My mother describes our particular strain of religiousness as "B.S. Jews," except she doesn't say the initials. In essence, we are culturally Jewish, with all the neuroticism and ill health that implies, but none of the going to temple or having heard of any religious festivals besides Hannukah and Passover. It should come as no surprise, then, that I never saw the words "glatt kosher" strung together until they were applied to a new Chinese restaurant that opened near the Fuddrucker's on Central Avenue in Yonkers when I was 9 or 10. Such eateries have become increasingly common in that part of the world.
Jews several shades more religious than my family are notorious for breaking their otherwise kosher diets for Chinese food. "Red pork," some joke, "is kosher." But for those who actually take their religion and its laws seriously, Chinese food can be a challenge. Luckily, it got easier for Houstonians last winter when the folks behind Israeli Saba's Restaurant opened Saba's Grill & Wok in the same strip mall as the Meyerland H-E-B. Anyone with a restricted diet is bound to grade on a pretty low curve, but what about me?
There is no menu in Houston like the one at SGW. The scope is dizzying. Appetizers range from babaganoush to steak tacos to vegetable egg rolls. Besides Israeli meals like schnitzel and kebabs, there's Moroccan merguez and a range of American burgers. The bulk of the menu is Chinese, but I couldn't resist starting my meal with Israeli beef cigar rolls and a can of mango nectar.
Really, the spicing was the only major difference between my order and Chinese egg rolls. But the phyllo-wrapped ground beef was unmistakably flavored with Middle Eastern spices, like not so different from Turkish sigara böreği. The prices are high at SGW (six cigar rolls are $9), but portions are in line with the dollars spent. This is a place to bring a crowd or prepare for leftovers.
The same goes for the $14 dan dan noodles. For religious diners, this will be the first time they ever taste the usually pork-based dish. They won't know, then, that the sauce at SGW is syrupy compared to the slap of oily heat that the Szechuan dish usually entails. Basically, it's noodles with ground chicken in General Tso's sauce and raw cucumbers and bean sprouts. Is it dan dan noodles? Not really, but it has its charms. And if I were keeping kosher, I would be grateful for every chile flake woven around those noodles.