kosher Blog. The list includes kosher restaurants in the US, Israel, Europe, and even one in Beijing, China: http://yeahthatskosher.com/2009/12/kosher-chinese-restaurants/
Within the US, you can find a wide variety of kosher Chinese dining options. The Bamboo Garden in Seattle, Washington, is an all-vegetarian restaurant where the motto is “Health is Our Recipe.” Even if you are normally a meat eater, I know you’ll find something here you’ll enjoy.
The restaurant has a huge variety of dishes. And in ones that normally contain meat or seafood, the restaurant simply uses a meat substitute made from vegetable protein. By doing so, Bamboo Garden is upholding an ancient tradition that dates back thousands of years to China’s early imperial dynasties in which the emperor observed seven weeks of strict vegetarianism while making his annual prayer for the kingdom’s prosperity.
One of Bamboo Garden’s specialties is the Buddha’s Imperial Feast, which consists of braised shiitake mushrooms and vegetables on a bed of bok choy. There is also a whole menu of excellent noodle specialties, such as pan fried rice noodles, chow mein noodles, and udon noodles.
If you’re on the opposite end of the country, two places where you have a great number of options for kosher Chinese dining are Philadelphia, PA, and New York.
One of my favorite kosher Chinese restaurants in New York is Eden Wok, which has one location in New Rochelle and one in New York City. The prices here are very reasonable, and you can find many of your Chinese favorites, such as Hunan Beef and General Tso’s Chicken, as well as an entire menu of sushi and sashimi.
I know what you are thinking right now — you think of sushi and sashimi as traditional Japanese cuisine, right? They are, but that is one of the fascinating things about Chinese food.
Because China is such a huge country, with an ancient history and far-reaching significance, you’ll find that its culinary traditions have influenced a great number of other countries’ menus as well. The traditional dishes of Singapore, Japan, Thailand, and others have been influenced by Chinese cuisine. In return, many culinary traditions of Southeast Asia spread throughout China.
It is believed that sushi originated in Southeast Asia in the 4th century BC, then spread throughout China and later Japan in the 8th century AD. So while sushi is commonly known as a Japanese culinary staple, it is actually likely that it first reached China.
As you’re probably already well aware, it has long been said that American Jews have a particular affinity to Chinese cuisine. Why?
I find that it is best explained in this article by Hanna Raskin in the Dallas Observer. She actually wrote her master’s thesis on the reasons underlying the relationship between Jews and Chinese food: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/cityofate/2010/06/so_why_do_jews_eat_chinese_foo.php