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Why don't Jews eat Jewish?


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Nathan, that's interesting. I was unaware that Jewish identity and Judaism were different things. So by this definition, would a Korean person practicing Judaism not be Jewish? What is the difference in identity? Is it racial? -- I grew up in Japan so I'm completely new to all of this. I do know that Buddhism also has dietary restrictions though.

If a Thai meal is prepared in a Kosher manner, is it Jewish?

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Jewish foods developed in the lands where Jews lived at the time, and as such derived much from local dishes and ingredients.  It's base is certainly that of whatever Diaspora country the dish appeared in at the time (Poland or Hungary or Greece), but can you honestly say that due to this no such thing as Jewish food exists?  Though the noodle is of Chinese origin, many cultures lay claim to it.  I don't think there's an exclusivity in food ownership, and if Jews consider a food Jewish (say kasha or chopped liver), than that should matter to them.

What I am suggesting is that the foods that were cooked/consumed by Jews in, e.g., Poland, Hungary, Russia, wherever, were usually not meaningfully different from foods cooked/consumed by non-Jews in those localities, except that the Jewish foods were changed to make them kosher.

You seem to be suggesting that we can simply say, "lots of Jews eat hummus and consider it 'Jewish food,' therefore hummus is 'Jewish food.'" Kasha, to use one of your examples, is a food that is consumed by millions of people who are not Jewish. In fact, many if not most of the people who regularly ate kasha 100 years ago (sadly, this may still be true today) were actively antisemitic. How could that possibly make kasha "Jewish food"?!

Now, chopped liver is a slightly different case. I could go along with the idea that chicken or beef liver and onions cooked in chicken fat then ground and mixed with chopped hard cooked eggs is "Jewish food." But it's also a fact that it's very similar to other, non-Jewish foods from Europe. This goes to one of your earlier queries as to "updating" and "reinterpreting" Jewish food. To what extent can chopped liver be changed before it is no longer "Jewish." The answer is that it can't be changed very much. The reason is because, if it changes too much, it just becomes like all the other myriad liver and other meat pates, mousses, spreads, etc. that are found throughout Europe. So, this makes it fairly difficult to update and reinterpret chopped liver and end up with something that is both meaningfully different and still seems like "Jewish food."

The difference between Jewish cooking and your example of China/Italy and the noodle (assuming that pasta did come to Europe from China, which seems to not be true) is that pasta cookery had hundreds of years to develop and evolve on its own in Italy, where it was, for all intents and purposes, completely separated from the influence of China and Chinese cooking. Italian pasta cookery and Chinese noodle cookery have almost nothing in common. Jewish cooking, on the other hand, developed, evolved, was influenced by and largely derived from the prevailing culture in which Jews lived. If 90% of the Jews in the world had lived in Israel for the last 500 years and had developed a unique and distinctive cuisine there, that would be more like Chinese, Italian, Indian, etc. food.

Nathan, that's interesting. I was unaware that Jewish identity and Judaism were different things. So by this definition, would a Korean person practicing Judaism not be Jewish? What is the difference in identity? Is it racial? -- I grew up in Japan so I'm completely new to all of this. I do know that Buddhism also has dietary restrictions though.

If a Thai meal is prepared in a Kosher manner, is it Jewish?

Chihiran, you might want to check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_is_a_Jew

As to your question about the Thai meal, I think most people in America would say that it's Kosher Thai food, and not "Jewish food," per se. This is a source of some confusion, and part of the discussion here. What's interesting is that matzo ball soup in which butter was used to make the matzo balls (which would make the soup non-kosher, assuming they are in chicken broth) would likely be considered "Jewish food" by many.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Okay.

So put down a New York Jewish Deli anywhere in the world, without signage or symbols or "clues"  as to what it is.

What kind of food do you think anybody walking in would guess that it was?

Czech, Slovakian or Hungarian.

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Nathan, that's interesting. I was unaware that Jewish identity and Judaism were different things. So by this definition, would a Korean person practicing Judaism not be Jewish? What is the difference in identity? Is it racial? -- I grew up in Japan so I'm completely new to all of this. I do know that Buddhism also has dietary restrictions though.

If a Thai meal is prepared in a Kosher manner, is it Jewish?

no, no...they're overlapping! anyone (although there are some very religious sects that disagree) who practices Judaism is Jewish. someone who comes from a traditionally ethnic Jewish background (Ashknenazi or Sephardic) is generally considered Jewish regardless of which religion they practice (recent genetic testing has confirmed that Ashkenazim and Sephardim are related and that further the common genetic roots predate the Diaspora). so, it's both.

as for Buddhism, although many sects do have dietary restrictions, others do not. such as much of Tibetan Buddhism...(my understanding is that the branch of Mahayana practiced in Tibet follows a "you should always eat what is placed in front of you" rule).

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Czech, Slovakian or Hungarian.

Yes, I can see that. But not completely, somehow.

Maybe it's because the Czech and Hungarian restaurants I visited in their native countries were dissimilar in terms of some aspects of flavor and other aspects of something indefineable, maybe (most definitely) quality level. But then again, I am comparing a Jewish deli from the US to some restaurants in other countries around the year 1989. Maybe there's a closer fit now, or maybe there's a closer fit in terms of home cooking vs. restaurant fare. (?)

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Czech, Slovakian or Hungarian.

Yes, I can see that. But not completely, somehow.

Maybe it's because the Czech and Hungarian restaurants I visited in their native countries were dissimilar in terms of some aspects of flavor and other aspects of something indefineable, maybe (most definitely) quality level. But then again, I am comparing a Jewish deli from the US to some restaurants in other countries around the year 1989. Maybe there's a closer fit now, or maybe there's a closer fit in terms of home cooking vs. restaurant fare. (?)

well, sure, there are dissimilarities....but the meat (other than pork and game), dumplings (including in chicken broth),sausages and cabbage are all heading in that direction.

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It's interesting, because it raises the question in my mind as to whether a culture (in this case a culture grouped by a common religion though spread across different lands historically) can imbue the foods they claim as their own with their own imprint "somehow" that would identify the foods as theirs, when made by them (or, at the least, made in their name) even though those foods existed in the same or close to same forms in the larger cultures they lived within.

...............................................

A side question: Did Shabbos Goys (I think of them as something of the past though of course I could be wrong but I never met one yet, so . . . :laugh: ) used to make food for celebrations when needed?

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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So if my upstairs neighbor (Mary, by name) made zup mit luckschen every Friday night, would it be Jewish food? And what if she made it on Wednesdays

According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish. :laugh:

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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So if my upstairs neighbor (Mary, by name) made zup mit luckschen every Friday night, would it be Jewish food? And what if she made it on Wednesdays

According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish. :laugh:

I actually never knew that bagels were identified as being Jewish until I moved to New York about five years ago.

I think I probably had them first when I lived in Vancouver B.C. in the 80's....also ran across my first "deli" there....reubens were the main identifiable deli food.

just saying that once you leave the East Coast...a lot of these identifications become increasingly attenuated.

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According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish.

Back some years ago the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli, who was just coming the Metropolitan opera with great fanfare and consequently stealing the thunder of legendary (Jewish) American tenor, Richard Tucker, asked Tucker for his advice on how to sing Puccini. Tucker was said to have replied, "to sing it right, you have to be Jewish."

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish.

Back some years ago the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli, who was just coming the Metropolitan opera with great fanfare and consequently stealing the thunder of legendary (Jewish) American tenor, Richard Tucker, asked Tucker for his advice on how to sing Puccini. Tucker was said to have replied, "to sing it right, you have to be Jewish."

But the link back in post #6 on this thread would seem to hint that it might not always be like this, in every situation.

Though it *is* a great line. Wonderfully arrogant and all. :smile:

(Sort of reminds me of guys around the edge of a pool table, chalking their cues and bouncing on their heels as close to the required line of sight as possible, while their opponent takes aim at the eight ball. :wink: )

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish.

Back some years ago the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli, who was just coming the Metropolitan opera with great fanfare and consequently stealing the thunder of legendary (Jewish) American tenor, Richard Tucker, asked Tucker for his advice on how to sing Puccini. Tucker was said to have replied, "to sing it right, you have to be Jewish."

But the link back in post #6 on this thread would seem to hint that it might not always be like this, in every situation.

Tucker is considered one of the greatest operatic tenors of the 20th century in the Italian and French repertoire, and certainly Corelli's equal. And, for that matter, the tenor considered by many (including myself) to have been the greatest of the 20th century in the Italian and French repertoire was a Swede, Jussi Björling.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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According to my college roomie, no. I made bagels, she pronounced them good, but not really bagels. When I asked why they werent really bagels (thinking I'd made a processing/flavor/texture error), she said no matter what I did, they'd never really be bagels because I wasnt Jewish.

Back some years ago the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli, who was just coming the Metropolitan opera with great fanfare and consequently stealing the thunder of legendary (Jewish) American tenor, Richard Tucker, asked Tucker for his advice on how to sing Puccini. Tucker was said to have replied, "to sing it right, you have to be Jewish."

But the link back in post #6 on this thread would seem to hint that it might not always be like this, in every situation.

Tucker is considered one of the greatest operatic tenors of the 20th century in the Italian and French repertoire, and certainly Corelli's equal. And, for that matter, the tenor considered by many (including myself) to have been the greatest of the 20th century in the Italian and French repertoire was a Swede, Jussi Björling.

But was Bjorling Jewish? :biggrin:

Anyway, back to the dinner table here.

One "cuisine" that was not terribly popular outside of its own culture that made a good and interesting transition in terms of becoming upwardly mobile and more widely popular, more often eaten and cooked (even in home kitchens due to the momentum of the restaurant and the personality of the chef) *momentarily* at least was Scandanavian, at Acquavit, in the hands of Marcuss Samuelsson, who was not only Swedish but who also was not *originally* Swedish, I believe. :raz:

I can see the same thing happening with Jewish food, in the right hands, right place, right time. A similar narrative to Acquavit.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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As to your question about the Thai meal, I think most people in America would say that it's Kosher Thai food, and not "Jewish food," per se.  This is a source of some confusion, and part of the discussion here.  What's interesting is that matzo ball soup in which butter was used to make the matzo balls (which would make the soup non-kosher, assuming they are in chicken broth) would likely be considered "Jewish food"  by many.

Thanks. My idea is.

Now I agree with your point that what savethedeli considers to be Jewish food is Kosher Eastern-European food.

Other people also stated that there just happened to be a large number of Jews in that area who adopted the food.

And Nathan, I'm completely unfamiliar with the exact rules of the many different branches of Buddhism. All I know is that many Japanese monks are vegetarian and during one holiday in August, one isn't supposed to eat meat. I wouldn't say that the that makes a whole section of Buddhist food though.

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What all of you are calling Jewish food is Eastern European food. Jews are not only from Eastern Europe! In fact, a lot of us are not from Eastern Europe.

I had never tasted Cholent until I moved to Israel and I am happy that my family never made it. I think it is horrible. Cholent, Dafina and Hamim are traditionally Jewish recipes because we needed to cook dishes that would carry through the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Sunday. It is said that Cholent is a take off on Cassoulet from the French Medieval period, maybe it is the other way around.

What is Jewish food? Originally, they were dishes of the country that Jews were from and adapted to fit the laws of Kashrut. That is it, period.

However, it is well known that Portuguese Jews brought fried fish to England and thereby creating the English tradition of Fish and Chips. Is it Jewish food? Maybe, but it is probably Portuguese food.

Chinese food is not Jewish food! However there are Chinese Jewish dishes that were made by Chinese Jews.

I cook Kosher food everyday, but do I call it Jewish food. No, I make Kurdish, Georgian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Moroccan, Persian, British, American, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Bhukaran......... food that happens to be Kosher.

Edited by Swisskaese (log)
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BTW - If you want to try real Jewish food, then come to Jerusalem and go to a restaurant called Eucalyptus. Chef Moshe Basson prepares dishes using foods that are idigenous to Israel. Some of which were around during the time of the Bible.

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How's this for a hypothesis? It's possible that at least one major component of this concept of "Jewish" food that we're wrestling around with here only coalesced once significant numbers of Eastern European Jews emigrated to North America. Whereas back in the old country, their food wasn't all that different from their neighbors, in the context of their new home their foods and folkways were definitely distinctive (still with some overlaps, mind you, but yet with enough differences to stick out). And thus you started to see that distinctive body of foodways get labeled "Jewish cooking" here in the North American continent (and not so much elsewhere in the world).

Anyway, just a thought...

Edited by mizducky (log)
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I think if you look at most any dish anywhere you can find a lot of parallels to a lot of other dishes nearby and elsewhere. The question of how different a dish has to be to be unique is one that comes up no matter what kind of cuisine one is evaluating. If you paint with a very broad brush, all dumplings are dumplings. If you paint with a medium brush, all Asian dumplings are one thing. If you paint with narrower brushes, they break down into categories, and so on. Statements like "this Jewish dish is similar to this East European dish" can't be evaluated without criteria for determining their validity: what does "similar" mean? Are similar dishes the same, or are they different dishes? The average Jewish dish is probably more different from its East European ancestor than the average Italian regional dish is from the one the next region over, but we have no problem declaring each Italian regional cuisine to be a cuisine.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Back some years ago the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli, who was just coming the Metropolitan opera with great fanfare and consequently stealing the thunder of legendary (Jewish) American tenor, Richard Tucker, asked Tucker for his advice on how to sing Puccini.  Tucker was said to have replied, "to sing it right, you have to be Jewish."

Well, undoubtedly he said that with a lot of humor mixed in there. But with a great deal of truth as well, because of Tucker's cantorial background. A lot of the unabashed wailing (and I mean that in a good way) that cantors do is frequently a very good thing in singing opera, and something that more restrained singers don't do (though in truth I'd have thought it applied as much to singing Bel Canto as Puccini). What is know to Italian tenors as the "Italianate sob" is know to cantors as the "cantorial sob". But back to food...

I think that if you're Ashkenazic-Jewish, you think of all the 'New York Deli' foods as "Jewish". If you're not Jewish, you probably indeed thing of them as Hungarian, Czech, Polish, etc.

But I think the reason that the views are so skewed is just what FG said upthread:

The reason we equate Jewish cuisine with Ashkenazi cuisine is that about 80% of the world's Jews are Ashkenazi. And I believe the number was over 90% prior to World War II.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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A side question: Did Shabbos Goys (I think of them as something of the past though of course I could be wrong but I never met one yet, so . . . :laugh: ) used to make food for celebrations when needed?

There are many towns in Israel and the US where the Jewish community hires a "Shabbos Goy" to help deal with small emergencies. I don't know if this is the custom in the communities of Europe or North Africa, but would be surprised if it weren't. Life-threatening emergencies require instant action, of course, so you do whatever you have to do, Shabbat or no, and that is the halacha. But for example, the electricity in our apt. went down one Shabbat when my MIL, who walks unsteadily even clutching her walker, was visiting. To get around in the dark was dangerous for her, so we went down the street to the retirement home, who retain a "Shabbos goy," an elderly Russian man. He willingly came over and settled our difficulties.

By halacha, one may not eat food cooked by a Gentile unless a Jew has lit the fire him/herself first. I have seen this, many times. One wouldn't want cooking going on during Shabbat itself, but there's no reason why a housewife wouldn't have her Gentile servant help prepare food. When I lived in Brazil, many of my Jewish friend's families had maids who understood and respected the laws of kashrut in their employer's homes - and who spoke a spicy Yiddish of their own, too.

Miriam

Miriam Kresh

blog:[blog=www.israelikitchen.com][/blog]

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