A funny post on Triscribe tsktsking about the obsession about Jews who love Chinese food, and lack of attention to Chinese people who love Jewish food. The post points out, correctly, that about 1/3 of the waitstaff at born-again 2nd Avenue Deli are Chinese. (I can confirm that at least they are Asian immigrants, though I didn’t ask where they are from. But they are probably Chinese, given immigrant patterns in the city. Chinese are the second-largest foreign born population in New York after Dominicans)
On the battle of Chinese food versus Jewish food. I will say there are 40,000+ Chinese restaurants in the country and the Jewish delis is precipitous decline, once with 500+ and now just a small handful in New York City (though in New York, Korean-owned delis are a mainstay)
In terms of the ultimate Chinese lover of Jewish food, I would have to give it to Lejen Chen, a Chinese-American New Yorker who brought bagels to Beijing!
This woman has loved bagels since her childhood in Brooklyn and throughout high school at Stuyvesant. A 1999 New York Times article talks about her factory and the struggles to make bagels in Beijing.
Of course, commercial bagel-making equipment is unheard of in China, and importing it would have been prohibitively expensive, so Mr. Shan’s engineering skills were put to work converting an old noodle maker into a bagel presser and improvising a bagel boiler and production ovens.
Ingredients were also a problem, with local flour in particular proving unsuitable for bagels. The bakery and cafe now use Canadian wheat flour, Korean sugar, French yeast, California raisins, Australian cream cheese and Norwegian salmon. The water is Chinese, though in the early going the supply was erratic.
Even deciding what to call the product in Chinese was tricky. Some Mandarin-English dictionaries translate bagel as mian bao quan (bread in a circle), others as bai ji quan chi (hundred lucky circles). Neither felt right. Instead, Ms. Chen decided to adopt a friend’s suggestion: bei gu. ”It sounds more like ‘bagel,’ ” Ms. Chen said; its literal meaning, precious grain, was appealing if a bit cryptic.
Also, it’s not obvious, from looking at a bagel, how to eat it, so Chinese customers have pioneered different approaches of eating them.
Some cut up the bagels and stir-fry or grill the pieces. Others coat the bagels with sesame paste and butter. Bagels may be served at dinner in place of rice or a northern Chinese staple, steamed buns. And customers pack them as travel snacks for journeys to places like Tibet or Mongolia.
The funny thing is, that bagel-like things are naturally made in China — just in an unexpected place: Xinjiang, the western province which is like 1/6th the area of China, but really empty, except for the Uyghurs.
I went traveling there and was astounded by all the mounds of bagels. (They taste slightly different, less chewy, more dense).
The culture/terrain/people of Xinjiang seem really more Central Asian than Chinese (The scenes of Kite Runner were filmed in Xinjiang instead of neighboring Afghanhistan where it was really set). It’s also called by the slightly controversial name, East Turkistan.
The photo on the top is not from H&H, it’s actually from Xinjiang, from cupofcha.
The Uygher-bagel-like thing is called girde nan, which is one of several types of nan.
Unclear: is the Uyghur-bagel something that shares common ancestral roots with the Eastern European bagel Or is this one of ttose separated at birth things?