There are few holiday traditions that unite a group of people more than Jewish families eating Chinese food and going to the movies on Christmas. Most Jewish people in America have experienced this somewhat-amusing yearly event, precipitated by the fact that movie theaters and Chinese restaurants are some of the only places open on Christmas (though that has changed over the years). But there may be more to this tongue-in-cheek display of Yiddish Yuletide than meets the eye. According to an article in The Atlantic, Jewish and Chinese groups are “linked by otherness.” In other words, both Chinese and Jewish groups remember what it was like to be a (somewhat unwanted) immigrant in America.
According to Ed Schoenfeld, owner of Red Farm, a well-known Chinese restaurant in New York, Jewish people who keep kosher cannot mix dairy with meat, so they found safe passage in eating Chinese food. Chinese restaurants rarely include dairy products in their food and often offer extensive vegetarian options. However, Chinese food products do contain plenty of pork and shellfish, so your local Panda Express isn’t entirely safe.
Jennifer 8 Lee, producer of The Search for General Tso even went as far as to suggest, to The Atlantic that Chinese food was inspired by the Jews.
“I would argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews,” she said. “That, in fact, they identify with it more than they do gefilte fish or all kinds of the Eastern Europe dishes of yore.”