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Truckin’ with kosher eggrolls

by Jonathan Maseng

January 18, 2012 | 4:57 pm

Emily and Michael Israel alongside their M.O.Eggrolls truck.

Emily and Michael Israel alongside their M.O.Eggrolls truck.

Jews have had a long and halcyon history with Chinese food. In many cities it’s tradition for Jews to spend Christmas at the movies, later eating at their favorite Chinese restaurant. So it’s no small feat that Los Angeles now has its first Jewnese food truck, and a kosher one at that.

Michael Israel grew up in Montreal eating plenty of eggrolls — they were one of his family’s favorite dishes. So when Israel, a culinary school graduate, and his wife, Emily, decided to enter the restaurant business, they knew where they wanted to start.

“Eggrolls, particularly Montreal eggrolls,” says Michael, “are a representation of my childhood and my family’s roots, coming from Canada. And I think it’s critical for any chef to connect with [his or her] upbringing and roots, and communicate that through food.” 

Emily Israel agreed with her husband, and while they initially considered opening a brick-and-mortar shop, the food truck craze in Los Angeles gave them another idea. Why not make an eggroll food truck?  And so, M.O.Eggrolls was born.

The Israels worked with a designer, who helped them find an old linen truck to strip down and rebuild as their kitchen on wheels.

Michael and Emily, members of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue on the edge of the Pico-Robertson area, knew immediately that they wanted their food truck to be kosher. They turned to their rabbi, Susan Leider, and asked her to help them with the endeavor.

Leider, who’s quick to admit that M.O.Eggrolls was the first food business for which she’s ever supervised kashrut, leapt at the chance. She supervised the building of the truck from the ground up and worked with Michael and Emily to ensure proper construction.

M.O.Eggrolls. Photo courtesy of M.O.Eggrolls

“We take kashrut seriously as Jews and as Conservative Jews, and we feel that we’re modeling for the rest of the community what that means,” Leider said. The obvious drawback is that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews will not recognize a Conservative hechsher, but Leider is quick to point out that Conservative Jews take Jewish law seriously, too. “In no way does any denomination have a monopoly on that.”

Emily agrees. “The fact that it’s kosher … speaks to the integrity not only of our food, but of our business. We’re kosher in the way we run the business, the way we treat our employees, the way we treat our customers.”

Michael doesn’t want people to see the kosher eggroll thing as a gimmick. “I personally am very averse to fusion — and I know our menu seems like it would be classified as fusion. But in actuality, all of the combinations in each individual eggroll tend to be very classic.”

The eggrolls, which come in varieties ranging from Tongue Chinois, which combines “sauteed shitake mushrooms, scallions and garlic” with tender bits of juicy beef tongue, to Challah Pain Perdu, a dessert eggroll with coconut, banana and white rum, are all designed and made by Michael and his team. “We make everything from scratch on the truck. … The only thing we don’t make from scratch are the wrappers that go around the eggrolls.”

And while M.O.Eggrolls isn’t the only game in town — other kosher food trucks, like the kosher taco truck Takosher, have been rolling around town — the Israels hope their family-owned, friendly business will help them stand out. “That’s why we’re doing it — we want to have a community; we want to celebrate Jewishness, and food, and street food, and celebrate Los Angeles,” Emily says.

“Now, every time we see a linen truck on the street, we can imagine what it could be.”

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