Michael Levy is the author of “Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.” His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
My therapist once told me a joke: “Chinese culture is old, perhaps 4000 years. But Jewish culture is 1000 years older! The only question is: How did we survive for 1000 years without Chinese food?”
He’s a great therapist, but a lousy comedian. Nevertheless, our interaction — like a Chinese box — was layered. We were knee-deep in stereotypes, each containing a grain of truth. Jews are either stand-up comedians or failed stand-up comedians. Jews are either in therapy, therapists themselves, or both. Jews love Chinese food.
I fit all these stereotypes. The last one is particularly true, in large part because I lived in China for three years, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province (drop a finger on the dead-center of China, and you’ll likely hit this remote location).
It was a surreal experience. I was one of the only foreigners my students had ever seen, and they reacted to me the way I would react to Chewbacca walking into a classroom. I was stared at. I was feared. I was recruited to play on a university basketball team (the only Jew to ever truly earn the nickname Shaq). I was told I must play Santa Claus in a Walmart.
When things settled down and I was a bit more integrated into the community, I got down to my actual job. I taught grammar and vocabulary to hundreds of kids from tiny farming villages. They, in turn, taught me how to eat everything from millipede to chicken talon… and beyond.
Unlike David Sedaris — possibly the worst traveller on earth — I fell in love with the food in China. Notice I did not write “Chinese food.” This is deliberate. “Chinese food” is what I eat every Christmas Eve in America. It is lo mein, wonton soup, and moo shu. It is General Tsao. “Food in China” is not remotely like this. Not remotely.
I love food in China. I also love Chinese food. I also try to keep kosher. Can these three statements co-exist? Over the next week, I will be blogging about my attempt to find the restaurant in New York that best fits all three criteria. As Karl Marx — the most beloved Jew in all of China — once wrote, “Working people of the world unite and find good Kosher Chinese food!”
Check back all week for more posts from Michael Levy, author of the recently published “Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.”
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