22 December 2021
I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with General Tso. It’s a culinary tradition that many of us share in the Jewish community, like latkes on Hanukkah and hamantashen on Purim. While our Christian friends and neighbors dream of sugared almonds this weekend, we will have visions of dim sum and sticky rice.
Christmas often means a peak in activity for Chinese restaurants in the area, so it may be a good idea to plan ahead. Many restaurants are now limiting the number of people who dine there, which could lead to a take-out boom.
We made inquiries with several Jews in Saint-Louis to find out where they go to get Chinese food for Christmas and what strategy they follow, if applicable.
What is your Chinese food strategy?
“The past year has been a nightmare,” said Cheryl Martin, a retired teacher who attends the Central Reform Congregation. “We waited two hours in the car after desperately looking for a place we like. We love beef and broccoli or green beans and beef and we’re always on the lookout for a great Rangoon Crab. There are millions of places on Olive in U. City and we could try the Royal Chinese BBQ because my friend was so happy.
Jessica Z. Brown, founder and president of Gateway Media Literacy Partners, said her family changed the schedule for Chinese dinners as they now had dinner with her in-laws on Christmas Day.
“We are doing the most beloved Chinese custom on New Years Eve now,” she said. “But every December 24, I sit down and yearn to practice this centuries-old Jewish custom. My favorites are the foo young eggs, moo shu pork, spring rolls and Rangoon crab. Memories are made of these.
Martin said she didn’t even realize that eating Chinese food was a Jewish tradition until she was an adult. Amanda Levinson Wang was familiar with the practice when she was growing up. Every year, her family traveled to Hunan Empress at the Four Seasons Plaza.
“Originally it was dinner there, then it became a take-out,” she said. “About 15 years ago, we stopped doing this because the wait for your care was hours and hours. We finally decided to eat Chinese on another day where we didn’t have to wait more than five hours!
Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of the United Hebrew Congregation said she plans to beat the crowds by heading to the Hunan Star in Manchester on the afternoon of Christmas Day.
Anita Kraus, Director of Early Childhood Education at B’nai Amoona Congregation, has previously pre-ordered Special Fried Rice and Special Homemade Soup from Private Kitchen on Olive Boulevard.
“When our kids were younger, we would get together with the same friends every Christmas Eve at our favorite local Cantonese restaurant or have it,” she said.
Rob Bertman, who attends Temple Israel, blames non-Jews for the Christmas crowd.
“On Christmas Day, Chinese food turned out to be not just a Jewish thing,” said Bertman, 42. “People who celebrate Christmas take our places. Also the movie theaters are now overcrowded on Christmas Day and they were empty, so now we go out on Christmas Eve. We’re going to Lulu’s this year on Olive in U. City, and then we’ll see “The Matrix”.
“It’s a tradition we call Jewish men’s night,” he said. “We go out to eat Chinese, then to the cinema. We were going to Shu Feng and we did nothing last year because of COVID. A few years ago we started going to Lulu’s, which is also very busy on Christmas Eve.
Navigate the crowd
Despite the crowds, everyone has their favorites. Jody Serkes and his DJ mom are planning a Yen Ching dinner on Brentwood Boulevard on Christmas Day.
“I love their moo shu and we have the amazing green bean stir-fry,” Serkes said. “My mom loves chicken and pea pods. But everything they do is fresh, hot, and delicious. We also love the owner.
Donna and Rob Epstein used to go to a movie in the morning, then to a Chinese restaurant, followed by a game of Monopoly. As they are now moving from their Meadowbrook home to Scottsdale for vacation, they opt for a movie at the restaurant because “the Chinese restaurants near us are appalling.”
If the Epsteins had stayed in town, they could very well have joined the queue to pick up the goods to take away at the Hunan Star in Des Peres. Mr. Ping, the owner of Hunan Star, said he always sees more Jewish customers coming in at Christmas. He is forecasting a busy week and on Tuesday (when the restaurant is closed) he was busy rolling crab in Rangoon.
Brad Hartman, chief at Anthology of Clayton View, said this is where he sees the most West County Jews over Christmas.
“Years ago we went to the old Mandarin House on Page for take out,” Hartman said. “They had traditional, real ribs that aren’t easy to find. The best baby back ribs in town are now at Mai Lee in Brentwood.
Bertman can’t wait to see his Jewish friends over their dinner at Lulu’s. They’re busy with other family commitments the rest of the year, so now’s the time to get out there and catch up. The menu is not particularly a priority for him.
“Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Chinese food,” he said.