Oy to the World

Where to go for Chinese food on Christmas Day

There are 613 commandments in the Torah, and somehow, not once is it mentioned that Jews shalt eat Chinese food on Christmas. And yet, generations of Jewish Americans abide by this decree, participating in an annual Chinatown bum-rush that holds as much significance as the traditional goose-and-bûche dinner on many Christian tables.

We Jews don't just eat Chinese food on December 25 because they're often the only restaurants open. There's more to it than that—a whole tangled history that writer Marc Tracy did an excellent job of unraveling in Tablet a few years back. It's worth your time to sit down and read the whole tale of subliminal socioeconomic factors, religious beliefs and cultural customs, but right now, we're in it for the food. The most important thing to understand about this tradition is that we do it very much on purpose. It's a celebration, an annual point of pride and an event that many of us are deeply attached to.

It's not enough to simply order takeout and eat in sweatpants on the couch, as you might on another sanctioned weekday off. Christmas Day Chinese food is a festive affair, one that's best performed in large groups (of friends, family or both) at loud places (like Chinese banquet halls). New York is a highly conducive environment for this, but you will not be the only one with this idea.

Dim sum at Jing Fong 

Restaurants in all three Chinatowns (lower Manhattan, Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens) will be swollen with huge, hungry groups, and it's fair to assume there will be both a long wait and overtaxed service once you're in. This is all part of the experience. Veteran groups may choose to elect one "runner" to fortify the team with pineapple buns and/or egg tarts from a nearby bakery (there's almost always a nearby bakery) while they wait, and a separate "barker" to do the bulk of the ordering and/or pointing once seated.

A final consideration: Chinese food on Christmas is not really about the food. We like the food, we plan around the food, yes, but this is not the day to debate which hyper-regional speciality to pursue—this is a day of tradition, which means, for my family and friends, queuing up for dim sum pushed around in rickety carts or Chinese-American classics covered in cornstarch-thickened sauces. Embrace it. As Tracy says, we are motivated by our hearts, not our taste buds.

In the interest of ensuring you have both a good time and a good meal, I suggest a trip to one of the following restaurants:

Jing Fong, Manhattan: Brace for a sprawling dim sum and banquet hall, complete with a private escalator, ginormous crystal chandeliers and an in-your-face gold dragon motif. The dim sum isn't necessarily the most innovative, but it's hot, fresh and, due to the enormousness of the dining room, turns over quickly.

Pacificana, Sunset Park: There's a slightly upscale atmosphere at this Sunset Park Cantonese and dim sum standby, but the Christmas Day crowds (evenly mixed between Jewish and Asian groups) can still get a little rowdy, or as we like to call it, festive.

Grand Restaurant, Flushing: Located on the top floor of New World Mall in Flushing, this shiny newcomer to the dim sum/banquet hall scene boasts neon purple lights, wall-mounted fish tanks and endless carts of fresh dumplings. Try the glutinous rice with egg yolk.

RedFarm, Upper West Side, and RedFarm/Decoy, West Village: Food expert and restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld's perpetually popular Chinese-American joints are offering holiday specials on Christmas Eve and Day, including barbecued duck with Japanese plum sauce and black truffle and chicken soup dumplings. Reservations aren't accepted, but call to put your name on the list starting at 10 a.m. day-of.

Mile End, Soho and Boerum Hill: The nouveau Jewish delicatessen hosts its annual reservation-only Chinese feasts daily December 24 through 26, with dishes like corned beef and kraut wontons with spicy mustard sauce and dan dan noodles with smoked meat.