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cultured cuisine

Jimmy Chin: A cross-cultural restaurateur

Interview and photographs by Candy Cheng

Jimmy Chin and his brother Wally Chin are the co-owners of Chin Chin's restaurant at 216 E. 49th St. He speaks Yiddish and wears a necklace with the word Chai, the Hebrew word for living, to prove his likemindedness to his customers.

Jimmy grew up in the Guangdong province in China and the family moved to Brooklyn in 1955. He opened up Chin Chin's 24 years ago. The food at Chin Chin is described as American Cantonese and Sichuan. Some popular items on their menu include: main lobster roll $28.50, Chinese ratatouille casserole $15.50 and lamb medallions with spring greens $20.50.

Jimmy never officially converted to Judaism, but says he feels Jewish. He learned Yiddish, work ethic and customer service from his Jewish friends and customers.

cultured cuisine

Keeping Kosher


Harry Levine

Harry Levine

is a sociology professor at Queens College in New York City. He co-authored the article, "Safe Treyf: New York Jews and Chinese Food."

Levine says the Jewish love affair with Chinese food began on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where the Chinese, Eastern European Jews and Southern Italians all came to New York between 1880 and 1920.

Hear Levine explain the history and relationship between New York Jews and Chinese food:


(3:21)


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cultured cuisine

Egg Roll & Egg Cream Festival

In New York City, Chinese and Jewish immigrants in the 1890’s and 1900’s lived and worked together on the Lower East Side. This ensuing amalgam of cultures comes to life each year at the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams festival, a celebration of traditions through music, food, art and language lessons. The festival was created nine years ago by Hanna Griff-Sleven, director of cultural programs and family history center at the Museum at Eldridge Street.

Hanna says Eldridge Street retains its history because the urban renewal of the 1960’s never reached it. She calls it the "last street before the frontier," because it was always multiethnic. Historically, it wasn't quite little Italy, or Chinatown or the predominantly Jewish Lower East Side. It stayed integrated for a long time, so both the Jewish and Chinese immigrant communities melded, in some ways.

Last year, New York City started rezoning part of the Lower East Side, including approving a luxury condo on the corner of Eldridge and Canal Streets. Construction has stopped because of the economy. "We can't stop what's going on in this community, but we will always have the history of the groups who have lived on this block," said Hanna. "Whatever happens in the future, we're ready to embrace it."