The Best Apple Pie From All 50 States


There are few things better than a slice of warm apple pie. Here's a roundup of the top pies from every state, whether you prefer yours à la mode, à la carte, or à la delivery.


Location: Greensboro, Alabama

At the Pie Lab in Alabama, baker Kelley Whatley mixes pecans into her apple filling to give the dessert an unexpected crunch. Her pies are good for the soul in more ways than one: All profits from the bakery are donated to a local charity organization that provides resources to the homeless.


The exterior of the Roadhouse.
mazaletel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Talkeetna, Alaska

Somewhere between Anchorage and Denali National Park, a combination diner-hostel in the town of Talkeetna is serving up the best apple pie in the state. When the Talkeetna Roadhouse first opened in the early 20th century, they loaded up their horse and buggy with baked goods to bring to miners and trappers in the hills nearby. Today you’ll have to sit inside the actual restaurant for a taste of their apple pie. The item is so popular that the roadhouse even offers pie-making classes October through March.


Apple crumb pie from Apple Annie's orchard.
Jessica Spengler, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Willcox, Arizona

The award-winning pies offered at Apple Annie’s are made with fresh, hand-peeled apples harvested from the family-run farm. After indulging in one of their homemade baked goods, visitors can roam the orchards and pick their own peaches, pears, and apples to take home.


sour cream apple pie from Ms. Lena's
Courtesy of Ms. Lena's

Location: De Valls Bluff, Arkansas

If you pass by this roadside gem when it’s open on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, it’s worth making a pit stop. One of Ms. Lena's recurring specialties is a tangy, sour cream apple pie served inside a crispy crust.


A close up of red apples.

Location: Julian, California

In a town that prides itself in being one of America’s premier pie destinations, Apple Alley Bakery is a local favorite. Their caramel apple pecan pie is topped with a healthy swirl of caramel and a sprinkling of crushed nuts. We recommend eating this with an extra napkin or two.


Caramel apple pie from Granny Scott's Pie Shop.
Courtesy of Granny Scott's Pie Shop.

Location: Lakewood, Colorado

Granny Scott’s Pie Shop offers as many as 25 different pie varieties on any given day. Their caramel apple is a standout—made with Granny Smith apples and European caramel, it took first prize at the National Pie Championships.


Oronoque Farms apple pie
Courtesy of Oronoque Farms

Location: Shelton, Connecticut

Oronoque Farms got its start in 1949 as a humble stand selling pies on the side of the road. They’ve since grown into a full-blown bakery that uses fruit harvested from local orchards, including their own. Their classic apple pie was voted best in the state by Connecticut magazine.


French apple pie from Arner's Restaurant and Bakery
Courtesy of Arner's Restaurant and Bakery

Location: New Castle, Delaware

Arner’s Restaurant and Bakery has not one but three varieties of apple pie on their menu (four if you count the apple walnut cheesecake). Their French apple pie comes served with an artistic splatter of icing on top.


boxes of apple pie from The Good Pie Company
Courtesy of The Good Pie Company

Location: Davie, Florida

The Good Pie Company’s moniker is straightforward and incontrovertibly true: they do make a good pie! The Davie, Florida shop is run by married couple Frank and Marti Reich: he bakes the sweet pies while she tackles the savory ones. What’s the most popular menu item? The tried-and-true classic Apple pie, of course! They also make an Apple Cranberry pie; you’ll have to try that one on your second visit.


Southern Sweets Bakery apple pie
Courtesy of Southern Sweets Bakery

Location: Decatur, Georgia

The apple pie at Southern Sweets is piled high with glistening slices of cinnamon-sugar-coated apples. The baked good’s description reads: “Doctors love this one. You will, too.” Now trying telling that to a medical professional with a straight face.


A view of palm trees from beneath the trees.

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

Apple pie cravings can strike anywhere—even on a tropical island. The family behind Hawaiian Pie Co. serves a menu of buttery, fruit-filled pies that are baked fresh daily. Tropical fruits like mango and pineapple are often highlighted, but it’s hard to beat Grandpa Yoshio’s classic apple pie recipe.


A photo of salted caramel apple pie from Bramble.
Courtesy of Bramble

Location: Boise, Idaho

Of the two dozen pies rotating through the menu at Bramble, the salted caramel apple is a customer favorite. The made-to-order pie service has plans to open a brick-and-mortar storefront in the near future. In the meantime, their pies can be found by the slice at select restaurants and coffee shops in the area.


An apple pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company.
Photo by Brian M. Heiser // Courtesy Hoosier Mama Pie Company

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Hoosier Mama Pie Company is a Chi-Town institution. For their flaky apple pie, the Ukrainian Village bakery sources apples from Ellis Family Farms in nearby Michigan.


A picture of Apple Works's apple pie surrounded by apples and a container of sugar.
Courtesy of Apple Works

Location: Trafalgar, Indiana

According to their website, the Apple Works orchard was founded in the late 1980s “with the goal of raising the absolute best apples possible.” And that’s exactly what you’ll find in their outrageous double-crust apple pie. One Indiana travel site named the over-stuffed pastry the best apple pie in the state.


The exterior of Deal's Orchard.
Courtesy of Deal's Orchard

Location: Jefferson, Iowa

During weekends in the fall, visitors to Deal’s Orchard have the opportunity to take home one of the homemade pies baked from apples grown on the property. And if you’re looking for something to wash that down with, they also ferment their own hard cider on site.


A tablespoon of grated nutmeg on a table surrounded by whole nutmegs and a grater.

Location: Overland Park, Kansas

The Upper Crust Pie Bakery is run by a pair of Midwestern sisters who grew up “privileged to know what real pie looks and tastes like.” For their take on apple pie, they use their grandmother’s recipe and add a bit of nutmeg.


The exterior of Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen in Louisville, Kentucky., Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

The name says it all—if you’re in Kentucky, this is the place to come for ice cream and pie. Their award-winning dutch apple caramel pie almost looks too good to eat, but with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on top, it’s impossible to resist.


Cowbell's apple pie in front of a sign that says
Sara Essex Bradley

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

The menu at this gas station-turned-restaurant is as funky as New Orleans itself. For dessert, diners at Cowbell can order a slice of the scratch-made apple pie served with caramel and crème anglaise.


Pies on the shelf at Two Fat Cats Bakery in Maine.
Courtesy of Two Fat Cats Bakery

Location: Portland, Maine

Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland is Maine’s number one destination for classic Americana baking. Their seasonal apple pie, made with Cortland and McIntosh apples, packs enough flavor on its own without any fancy toppings.


An apple pie on a teal tablecloth.
Maryland Science Center, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

You may not expect rock 'n' roll and baked goods to vibe together, but at Dangerously Delicious Pies they’re a match made in heaven. The Baltimore joint was founded by a musician with a passion for baking, and his dedication comes through in the ambitious menu. The apple crumb pie comes topped with a crunchy layer of brown sugar, oats, and butter.


Didriks, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

Petsi Pies describes themselves as an “indie” bakery and coffee bar serving up sweet and savory offerings to pie-lovers within walking distance of Harvard. When it comes to apple pie, patrons have their choice of salted caramel apple, apple crumb, or a classic apple pie with a pastry crust.


Location: Traverse City, Michigan

To create their beloved Apple Crumb with Pecan and Caramel, bakers at Grand Traverse Pie Company upgrade their Peninsula Apple Crumb pie with toasted pecans and a caramel drizzle.


Rustic Inn Cafe
Courtesy of Rustic Inn Cafe

Location: Two Harbors, Minnesota

Rustic Inn Cafe offers up a caramel apple pecan blueberry gooseberry crumb. Overflowing with gooey, nutty filling, this dessert doesn’t skimp on decadence.



Location: Richland, Mississippi

Sometimes the best pie is the one you can pick up and eat with your bare hands. That’s what customers get at Tom’s Fried Pies, and it doesn’t disappoint. In case a regular-sized fried pocket of apple pie filling isn’t satisfying enough for you, they also offer a super-sized “Big Guy Pie."


tempest tea, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Location: Kimmswick, Missouri

In many ways, The Blue Owl is your typical homestyle, Midwest restaurant. That’s why the appearance of this towering monstrosity on their menu is so alarming. The "Levee High Caramel Pecan Apple Pie" is made with 18 Golden Delicious apples sliced by hand and piled high inside a comical domed crust. The “world-famous” pie has been featured on Food Network and the Today Show and was chosen as one of Oprah’s favorite things.


Location: Whitefish, Montana

The best pies in Montana can be found at the bottom of a historic Masonic Temple. The restaurant is run by friends Mary Lou Covey and Laura Hansen (the “Lou” and “La” of Loula’s Cafe). They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but their real specialty is their fruit pies—of which they sell 3000 to 4000 every year. You can’t go wrong with one of their four varieties of homemade apple pie.



Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

This restaurant’s tagline reads: “Coming to Stauffer’s is like coming home to Grandma’s.” With a claim like that, you better have some amazing pie to back it up. Diners can order dutch apple, sour cream apple, caramel apple, or the familiar classic to satisfy their cravings for home cooking.


Several pies on baking racks.
Courtesy of Wet Hen Cafe

Location: Reno, Nevada

This cozy Reno cafe specializes in rustic comfort food with a French twist. But their famous apple pie, piled with tender apple slices and a crumbly crust, is all-American.



Location: Boscawen, New Hampshire

Plenty of farms sell pies made from apples grown on the property. At Richardson’s, they're also churning up their own homemade ice cream that’s perfect for scooping onto a slice of their warm apple pie.


New Jersey

Location: Swedesboro, New Jersey

Sweetsboro Pastry Shoppe was founded in 2007 by two friends who grew up together in North Philadelphia and since transplanted to New Jersey, where they’re selling some of the Garden State’s best pies. The sugary lattice crust on their apple pie is good enough to eat on its own.


Apple green chile pie from Range Cafe
Courtesy of Range Cafe

Location: Albuquerque and Bernalillo, New Mexico

The apple green chile pie from Range Cafe is a uniquely New Mexican treat, topped with a piñon nut streusel for a slightly savory crunch. Try it with vanilla ice cream for added indulgence.


Apple pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Daniel Zemans, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Brooklyn, New York

At this Brooklyn bakery it’s all about the pie. They source seasonal, local ingredients whenever possible and bake with natural, unrefined sweeteners. The salted caramel pie they serve is kissed with just the right amount of saltiness to make those classic flavors pop.


Apple crumb pie from Scratch bakery
Courtesy of Scratch Bakery

Location: Durham, North Carolina

The North Carolina apple crumb pie at Scratch Baking is a true southern treat. Owner Phoebe Lawless, a farmer’s market alum herself, works with local farmers and producers to get her hands on the best ingredients her community has to offer.


Apple pie from the Tower Travel Center
Courtesy of Tower Travel Center

Location: Tower City, North Dakota

A truck stop may not be the first place most people would go to for delicious pie. But the Tower Travel Center is no ordinary truck stop. The apple pie there is so tasty that it’s worth planning your road trip around it.


Apple pie from Just Pies
Courtesy of Just Pies

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Just Pies offers a full menu of award-winning pies, but their apple crumb is the most popular with customers. Baked with Jonathan and Spy apples, it’s finished with a layer of sweet streusel on top.


Apple crumble pie from Pie Junkie
Courtesy of Pie Junkie

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The two women behind Pie Junkie in Oklahoma City make the blasphemous claim of serving up pies even better than their grandmas'. But they do give credit where credit is due: The high standards their grandmothers held in the kitchen continue to inspire them to bake top-notch treats, like their brown sugar and oat-topped apple crumble pie.


Apple pie from Random Order
Chris Coyier, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Location: Portland, Oregon

This quirky neighborhood cafe does pies like no one else. For their award-winning version of apple pie, they toss Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples in a homemade caramel sauce and bake that inside a Tahitian vanilla sugar-salted crust. Excuse us while we look up the next flight to Portland.


Apple pie from The Pie Place
Chris Winters, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Almost everything is baked from scratch using local ingredients at this hidden delight in Pittsburgh. The apple pies at The Pie Place have won awards, and you can choose from classic or Dutch apple; sugar-free versions are also available.


Dutch apple pie at Pastiche Fine Desserts
Courtesy of Pastiche Fine Desserts

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

The Dutch apple pie is a standout at this European-style cafe beloved by locals. The filling is a blend of sweet and tart apples from a nearby orchard, mixed with cherries and baked beneath an oat walnut crumb topping decorated with pastry leaves. It's almost too beautiful to eat, but somehow people manage.


Apple pie from Kaminsky's
Courtesy of Kaminsky's

Location: Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina

It's hard to choose among the fancy desserts and beverages at Kaminsky's cozy dessert cafe, but locals rave about the apple crumble pie, served with a heavy dollop of whipped cream as well as delicious ice cream.


The Purple Pie Place, Custer, SD
Richie Diesterheft, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Custer, South Dakota

If you ever find yourself passing through Custer, South Dakota, this place will be hard to miss. Inside the Purple Pie Place's vibrant violet walls you’ll find the best pies in the Black Hills. The secret to their irresistible pies, including their classic apple, is in the crust. The recipe achieves the perfect balance of sweetness, and it’s a secret shared by only three people.


Nashville, TN

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

The apple pie at this popular Nashville bakery is "a taste of Southern perfection," according to the menu. The filling of thick-cut apples and cinnamon is cradled by a lusciously flaky crust.


Tootie Pie Co. apple pie
Courtesy of Tootie Pie Co.

Location: Boerne, Texas

The original apple pie at Tootie Pie Co. requires a healthy appetite, but Tootie’s most ravenous customers can sign up for their Pie Rollers Club and get a different flavor delivered to their door each month.



Location: Mt. Carmel, Utah

Surrounded by the breathtaking cliff faces of Zion National Park, Thunderbird Restaurant is worth a trip for the views alone. But their apple pie with rum sauce would be a knock-out dish served in any setting.


Fall foliage in Vermont

Location: Proctorsville, Vermont

Vermont Apple Pie serves hungry locals from 8 a.m. til noon. And with a full bakery that includes their namesake apple pie, dessert is always an acceptable breakfast option.


Fresh-picked apples in buckets

Location: Occoquan, Virginia

Opening a restaurant called “Mom’s Apple Pie” sets the bar pretty high for your signature dish. Thankfully, their homestyle pie made with Shenandoah Valley apples and just the right amount of sugar lives up to the name.


French apple pie at A La Mode Pies, Seattle, WA
A La Mode Pies

Location: Seattle, Washington

At A La Mode Pies, owner Chris Porter strives to reinvent his mom’s recipes using high-quality ingredients. His French apple pie is a Seattle treasure (with or without a scoop of ice cream on top).


Apple pie, Sugar Pie Bakery, Charleston, WV
Courtesy of Tabitha Stover Photography

Location: Charleston, West Virginia

Sugar Pie Bakery bakes their items fresh from scratch every day using the finest ingredients. Customers can order everything from cupcakes topped with detailed fondant decorations to more rustic specialties like their apple crumb pie.


The Elegant Farmer, Mukwonago, WI
Bev Sykes, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Mukwonago, Wisconsin

It’s hard for anything not to taste great when it’s drenched in caramel sauce. In the case of the “Gourmet Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag" from The Elegant Farmer, the pie underneath is even better than the topping. Their unique paper bag baking method creates a perfectly flaky crust every time.


Apple pie from Cowboy Cafe in Dubois, WY
Courtesy of Cowboy Cafe

Location: Dubois, Wyoming

Don't miss this charming café on your way to Yellowstone National Park. The homemade warm apple pie—best with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top—gets rave reviews from visitors.

14 Facts About Celiac Disease

Going gluten-free may be a modern diet trend, but people have been suffering from celiac disease—a chronic condition characterized by gluten intolerance—for centuries. Patients with celiac are ill-equipped to digest products made from certain grains containing gluten; wheat is the most common. In the short-term this can cause gastrointestinal distress, and in the long-term it can foster symptoms associated with early death.

Celiac diagnoses are more common than ever, which also means awareness of how to live with the condition is at an all-time high. Here are some things you might not know about celiac disease symptoms and treatments.

1. Celiac an autoimmune disease.

The bodies of people with celiac have a hostile reaction to gluten. When the protein moves through the digestive tract, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine, causing inflammation that damages the lining of the organ. As this continues over time, the small intestine has trouble absorbing nutrients from other foods, which can lead to additional complications like anemia and osteoporosis.

2. You can get celiac disease from your parents.

Nearly all cases of celiac disease arise from certain variants of the genes HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1. These genes help produce proteins in the body that allow the immune system to identify potentially dangerous foreign substances. Normally the immune system wouldn't label gliadin, a segment of the gluten protein, a threat, but due to mutations in these genes, the bodies of people with celiac treat gliadin as a hostile invader.

Because it's a genetic disorder, people with a first-degree relative (a sibling, parent, or child) with celiac have a 4 to 15 percent chance of having it themselves. And while almost all patients with celiac have these specific HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 variations, not everyone with the mutations will develop celiac. About 30 percent of the population has these gene variants, and only 3 percent of that group goes on to develop celiac disease.

3. Makeup might contribute to celiac disease symptoms.

People with celiac disease can’t properly process gluten, the protein naturally found in the grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Patients have to follow strict dietary guidelines and avoid most bread, pasta, and cereal, in order to manage their symptoms. But gluten isn’t limited to food products: It can also be found in some cosmetics. While makeup containing gluten causes no issues for many people with celiac, it can provoke rashes in others or lead to more problems if ingested. For those folks, gluten-free makeup is an option.

4. The name comes from 1st-century Greece.

A 1st-century Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia may have been the first person to describe celiac disease symptoms in writing [PDF]. He named it koiliakos after the Greek word koelia for abdomen, and he referred to people with the condition as coeliacs. In his description he wrote, “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons coeliacs.”

5. There are nearly 300 celiac disease symptoms.

Celiac disease may start in the gut, but it can be felt throughout the whole body. In children, the condition usually manifests as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort, but as patients get older they start to experience more “non-classical” symptoms like anemia, arthritis, and fatigue. There are at least 281 symptoms associated with celiac disease, many of which overlap with other conditions and make celiac hard to diagnose. Other common symptoms of the disease include tooth discoloration, anxiety and depression, loss of fertility, and liver disorders. Celiac patients also have a greater chance of developing an additional autoimmune disorder, with the risk increasing the later in life the initial condition is diagnosed.

6. Some patients show no symptoms at all.

It’s not uncommon for celiac disease to be wrecking a patient’s digestive tract while showing no apparent symptoms. This form of the condition, sometimes called asymptomatic or “silent celiac disease,” likely contributes to part of the large number of people with celiac who are undiagnosed. People who are at high risk for the disease (the children of celiac sufferers, for example), or who have related conditions like type 1 diabetes and Down syndrome (both conditions that put patients at a greater risk for developing new autoimmune diseases) are encouraged to get tested for it even if they aren’t showing any signs.

7. It’s not the same as wheat sensitivity.

Celiac is often confused with wheat sensitivity, a separate condition that shares many symptoms with celiac, including gastrointestinal issues, depression, and fatigue. It’s often called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, but because doctors still aren’t sure if gluten is the cause, many refer to it as non-celiac wheat sensitivity. There’s no test for it, but patients are often treated with the same gluten-free diet that’s prescribed to celiac patients.

8. It's not a wheat allergy either.

Celiac disease is often associated with wheat because it's one of the more common products containing gluten. While it's true that people with celiac can't eat wheat, the condition isn't a wheat allergy. Rather than reacting to the wheat, patients react to a specific protein that's found in the grain as well as others.

9. It can develop at any age.

Just because you don’t have celiac now doesn’t mean you’re in the clear for life: The disease can develop at any age, even in people who have tested negative for it previously. There are, however, two stages of life when symptoms are most likely to appear: early childhood (8 to 12 months) and middle adulthood (ages 40 to 60). People already genetically predisposed to celiac become more susceptible to it when the composition of their intestinal bacteria changes as they get older, either as a result of infection, surgery, antibiotics, or stress.

10. Not all grains are off-limits.

A gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily a grain-free diet. While it’s true that the popular grains wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, there are plenty of grains and seeds that don’t and are safe for people with celiac to eat. These include quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, sorghum, and rice. Oats are also naturally gluten-free, but they're often contaminated with gluten during processing, so consumers with celiac should be cautious when buying them.

11. Celiac disease can be detected with a blood test.

Screenings for celiac disease used to be an involved process, with doctors monitoring patients’ reactions to their gluten-free diet over time. Today all it takes is a simple test to determine whether someone has celiac. People with the condition will have anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies in their bloodstream. If a blood test confirms the presence of these proteins in a patient, doctors will then take a biopsy of their intestine to confirm the root cause.

12. The gluten-free diet doesn’t work for all patients.

Avoiding gluten is the most effective way to manage celiac disease, but the treatment doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. In up to a fifth of patients, the damaged intestinal lining does not recover even a year after switching to a gluten-free diet. Most cases of non-responsive celiac disease can be explained by people not following the diet closely enough, or by having other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth that impede recovery. Just a small fraction of celiac disease sufferers don’t respond to a strict gluten-free diet and have no related conditions. These patients are usually prescribed steroids and immunosuppressants as alternative treatments.

13. If you don’t have celiac, gluten probably won’t hurt you.

The gluten-free diet trend has exploded in popularity in recent years, and most people who follow it have no medical reason to do so. Going gluten-free has been purported to do everything from help you lose weight to treat autism—but according to doctors, there’s no science behind these claims. Avoiding gluten may help some people feel better and more energetic because it forces them to cut heavily processed junk foods out of their diet. In such cases it’s the sugar and carbs that are making people feel sluggish—not the gluten protein. If you don’t have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, most experts recommend saving yourself the trouble by eating healthier in general rather than abstaining from gluten.

14. The numbers are growing.

A 2009 study found that four times as many people have celiac today than in the 1950s, and the spike can’t be explained by increased awareness alone. Researchers tested blood collected at the Warren Air Force Base between 1948 and 1954 and compared them to fresh samples from candidates living in one Minnesota county. The results supported the theory that celiac has become more prevalent in the last half-century. While experts aren’t exactly sure why the condition is more common today, it may have something to do with changes in how wheat is handled or the spread of gluten into medications and processed foods.

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


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.