St. Louisans’ strategies for the maximum Christmas Chinese food experience

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By Bill Motchan , Special to the Jewish Light

I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with General Tso. It’s a dining tradition many of us in the Jewish community share, like latkes on Hanukkah and hamantashen on Purim. While our Christian friends and neighbors dream of sugar plum fairies this weekend, we’ll have visions of dim sum and sticky rice.

Christmas often means a spike in business for area Chinese restaurants, so planning ahead may be wise. Many restaurants now limit the number of people dining in, which could result in a carryout boom.

We checked in with several Jewish St. Louisans to find out where they go for Chinese food at Christmas and what, if any, strategy they follow.

What’s your Chinese food strategy?

“Last year was a nightmare,” said Cheryl Martin, a retired teacher who attends Central Reform Congregation. “We waited for carryout in the car for two hours after desperately searching for a place that we like. We like beef and broccoli or string beans and beef and we’re always looking for great crab Rangoon. There are a gazillion places on Olive in U. City and we might try Royal Chinese BBQ, because my friend raved about it.”

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Jessica Z. Brown, founder and president of Gateway Media Literacy Partners, said her family changed their Chinese dinner schedule because they now have a dinner with her in-laws on Christmas Day.

“We do the Chinese most loved custom on New Year’s Eve now,” she said. “But each December 24, I sit and yearn to practice this age-old Jewish custom. My favorites are egg foo young, moo shu pork, egg rolls and crab Rangoon. Memories are made of these.”

Martin said she didn’t even realize getting Chinese food was a Jewish tradition until she was an adult. Amanda Levinson Wang did know about the practice when she was growing up. Every year, her family went to Hunan Empress at Four Seasons Plaza.

“Originally it was dine-in, then it turned to carry-out,” she said. “About 15 years ago we stopped doing that because the wait for your pick-up was just hours and hours long. We eventually decided to eat Chinese another day when we didn’t have to wait five-plus hours!”

Strategy From The Rabbi

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg from United Hebrew Congregation said she plans to beat the crowd by heading to Hunan Star on Manchester in the afternoon on Christmas Day.

Anita Kraus, director of Early Childhood Education at Congregation B’nai Amoona, already pre-ordered special fried rice and the special house soup from Private Kitchen on Olive Boulevard.

“When our children were younger, we got together with the same friends every Christmas Eve at our favorite local Cantonese restaurant or picked it up,” she said.

Rob Bertman, who attends Temple Israel, places the blame on non-Jews for the crowds on Christmas.

“Christmas Day Chinese food has turned out to not only be a Jewish thing,” said Bertman, 42. “People who celebrate Christmas are taking our spots. Also, the movie theaters are now super crowded on Christmas Day and they used to be 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’re going to see ‘The Matrix.’

“It’s a tradition we call Jewish Guy’s Night Out,” he said. “We go out for Chinese food and then to a movie. We used to go to Shu Feng, and we didn’t do anything last year due to COVID. A couple of years ago we started going to Lulu’s, which is also getting pretty crowded on Christmas Eve.”

Navigating the crowds

Despite the crowds, everyone has their favorites. Jody Serkes and her mother DJ are planning dinner from Yen Ching on Brentwood Boulevard on Christmas Day.

“I love their moo shu and we have the amazing green bean saute,” Serkes said. “My mom loves the chicken and pea pods. But everything they do is fresh and hot and yummy. We love the owner, too.”

Donna and Rob Epstein used to go to a matinee movie, then a Chinese restaurant, followed by a game of Monopoly. Since they now decamp from their Meadowbrook home to Scottsdale for the holidays, they opt for a dine-in movie, because “the Chinese restaurants near our house are abysmal.”

Had the Epstein’s stayed in town, they might well have joined the line picking up carryout at Hunan Star in Des Peres. Mr. Ping, the owner of Hunan Star, said he always sees more Jewish customers coming in during Christmas. He plans a busy week and on Tuesday (when the restaurant is closed) he was busy rolling crab Rangoon.

Brad Hartman, chef at Anthology of Clayton View, said it’s where he sees the most West County Jews over Christmas.

“Years ago, we went to the old Mandarin House on Page for carryout,” Hartman said. “They had traditional spareribs—the real thing, which are not easy to find. The best spareribs in town now are at Mai Lee in Brentwood.”

Bertman is just looking forward to seeing his Jewish guy friends at their dinner at Lulu’s. They are busy with other family commitments the remainder of the year, so this is their time to hang out and catch up. The menu is not particularly a priority for him.

“Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Chinese food,” he said.