- A Jewish man and a Chinese man were conversing. The Jewish man commented upon what a wise people the Chinese are. “Yes,” replied the Chinese man, “Our culture is over 4,000 years old. But you Jews are a very wise people, too.” The Jewish man replied, “Yes, our culture is over 5,000 years old.” The Chinese man was incredulous, “That’s impossible, he replied. Where did your people eat for a thousand years?”
I’m not sure when Jews actually first connected with Chinese food, but the joke rings true. As a kid, dining out in our family often meant Chinese food, usually as a Sunday night ritual. On a recent Sunday evening, I have the good fortune to dine with neighborhood friends at the recently opened and very popular East Pearl Restaurant in Rockville. East Pearl features Hong Kong Cuisine, although the restaurant offers a separate menu with more traditional Chinese dishes as well. Our group consists of eight Jews and two Chinese Americans. Can the Jews put the ordering entirely in the hands of the experts? Almost, but not entirely.
I set the menus aside, but I’ve come with two requests. Soyed chicken has been labeled as “spectacular” by The Washingtonian‘s Todd Kliman. I can’t resist spectacular. I also request Singapore noodles with shrimp and jalapeno peppers, which has also been touted by Kliman. We have to have some vegetarian and non-shellfish fish dishes to accommodate my husband, and we omit the pork from everything. Once we verbalize our various requests and restrictions, our friends work their magic with the help of the owner of East Pearl- whom they know- and a niece who works there. We are in good hands.
- We begin with shrimp dumpling soup, which has a wonderfully rich broth and light and fluffy dumplings. We note the similarity to matzoh balls, minus the shrimp. It’s a lovely way to begin the meal and I settle in for the parade of food that follows.
- The lazy Susan on the table is quickly filled with an array of dishes. I can hardly contain my enthusiasm, as I pause for a moment deciding where to begin. I quickly fall in love with pan-fried noodles with shredded chicken, a dish that delivers crispy noodles and moist and tender slivers of chicken, along with a delicately smoky flavor.
- I can’t dwell on this dish for long, as the lazy Susan turns and in front of me sits a plate of the highly-anticipated soyed chicken. The crisped skin is slightly sweet and the soy sauce has permeated through and through the tender chicken, giving it a golden glow and a delicious flavor.
This dish is a keeper. There are some in the group who favor the roast duck. I turn my attention to a plate that closely resembles the chicken. The bone-in pieces of duck are sweet and succulent. I taste both again for comparisons sake, but I can’t decide which I like best. I think it’s simply a matter of personal preference between chicken or duck. I’m ducking out of choosing a winner.
The dishes are coming fast and furious, and my head is starting to spin. I particularly enjoy deep fried spicy tofu with green pepper and eggplant. While I am enjoying the flavors of everything I’ve tasted up to this point, I welcome the diversion of a dish that has a kick to it.
Deep fried spicy tofu is slightly more subtle, but it takes it’s place as one of my favorites. It’s all about the texture- lightly fried and crisp on the outside and a silky smooth interior. There is something about the flavor that creeps in and lingers.
I am amused when my friend, who has grown up in the tight-knit DC Chinese community, does not know the English word for the green vegetable he’s ordered. He’s written it down in Chinese, and can only describe it as Ung Choi, some kind of green vegetable. We are able to determine that it is Chinese water spinach with garlic. I’m reminded of gefilte fish, a dish that’s hard to translate, but Jews know what it is almost instinctively.
I leave the oysters to a few of the others. During the meal I am too absorbed in other dishes to care. Now that I see the photo, I believe that I made a critical error in judgment by not trying this.
Fried cod is delivered towards the end of our run, and I am in slow down mode. The fish is consistent with the other dishes. The batter is light and crispy on the outside, while the fish is incredibly moist on the inside.
There has been a consistency in the food at East Pearl that captures my attention. Every dish which is intended to have a crisp outer coating is executed perfectly. Proteins are cooked just right. Nothing seems over salted or over cooked. This can’t be taken for granted, and I don’t . We’ve had an authentic experience, sampling dishes that may have eluded us without our Chinese guides. This is one of those meals that I will remember, not only for the quality of each dish, but also for the way it all fits so beautifully together.
Jews and Chinese food on a Sunday night is somewhat of a cliche. Jews dining with Chinese friends on a Sunday night? That’s a tradition I’m hoping to practice on a much more regular basis.