45 Brilliant Uses For Thanksgiving Leftovers

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Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.

1. Shepherd's pie

Shepherd's Pie.
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Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.

2. Stir-fry

Wok of stir-fry.
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Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

3. Pizza

Slice of cheese and cranberry pizza.
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Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.

4. Casseroles

Piece of casserole.
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The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.

5. Muffins

Cranberry muffins.
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Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.

6. French toast

Cranberry French toast.
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Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast calls for any leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.

7. Potato and stuffing cakes

Plate of potato cakes.
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Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carb-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.

8. Doughnuts

Sweet potato doughnuts.
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In the 1940s, spudnut shops popped up throughout the U.S., making tasty doughnut snacks from dried potatoes. While it's hard to find a modern spudnut spot, you can recreate this decades-old snack using leftover mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes work just as well when paired with leftover cranberries.

9. Pancakes

Stack of potato pancakes
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Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.

10. Dessert crisps

Six bowls of fruit crisps.
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Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II, when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.

11. Day-after pies

Cranberry pie.
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Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.

12. Pie smoothies

Glass of pumpkin smoothie.
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If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip: Simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.

13. Cocktails

Cranberry cocktails.
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After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish. 

14. Sipping vinegars

Jars of apple vinegars.
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Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity—and they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

15. Infused liquors

Jars of infused liquor.
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If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.

16. soups

Bowl of turkey soup.
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Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.

17. Sobaheg stew

Bowl of stew.
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Soup purists know that stew is not the same as soup; stews generally contains less liquid than a soup, have a thicker mixture of ingredients, and have a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.

18. Stocks

Glass jar of soup stock.
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Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.

19. Quick dips

Sweet potato dip.
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Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.

20. Leftover fritters

Fried green beans.
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Uneaten green beans don't have to sit in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!

21. Nachos

Nachos.
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Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything—including tortilla chips. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).

22. Freezer meals

Thanksgiving leftovers.
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If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—including stuffing (or dressing), cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).

23. Swap leftovers with a friend

Bowls of leftover food.
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Does a friend have a great recipe that you love … but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.

24. Send everything home with friends and family

Leftover turkey.
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If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.

25. Turkified Waldorf

A Waldorf Salad on a plate with a fork
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The famous Waldorf salad, which NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel first created in 1896, is a perennial favorite for salad lovers. Turkify it and add seasonal apples, grapes, nuts, and celery root to the mayo-yogurt dressing. The salad is certainly healthier than drinking straight gravy (and it tastes so good).

26. Turkey-zzini

A portion of Tetrazzini pasta with a hand holding a spoon lifting a spoonful out
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In the early 1900s, chef Ernest Arbogast supposedly invented the Italian casserole tetrazzini and named it after opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. However, the Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC claims to have been the originator. Either way, the alfredo-like casserole—which contains wine or sherry, turkey, mushrooms, spaghetti, and heavy cream—will hit the post-Thanksgiving spot.

27. Green Bean Shakshuka

A skillet of Shakshuka next to a board with bread and goat cheese
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Use leftover green beans (or green bean casserole) to make a healthy breakfast dish. Sauté the green beans and add arugula, whole eggs, and garnish with Middle Eastern spices.

28. Savory waffles

Close up of a golden waffle with butter on top
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After Turkey Day, add protein—and a savory flavor—to waffles. Mix turkey with cheeses and spices and place in a waffle maker. You can add more turkey on top, and instead of syrup you can drizzle either warmed up or cold cranberry sauce, or—wait for it—gravy on the turkey.

29. Everything bagel breakfast sammies

Two hands hold a stuffed bagel sandwich with meat, cheese, and arugula
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This bagel sandwich has it all: cranberry cream cheese, mashed potatoes, turkey, poached eggs, and stuffing piled on an everything bagel (according to the recipe, it needs to be the everything variety). It’s like Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast. 

30. Pumpkin pie wontons

An open wonton wrapper with pumpkin puree inside next to a closed wonton and wonton wrappers
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What should you do with leftover cans of pumpkin puree? Mix it with cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, all spice, ginger, and maple syrup—kind of like pumpkin pie. But instead of making a pie crust, stuff the filling into wonton wrappers and fry them up. Pair them with a caramel apple sauce and whipped cream.

31. Flan

A large flan on a plate with vegetables, bread, and a drink.
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Not enough Americans serve baked Spanish custard for the holidays, but they can remedy that and reuse mashed sweet potatoes and rum at the same time. Plus, it’s a nice alternative to pie.

32. Sangria

A glass of winter sangria with apples on a table with pine cones
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If you’re doing Thanksgiving right, then you won’t have leftover wine. But if you happen to have an extra bottle of dry white wine available, pour it into a cider-based sangria along with brandy, Concord grapes, apples, pears, and sparkling cider. 

33. The Moist Maker From Friends

A turkey and cranberry sandwich
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On the December 10, 1998 episode of Friends, aptly entitled “The One With Ross’s Sandwich,” Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) creates a Moist Maker sandwich from Thanksgiving leftovers. He brings it to work and someone eats it. “Just a sandwich? That sandwich was the only good thing going on in my life,” he exclaims to his friends. In real life, chef/filmmaker Andrew Rea adapted the recipe on his website Binging With Babish. It’s complicated to make it from scratch, but if you already have leftover turkey, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, it’s quick to assemble. (Just maybe don’t take it to work like Ross did.)

34. Hot brown

An open faced sandwich with melted cheese and bacon on a plate
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The Louisville-invented open-faced sandwich is basically broiled gravy and turkey on bread, with additional mustard, cheese, and bacon. Not only will you be eating one of the best sandwiches in the world, but you’ll also paying homage to Kentucky.

35. Turkey sloppy Joes

A sloppy joe sandwich on a plate
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“Classic sloppy joes get a healthy makeover,” the recipe reads. Substitute leaner turkey for beef, and then add carrots, onions, sweet relish, and tomato sauce.  Instead of placing the mixture between a bun, the recipe suggests pouring it over toast.

36. Quesadillas

Close up of a cheesy quesadilla on a platter next to a large knife
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Put that turkey (or goose, or whatever bird you ate on Thanksgiving) into a five-ingredient quesadilla. Place the turkey, Monterey jack cheese, and some leftover veggies like green beans and mushrooms into a tortilla and melt it. If you’re feeling adventurous, serve it with a side of cranberry salsa. Or for a more gourmet quesadilla, add sage and cranberry sauce.

37. Turkey and wild rice soup

A bowl of chicken and wild rice soup on a napkin next to a spoon.
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In several indigenous cultures, wild rice is a staple—and it's often served during Thanksgiving meals. Put that leftover turkey, the rice, veggies, soy sauce, half and half, turkey stock, and herbs in a pot and let it all simmer together.

38. Gumbo that's worth the wait

A bowl of gumbo with rice on top and a spoon in the bowl
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Give New Orleans gumbo an unconventional post-Thanksgiving update in adding turkey (and traditional Andouille sausage), gravy, mashed potatoes (for serving), The Holy Trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery), cranberry sauce, and, gasp, Brussels sprouts. The ingredient list is long, and the roux takes around 30 minutes to make, but you can let the gumbo simmer for hours and do other things while waiting.

39. Potato balls

A pile of fried potato balls on a plate
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If you have leftover mashed potatoes, transform them into potato balls. These balls make a good appetizer or side dish. The key to the recipe is using a lot of cheese, and bacon (if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or kosher, leave the bacon out). Shape the mashed potato mixture into spheres, coat them with egg and bread crumbs, and drop them into a deep fryer. If you want to go a healthier, less fun route, then you can bake them instead of frying them.

40. Stuffing bites

A platter of traditional Thanksgiving stuffing in front of a bowl of cranberry sauce
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Knowing that some of the best foods are bite-sized, and that stuffing is one of the best parts about Thanksgiving, chef Sunny Anderson created a recipe for fried stuffing bites. All you do is squish the stuffing into cubes, coat the cubes with an egg wash then dredge with bread crumbs, and fry them until they’re golden brown. Serve the fried goodness with a cranberry-pesto dipping sauce.

41. Egg rolls

Close up of a plate of fried egg rolls
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Whoever thought of putting Thanksgiving leftovers into egg rolls is a genius. Place mashed potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, and turkey into an egg roll wrapper. The tricky part is folding the the wrapper together. Once sealed, fry the egg rolls and serve them with gravy, of course.

42. samosas

Four fried samosas on a carving board with small dishes of tomato sauce and herbs
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Vegetarians and vegans have a difficult time navigating the meat-heavy holidays, but the Food Network offers them salvation with vegetable samosas. Take puff pastry and fill it with mashed potatoes, any leftover veggies, curry powder, and other spices. Bake, don’t fry, the samosas, and if you feel like it, mix yogurt with leftover cranberry sauce for dipping.

43. Pierogies

A plate piled with fried pierogies
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Similar to egg rolls, the nice thing about piergoies is you can shove whatever you want in there, including leftover stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheese, sweet potatoes, veggies, and meat. However, the day after Thanksgiving you might not feel like making pierogi dough from scratch. Fortunately, it’s not time-consuming. These are good either as an appetizer, side dish, or full meal.

44. Donate your leftovers

Outstretched hands give plates of food on a line at a homeless shelter
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More than 42.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, so that means the holidays can be a difficult time for those who don’t have access to food. If you find yourself with more leftovers than you know what to do with, consider donating the vittles to a food pantry, a food bank, or homeless shelter. Do your research so you know if your local food bank can handle what you're dropping off.

45. SALADS

A bowl of salad with olive oil being drizzled on top of it
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After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, this post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.

Wrap Yourself in the Sweet Smell of Bacon (or Coffee or Pine) With These Scented T-Shirts

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adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably used perfume, cologne, body spray, or another product meant to make you smell like a flower, food, or something else. But what if you could cut out the middleman and just purchase scented clothing?

Candy Couture California’s (CCC) answer to that is “You can!” The lifestyle brand offers a collection of graphic T-shirts featuring scents like bacon, coffee, pine tree, strawberry, and motor oil. If you have more traditional olfactory predilections, there are several options for you, too, including rose, lavender, and lemongrass. There’s even a signature Candy Couture California scent, which is an intoxicating blend of coconut, strawberry, and vanilla.

candy couture california bacon shirt
Candy Couture California

According to the website, CCC founder Sara Kissing came up with the idea in 2011 while working in the e-commerce fashion industry, and her personal experience with aromatherapy led her to investigate developing clothing that harnessed some of those same benefits. The T-shirts are created with scent-infused gel, which “gives off a delicate, mild smell—just enough to boost your mood.”

So you don’t have to worry about your bacon shirt making the whole office smell like a breakfast sandwich, but you yourself will definitely be able to enjoy its subtle, meaty aroma whenever you wear it. The shirts are also designed to match their scents—the chocolate shirt, for example, features chocolatey baked goods, while the coffee shirt displays steaming mugs of coffee.

candy couture california chocolate shirt
Candy Couture California

The fragrances don’t last forever, but they’ll stay strong through 15 to 20 washes before they start to fade. CCC recommends using unscented detergent so as not to conflict with the shirt’s aroma, and you can further prolong its life if you’re willing to wash it by hand.

Prices start at $79, and you can shop the full collection here.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

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