Raleigh, North Carolina – If you have Jewish friends, ask them what their plans are for Christmas. I would bet you all they will spend the day eating Chinese food and watching a movie. When Senator Lindsey Graham asked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearing how she spent Christmas, she joked “like all Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant.”
The tradition dates back to the Lower East Side of New York City in the late 19th century, when Jewish and Chinese immigrants lived nearby. The reasoning behind this is ridiculously simple. The whole country closes its doors on Christmas… with the exception of most Chinese restaurants, because they don’t celebrate Christmas either. There is even an image that circulates every year on social networks. The original source is unknown at this point, but you can see one of the panels and learn more about the legend of Snopes.
I’ll be honest, we have yet to find this amazing Chinese restaurant here in Raleigh that is worth the coveted Christmas visit. I know there are good ones, and Jewish Facebook groups always light up with recommendations in the days leading up to Christmas. I was fortunate to have a very close friend whom I most often call my Chinese sister, who taught me the art of Chinese fondue. She is the daughter of the first generation of immigrants from Hong Kong, so she knows what she is talking about. It’s a family favorite and definitely a must-have Christmas recipe.
I strongly believe in interactive meals for children. They always eat more when dinner is a hands-on activity (chicken fajitas, do-it-yourself pizza, or Chinese fondue). I love the Hot Pot meal, mostly because the “recipe” includes anything that looks good at the store. Personally, it’s just an excuse for me to visit the Large Asian Market at the Raleigh / Cary border. I always treat myself to a lotus ball and a milk tea on the way out. I obviously need some refreshments on the way home.
Recipe (sort of) for Chinese hot pot
You will need a camping stove in the middle of your dining table. I also recommend tongs and a ladle for serving. The broth of your choice is heated on the camping stove. With prepared platters of raw food, everyone can choose what they want to throw in the pot, wait a few minutes and dinner is served. Add ingredients throughout the meal and enjoy a different bowl each time. I’ve included some of our favorite ingredients here.
- Soup broth – our favorite is a mild tomato-based broth. Other options include a spicy broth, beef broth, or mushroom broth. We usually get the Hot Pot Tomato Broth package and just add water.
- Noodles – I prefer a rice noodle while the kids prefer a fresh Udon
- Tofu – We love tofu puffs, but plain tofu is delicious too. Just make sure it is firm.
- Mushrooms – we usually get 3-4 different kinds. Clamshells and Enoki are family favorites
- Green vegetables – bok choy, cabbage, watercress, spinach
- Other delicious vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, taro
- Dumplings – if you are in an Asian market, just head over to the dumplings section and see what works for you. I would recommend the precooked in the frozen section so you don’t have to worry about eating something undercooked. Our favorite is the chicken and the veggies
- Meat – Hot Pot meat is very thinly sliced and cooked quickly. Our favorites are beef or lamb. You can find them pre-cut in the frozen cooler in front of the fresh fish at Grand Asia.
The beauty of Hot Pot is that you can put anything in it. The options are endless and the meal is always delicious. Once your tummy is full of Hot Pot, curl up on the couch and turn on Netflix. We used to go to the movies, but in a COVID world these days all of our movies are streamed.
Nili Zaharony is a Go Ask Mom contributor. She is the mother of 3 little ones (aged 5, 3 and 6 months) who keep her constantly on her guard.