the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

In Praise of Chinese Restaurants


If I can make it to New York soon, I’d like to go see "Have You Eaten Yet?" at the Museum of Chinese in Americas.  It is an exhibit is about the history of Chinese restaurants in America.

Rich, poor, black, white, who doesn’t love Chinese food?   I always thought that if the world was going to be taken over by an enemy, better it be the Chinese than the Russians.  At least we already like their food.

There are many Jewish jokes about American Jews and their love for Chinese food.  My family was no exception.   Growing up in Queens, NY, Chinese restaurants played an important part of my upbringing.   Proust can have his madelaine.   I have kung pao chicken. 

Some random thoughts:

  • Christmas for us was Chinese food night.   Maybe Jews love Chinese restaurants because they were the only places open on Christmas and Easter.

  • We would break our Yom Kippur Fast at a Chinese restaurant, usually a fancy place like King Yum, where they had exotic flaming dishes which we never ordered because they were too expensive.

  • We sometimes ate pork in a Chinese restaurant because it was somehow more kosher than the pork of any other ethnic group.

  • My mother tried to make her own "pepper steak" and "chow mein," with limited success.

  • I first considered myself "sophisticated" when I learned to use chopsticks.

  • I still remember the excitement of eating in my first Szechuan and Hunan restaurants in Manhattan and realizing that egg foo young isn’t really Chinese food.

  • I also remember the excitement of seeing what Chinese people really ate, and realizing the food I was eating in the Szechuan and Hunan restaurants wasn’t really Chinese food, either.

  • I couldn’t help trying a Chinese restaurant in Madrid with a really weird menu, and realizing that it was adapted for Spanish tastes as much as Chinese immigrants to America adapted their cuisine for us.

  • I spent too much time hanging out in the Formosa Cafe when I first moved to Los Angeles.  What a cool place.  The worst Chinese food I’ve ever tasted.

  • I still keep fortunes from the fortune cookies in my wallet, waiting for the them to come true.

  • I called my mother last night to tell her to go to this exhibit, but she was out playing Mah Jong.


  1. Hilary

    A Christmas without Chinese food is not really Christmas. The end.

  2. Neil

    I completely forget to mention the joy of learning about dim sum!

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