Here’s a very modest proposal for the holidays: On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, don’t toil over the stove and prepare your usual massive feast for the family. Instead, use the pandemic as an excuse to take a page from Jewish Americans and order some damn good Chinese takeout.
Your local mom-and-pop purveyor of kung pao chicken and sticky rice could probably use the business: Though all restaurants across the U.S. have suffered due to coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions, Chinese restaurants have been hit particularly hard.
According to Womply, a data subscription service, Asian American restaurants have closed at a far higher rate than non-Asian restaurants. And compared with other Asian restaurants, Chinese eateries had the highest rates of closure at 61%.
Some have suggested the dip in business is at least partially due to consumer prejudice toward Asians and Asian Americans in the wake of coronavirus.
In July, Eric Sze, co-owner of the Manhattan-based Taiwanese restaurant 886, talked to HuffPost about how his business had been affected by customers generally avoiding Asian food.
“Come March, business was down 80%, even before the shutdown,” he said. “And I don’t like to be the one to victimize myself, but March was when Italy had more cases than China, but all the Italian restaurants were still packed. It’s hard to ignore that fact when it’s presented like that. I think there are definitely factors of xenophobia.”
In May, celebrities joined forces with the Asian seasonings and food company Ajinomoto and started the hashtag #TakeOutHate to encourage Asian eatery takeout orders.
“The fact that so many people are avoiding Asian food is just a sneaky new form of racism,” comedian Margaret Cho said in a promo video for the campaign. Others featured in the video included actor Harry Shum Jr.
“Can’t believe I have to say this, but COVID is not sushi’s fault,” Shum joked.
Ten months into the pandemic, those same restaurants are still hurting. Plunging your chopsticks into a big, messy bowl of lo mein may be one of the most supportive things you can do for small businesses this season.
Plus, if you’re social distancing and downsizing your get-together to stay safe, your dinner really doesn’t need to be a huge production. Be honest with yourself: You’re sick of cooking, day in and day out, and wholly exhausted from living through a global pandemic. Why not cut yourself a break and let someone else do the cooking for you?
In the process, you’ll be self-initiating yourself into the “Jewish Christmas” club. As we mentioned earlier, the love affair between Jewish Americans and Chinese restaurants is long-standing. When nearly everything else is closed, Chinese restaurants are reliably open on Dec. 24 and 25. It may be cliche at this point but “Jewish Christmas” ― Chinese food and a movie ― is definitely a thing.
It doesn’t hurt that Chinese recipes can easily be tailored to the kosher diet since dairy products are rarely used, said Johnny Lee, the chef and owner of Pearl River Deli in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.
Lee experienced a heightened version of Jewish Christmas every year while working at Genghis Cohen, a popular New York-style Sichuan Chinese restaurant in L.A’.s Fairfax District, a neighborhood with a sizable Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community.
“Chinese restaurants just make sense because one, they’ve historically been more numerous than other types of Asian restaurants and two, the menus tend to be accessible for those that don’t eat pork or shellfish,” he told HuffPost.
“I think it’s nice that two minority groups in America can rely on each other for a non-Christmas-y Christmas tradition,” Lee added.
Personal finance journalist Lindsay Goldwert has fond memories of Jewish Christmases past. Growing up in Roslyn, New York, a village on Long Island’s North Shore, Goldwert figured everyone poured into mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Every December, the Goldwert family would get their fill of food at Hunan Taste, a no-frills local Chinese spot that’s been around since 1989. (Their go-to order? Lemon chicken, shrimp dumplings, vegetable lo mein and orange beef.) After, they’d go see a movie. (This year, for her and so many others, Netflix will have to suffice.)
“In my hometown, getting your order in on Christmas Eve is nearly impossible,” Goldwert told HuffPost. “My parents are extra nice to the owners of their local restaurant all year so they can get their order in.”
This year, the writer says she’ll order a surplus of savory noods and dumplings to do her part to help support the neighborhood restaurant she hopes to again visit on the other side of the pandemic.
“Jewish Christmas sneakily became one of the most widely observed ‘Jewish holidays’ and one of the most fun, and this year everyone can do it.”
Jeffrey Yoskowitz, the co-author of “The Gefilte Manifesto” and co-owner of The Gefilteria, doesn’t think a pitch to non-Jews on ordering Chinese takeout on Christmas Day is even needed this year.
“My non-Jewish friends regularly ask me during non-pandemic years to celebrate Jewish Christmas with me since it’s so exciting to them,” he told HuffPost. This year, everyone gets to partake in the joys of Jewish Christmas, he joked.
“Jewish Christmas sneakily became one of the most widely observed ‘Jewish holidays’ and one of the most fun, and this year you can do it,” he said. “What an opportunity!”
If you do decide to go the takeout route, your local Chinese spot is waiting with open arms.
Keegan Fong, owner of Woon, a casual Chinese restaurant in L.A.’s Filipinotown, made the mistake of closing his business on Christmas Day last year. In all fairness, it was his first year in a brick-and-mortar spot and he was in the dark about the Jewish Christmas thing.
This year, he’s offering “quarantine specials” for takeout and delivery for larger parties. (Each include choices of mains, sides and bottles of natural wine or sake for parties of two, four, or larger.)
“I talked to some of our Jewish customers and they were so angry that we weren’t open on Christmas,” he said. “Lucky for me, they all postponed their Chinese meals to the days following the 25th. We were slammed the days after Christmas.”
Fong kept his pitch for Chinese takeout on Christmas Day simple: “There’s really nothing that says ‘family’ more than a family-style Chinese meal,” he said. “Chinese food is meant to be shared with family ― and when it’s takeout it’s even better.”
Plus, he added, “the re-heat value on Chinese food is probably the best (behind pizza), and it travels well.”
Now that the argument has been made for a Jewish Christmas meal, go and get a head start on placing your order of General Tso’s chicken and steamed bao buns. Here’s hoping your fortune cookie says something along the lines of, “Next year will be better than the hellish one you’re currently experiencing.”