By STEPHEN WADE
AP Sports Writer
BEIJING — Beijing and the Olympics are going Kosher.
The capital’s only Kosher restaurant opened 10 months ago,
drawing the small Jewish expatriate community, tourists, curious
Chinese and even a few Muslims. Business has been so good at Dini’s
Kosher Restaurant, that part-owner Lewis Sperber is talking about
setting up a second branch closer to the Olympic venues in northern
Like many restaurateurs and bar owners, Sperber is hoping to
benefit with as many as 550,000 foreigners expected to descend on
Beijing for the Aug. 8-24 Games.
“What we’ve thought about is preparing sandwiches and other
items at a venue closer than we are now to the Olympic sites,”
Sperber said. “If people leave the Olympics and want a Kosher
meal, we could have a place for them.”
Eating Kosher — food that meets Jewish dietary laws — is hardly
a raging fad. However, there is a real boom is the number of
Chinese factories being certified to export Kosher products. This
is driven partially by recent food safety scares in China involving
contaminated seafood, pet food and toothpaste.
Kosher certifications in China conducted by the Orthodox Union —
the best-known certification body — have doubled to 307 in the last
two years. The total number of Kosher certifications is about
2,000, exporters working to reach the world Kosher market.
“I think business will be very overwhelming during the
Olympics,” said Minette Ramia, who manages Dini’s, a modern,
pastel-colored eatery located on Super Bar Street, an aptly named
alleyway lined with restaurants and bars just down the street from
the Israeli embassy.
“From the hygiene side, whether someone is Kosher or not,
Jewish or not, people will want food from here because it is
considered cleaner and more hygienic being that we’re in China,”
Ramia said. “A Muslim woman came in recently because she can’t eat
meat anywhere else.”
The staff and cooks at Dini’s are nearly all Chinese. Waiters
bring new Chinese customers a handout to explain Kosher, which is
called “Jie Shi” in Chinese — “clean food.”
“When Chinese come, I don’t think they know what to order,”
said Zhao Haixia, the assistant manager. “Normally they just rely
on us to tell them what’s good.”
The menu features both northern European (Ashkenazi) and
Mediterranean (Sephardic) food traditions. Mainstays like matzo
ball soup, chopped liver and Gefilte fish are seldom chosen by
Chinese, who more often go for Kosher beef dumplings (Jiaozi) or
sizzling beef — Kosher style.
Gefilte fish is a hard sell.
“In China eating cold fish doesn’t sound so good,” Zhao said.
Like Beijing’s noxious air, China’s food safety is one the most
sensitive issues surrounding the Olympics, carrying the potential
to ruin China’s $40 billion preparations to use the Games to show
off a modern nation removed from its agrarian roots.
One food poisoning case, like one positive doping test —
particularly by a Chinese athlete — could grab headlines for weeks
and ruin the public relations effort by the communist government.
Following a string of food scandals last year, Beijing
organizers launched an aggressive campaign to showcase a new way of
monitoring aimed at tracing products from the field to the table.
The government also unveiled the Olympic Food Safety Command
Center to deal with food emergencies.
“Precautions must be taken to avert any trace of terrorist
attack on our food supply chain,” said Zhang Zhikuan, head of the
Beijing Industry and Commerce Bureau.
Concern centers on the safety standards of meat, and stimulants
used to boost yields. Some fear drugs used in animal feed could
trigger positive doping test among athletes.
At least one of the new monitoring systems — coding on packaging
to trace the source of production — has long been required for
“The fact that there is another set of eyes coming through the
plants on a regular basis — such as the Kosher auditing or Kosher
supervisors — means that the companies, the factories are more
careful about hygiene and sanitation,” said Rabbi Mordechai
Grunberg, who examines Chinese factories for the Orthodox Union.
China’s Kosher exports are composed almost exclusively of food
additives, spices, vegetables and candies.
“It’s like any other product coming out of China,” Rabbi
Grunberg said. “Outsourcing has gotten easier, quality has gotten
higher and the price is cheaper.”
Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, who also inspects for the Orthodox
Union and owns a part interest in Dini’s, said American-based food
companies are asking him to conduct non-Kosher inspections of their
operations in China. He called them “100 percent” related to
recent food scandals in China.
“They don’t necessarily want it for Kosher purposes,” he
said. “They just want to make sure they can guarantee that the standard
promised by the company is what’s being produced.”
The Jewish population in mainland China is only a few thousand
and exclusively expatriates — 1,500 in Beijing, 1,000 in Shanghai
and 500 in Guangzhou. Several thousand more are scattered in small
cities with 4,000 in Hong Kong. Historians suggest a small Chinese
Jewish community existed centuries ago in the central city of
Grunberg is optimistic a domestic Kosher market will develop in
China, fueled partly by hygiene issues.
“I think there will be a big market here, and a big market
could mean just a fraction of a percent of 1.3 billion. With only
that you’ll have a bigger market than we have for Kosher in the
Both Kosher and Halal — food prepared following Islamic
religious rules — will be available at the Olympic Athletes
Village, a requirement of the International Olympic Committee. The
Philadelphia-based company Aramark is running the catering
operation and will serve 17,000 athletes and officials at dining
rooms capable of feeding 6,000 at once on a 24-hour schedule.
The Olympic Kosher kitchen is being lined up by Rabbi
Freundlich, the rabbi of Beijing’s Jewish community.
“I would be the overall supervisor of the kitchen and have a
number of colleagues helping me maintain the Kosher standard
throughout the Olympics,” he said. “We’d expect to serve 300-400
meals a day, more than twice what I’m told was served in Athens.”
Sourcing of most Halal and Kosher products in China is easy —
except for meat. No factory has been certified to export Kosher
meats from China. Many factories are certified to produce Halal,
though exporting Halal meat from China is difficult with some
Islamic countries suspicious of Chinese certification.
China is estimated to have a Muslim population of 1-2 percent of
its 1.3 billion people, most living in the west of China.
“Normally it’s easy to export Halal non-meat products from
China, but meat products certified in China are more difficult,”
said Ray Chueng, a Shanghai businessman who helps factories get
Halal or Kosher certification.
“I think even Chinese Muslims are not so careful with Halal
things,” Chueng added. “They know what you can eat and can’t eat,
but they are not very careful if things are labeled Halal.”
Penny Xiang, deputy director of the Game Services Department for
the 2008 Olympics, said 36 food suppliers have been picked for the
Games, “all under very close supervision.” She declined to offer
extra details. In general, Beijing organizers are careful talking
about food suppliers, citing security reasons.
“I think the government’s food security committee has
formulated a special standard for the Olympic Games compared with
national standard and World Health Organization standard,” she
said. Asked how the new standard compared, she replied: “It’s
She said daily food consumption at the Athletes Village would
reach 220,000 pounds with daily rubbish weighing 110,000 pounds.
“Sometimes it’s the easiest and simplest things that makes the
most complex job,” Xiang said. “People think preparing food is so
natural, so easy. It comes to you every day and you are so used to
it, so you don’t think there is any complexity behind it.”
“Eating is easy, but serving the right food to people is
Xiang said many of China’s “most influential politicians going
right to the top,” wanted the Olympics to showcase only Chinese
cuisine in the Athletes Village. Several proposed preparing 2,000
Peking roast ducks — the capital’s specialty — for athletes before
the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.
Presumably some would have been Kosher ducks.
“It was ruled out,” Xiang said. “We’d need to serve all of
this just before the biggest moment for commotion and
confusion. Just imagine how that would have been."