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Chinese food gets a twist of kosher

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Like any other Chinese restaurant, Annie Chan’s Restaurant in Fresh Meadows serves the usual General Tsao’s chicken, lo mein, egg rolls and hot and sour soup. But there is a twist to Chan’s Chinese food: It is prepared and served according to strict glatt kosher rules.

“All the Jews like Chinese food, and there aren’t too many kosher Chinese restaurants,” said June Bienstock of Bayside, who has been coming to Chan’s restaurant regularly since it opened at 190-13 Union Turnpike eight months ago.

But Chan, 45, didn’t get into the kosher Chinese restaurant business to fill a profitable niche. She got into it for the vacation time.

“The holidays are the best,” said Chan, who comes from a large family of Chinese restaurant owners. “They push me to have to close.”

In the 1980s, after moving to Long Island from Hong Kong, Chan worked seven-day weeks at her brother’s Chinese restaurant in North Woodmere, L.I., and later at her own Chinese restaurant in Cedarhurst, L.I. In 1989, she saw the opportunity for a break after selling her restaurant to a Jewish man, Robert Ross, who began teaching her about the customs and cuisine of Orthodox Jews.

“We thought if we opened a Jewish restaurant, we would have a lot of holidays,” Chan said. “Jewish people on some days can’t spend money. I like it because we can close and rest, and I don’t have to work all the time.”

In 1991, Ross helped Chan to find a location in Kew Gardens Hills to open her first kosher Chinese restaurant, Annie’s Kitchen.

Many of Chan’s customers at Annie’s Kitchen at 72-24 Main St. enjoyed her food regularly, but they wished she would open up a larger, sit-down restaurant where they could have parties.

“I couldn’t bring my friends to Annie’s Kitchen. It’s a take-out place,” Bienstock said.

Bienstock said she used to place an order for delivery from Annie’s Kitchen on Friday afternoon, before the beginning of the sabbath. On Sunday morning, she would pick up two big shopping bags of the kosher Chinese food and drive down to Philadelphia, where she would feed her daughter, her son-in-law and her three grandchildren.

“I love the food here,” said Bienstock, who sat with two non-kosher friends in Chan’s newest restaurant, enjoying the General Tsao’s chicken lunch special for $8.95 last Thursday. “And Annie is a lovely woman. I’m crazy about her because she’s a charmer, and I want her to do well.”

Annie Chan’s Restaurant is decorated with large mirrors, maroon tablecloths and Chinese screens, which are used to section off parts of the restaurant for private parties. Besides being more spacious than Annie’s Kitchen, the restaurant also features sushi and sashimi, which can be ordered from the main room of the restaurant, or from a sushi bar in a smaller, adjacent room.

“I love the sushi bar. It’s low-calorie,” said Karen Slabinsky of Holliswood, who was one of Chan’s first customers when she first opened up Annie’s Kitchen 12 years ago. “The food is good. They have nice-size portions, the service is friendly, and Annie is a happy person.”

As with all glatt kosher restaurants, Chan’s restaurants employ a mashgiach, a special rabbi who is in charge of opening and closing the restaurant, turning on and off all flames and electrical equipment and inspecting all food — from vegetables to meat to sauces — to make sure it is kosher.

Chan does not even have the keys to her restaurants, because she is not allowed to be in the restaurant before the mashgiach, according to Jewish kosher laws.

“People say, ‘How can you deal with all the rules?’ But I actually think it’s simpler,” Chan said. “You don’t have to do as much. There’s no pork, no shellfish. And the people are so nice.”

Chan said her new restaurant is doing pretty well given the amount of time it’s been open. It can be packed at times, especially on Sundays, she said. Last week there were six parties in the restaurant. Parties cost about $18 a head for a full meal with spring rolls, a main course and dessert.

About 90 percent of the customers at both of her kosher Chinese restaurants are Jewish, Chan said. Some of the most popular items on the menu are lo mein, sesame chicken and the hot and sour soup, which is made with authentic chicken broth. Other items on the menu include moo shu duck, served with pancakes, beef negamaki, boneless crispy duck, sweet and pungent chicken, ma po to fu and szechuan chicken or beef.

Like the Chinese lunar calendar, the Jewish calendar changes every year, Chan noted. Every year, she asks her customers to mark off the Jewish holidays so she can plan her vacation time, she said. This year, she plans on traveling to Washington, D.C. with her family during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Besides hosting parties, Chan’s restaurant also caters events. Anyone interested in ordering Chan’s glatt kosher Chinese food can call her restaurant at 718-740-1675.

The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Saturday for Sabbath.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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