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savethedeli

Why don't Jews eat Jewish?

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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.

Sorry, but Save the Deli (moi) doesn't consider Jewish food only Kosher Eastern European food. I consider Jewish food that which we have a historical connection to, whether Sephardic, Ashkenazi, or even North American deli. Kosher thai food isn't Jewish food, it's kosher thai. However, if there is a community of Jews who lived in Thailand for centuries (as was the case with the Cochin Jews of India), and their cuisine evolved and had a history, than yes, it's a Jewish food.


Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com

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It would be an easier cuisine to define as "one cuisine" if one could pin down certain flavor profiles or tastes that run through it that would solidly prove a differentiation from other cuisines, no?

Or is Jewish food a thing of the heart/mind/memory, something that is flexible, and susceptible to how one reads it or feels it?

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What I've got so far from this thread (setting aside the whole kosher thing, which is something else in terms of wide-based categorization) is that Jewish food is something made by Jews historically, wherever they happened to be.

Therefore it has many flavors and recipes, and resembled the foods of the cultures which it resided within. (But if a generalized difference of some sort could be formalized, aside from the rules of kashrut, that would really make the lines straighter in terms of identification).

There's something within this definition (to me) that I can not put my finger on, but it seems to have something to do with putting a name on a thing as being one's own, making a place for oneself in a larger context that would not allow a whole lot of differentiation. To name it is to give it a place simply by the name, something subtle imbued by saying "Ours", something that would not dissolve, because after something is named it can not easily be dissolved or swept in with everything else in a mish-mosh.

Jewish food does not neccesarily have to be made by Jews today to be Jewish, though it is more legally Jewish if someone Jewish lights the fire for the cooking of it.

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I've loved this discussion, have learned a lot, and hope to learn more from whatever is posted.

But I think that my answer to your question about why don't Jews eat Jewish, after sort of getting a handle on what the question meant, would be: Most people today do not eat according to their historic ways of eating. It has become too easy not to, and even in some ways more interesting not to. A global economy, an international and multicultural way of thinking, is where the edible habits of most people are headed. And I guess that Jews are no exception to this, as the communities they live in have become less prone to separate them in any way from the general community due to their religious beliefs.

Loss and gain, all at the same time, I guess, in terms of traditional foods and in wider vistas.


Edited by Carrot Top (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.

While I agree with your general point about broad versus medium versus small strokes of the brush, I'm not so sure about some of your other conclusions.

First, it's not clear to me that we necessarily think of, e.g., Umbriano cooking as being an entirely distinct "cuisine" from Marchegiano cooking. Rather, they are closely related culinary aesthetics that evolved certain distinct dishes and methods largely based on geographically-mediated differences having to do with availability of certain ingredients, etc. It's not like the cooking style changes drastically when one crosses the border from one region to another, and the reason is that the geography and availability of ingredients, etc. are the same on either side of the border. This is fundamentally different from the way Jewish cooking evolved in, e.g., Eastern European communities, where the availability of ingredients and cultural/culinary influences were the same, but the Jewish community did/didn't use certain ingredients, combinations and cooking techniques (for religious reasons). I'm not sure that makes the Jewish cooking in those communities a "cuisine" that is distinct from the non-Jewish cooking. Unless, of course, one reduces the brush to the level of narrowness that lets us say that the cooking on the North side of Napoli is a "cuisine" that is distinct from the cooking on the South side of Napoli.

I also have to take some exception with your idea that "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." There is more difference between the regional dishes near the coast as opposed to in the mountains of the same Italian region than there is between the average Jewish dish and the cooking of its Eastern European region of origin. The food in Rome and the food in Perugia? Way more different. The reason is that the geography and ingredients are different (the reason Italian regional styles have so much more variation than, e.g., Eastern European regional styles that extend through a much larger area is that the geography and ingredients in Italy change much more drastically). To stick with the Italian example, we have carciofi alla Giudia ("Jewish style artichokes") from Rome. For sure this is a "Jewish dish." Heck, it's even in the name. But are artichokes fried in extra virgin olive oil -- and, for that matter, the cooking of Trastevere in general -- so different from all other Roman cooking that is belongs to a separate "cuisine"? No, not really. To make another example, are matzo balls so different from Grießnockerl that they represent an entirely distinct class of cooking, a different "cuisine"? Or is this difference more similar to the kind of variations one might find between one town and the next town down the river. I would suggest the latter (have a look at some Grießnockerl in broth here -- if I only showed you the picture, you'd think it was matzoh ball soup).

Part of the question I'd ask is "can you eat a certain dish and tell it's 'Jewish' without being told that it is?" So, for example, can you eat a bowl of meat dumplings in broth and say "this is kreplach as opposed to any of a dozen or more other Eastern European meat dumplings in broth"? If not, I'd suggest that kreplach are simply "Eastern European kosher meat dumplings" and not part of a distinctively different cuisine on the merits of the food. If you want to argue that it's the cultural connection, and not any thing intrinsic about the food, that ties together "Jewish food," I'd go along with that. But, as I've been saying, this makes it very difficult to update or reinterpret these foods and still keep their "Jewishness" -- especially to those living outside the culture in which the dish evolved.

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".

Hmm. As an Italianate operatic tenor myself, I have to say that I both agree and disagree here. Cantors do often sing with what we in opera might call "slancio," but the singing method is often too tense to fill a large theater over an orchestra and extend through the full operatic tenor range without breaking down eventually. This may simply be a matter of technique and training, or may be a stylistic difference. I'd also argue that the "sob" is only appropriate in Italian opera in the verismo style (post 1890 or so), and certainly never in belcanto opera (roughly 1810 to 1840).

Which style came first is hard to say. Likely they evolved in parallel, perhaps each influencing the other back and forth as vocal styles and techniques changed dramatically over the course of the 1800s. To bring it back to food, this is likely a similar situation to the way Jewish and non-Jewish foods evolved within a given culture, except that everyone cooks and eats while not everyone sings professionally, so I would expect a much greater level of commonality in cooking influences, styles, etc.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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The problem with comparing matza balls to Griessknockerl is that you are comparing them to matza balls that are made with matza meal. However, matza balls are also made by roughly crushing whole matza and this is more along the lines of Bavarian bread dumplings.

Then, you also have stuffed matza balls.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I seem to be invisible on this thread.

Jewish food is adapted food from the country they lived in. For example, let's take a dish like Coq au Vin that calls for bacon in the dish. We would replace the bacon with smoked goose breast. It doesn't taste that much different from the bacon. It has that smoky, greasy bacony flavour. And, it tastes similar to the treif version of the dish. I don't think this is very different as slkinsey and FatGuy are claiming and I can say that because I used to not keep Kosher and have eaten both versions of Coq au Vin.

Hungarian Jewish meat recipes, which are the counterpart of the non-Jewish recipes usually suggest using smoked goose breast in place of bacon.


Edited by Swisskaese (log)

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I know I sound like a broken record, but I seem to be invisible on this thread.

No, neither one, though I know the feeling.

I'm listening. And I am sure that others are, too.

As for me, I'm just taking in what you are saying and thinking about it and how it all fits in. It is very good information.

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I know I sound like a broken record, but I seem to be invisible on this thread.

Of course you are not. I have read your posts, and considered them well reasoned.

In fact, reading your posts I am reminded of the first time I used the term "Schmaltz" in front of my very German husband. He was like "What did you say?"

I replied, "Schmaltz, you know, chicken fat." He responded by saying his Oma called any grease, from any source, schmaltz.

Now, if I could just prepare marrow dumplings and potato pancakes (latke) that lives up to his memory of his Oma, I could probably claim some decent bragging rights.

Strudel is right out. Not up to it.

The way of the world. :rolleyes:

We all have more in common than differences, I think.

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Jewish food is adapted food from the country they lived in.

Right. This is the same point I have also been arguing.

For example, let's take a dish like Coq au Vin that calls for bacon in the dish. We would replace the bacon with smoked goose breast. It doesn't taste that much different from the bacon. It has that smoky, greasy bacony flavour. And, it tastes similar to the treif version of the dish. I don't think this is very different as slkinsey and FatGuy are claiming and I can say that because I used to not keep Kosher and have eaten both versions of Coq au Vin.

Your coq au vin example is an interesting one. But, to be clear, don't think Fat Guy and I are arguing the same point. I'm in your camp, suggesting that "Jewish food" consists essentially of kosher adaptations of the cuisine of the country in which Jews live(d). savethedeli, and to a certain extent Fat Guy, seem to be arguing that "Jewish food" exists as a distinct cuisine in the same way that, e.g., Italian, Indian and Chinese food exist as distinct cuisines.

I do think it's possible that, once Ashkenazi Jews moved out of Eastern Europe to other parts of the world, bringing with them their Eastern European culinary traditions and retaining different "old world" dishes in their new homes than non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants, the Jewish adaptations of old world Eastern European dishes that were preserved by immigrant Jews came to be regarded by Jew and non-Jew alike as "Jewish food" rather than "Eastern European food" in the "new world."


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Jewish food is adapted food from the country they lived in.

Right. This is the same point I have also been arguing.

For example, let's take a dish like Coq au Vin that calls for bacon in the dish. We would replace the bacon with smoked goose breast. It doesn't taste that much different from the bacon. It has that smoky, greasy bacony flavour. And, it tastes similar to the treif version of the dish. I don't think this is very different as slkinsey and FatGuy are claiming and I can say that because I used to not keep Kosher and have eaten both versions of Coq au Vin.

Your coq au vin example is an interesting one. But, to be clear, don't think Fat Guy and I are arguing the same point. I'm in your camp, suggesting that "Jewish food" consists essentially of kosher adaptations of the cuisine of the country in which Jews live(d). savethedeli, and to a certain extent Fat Guy, seem to be arguing that "Jewish food" exists as a distinct cuisine in the same way that, e.g., Italian, Indian and Chinese food exist as distinct cuisines.

I do think it's possible that, once Ashkenazi Jews moved out of Eastern Europe to other parts of the world, bringing with them their Eastern European culinary traditions and retaining different "old world" dishes in their new homes than non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants, the Jewish adaptations of old world Eastern European dishes that were preserved by immigrant Jews came to be regarded by Jew and non-Jew alike as "Jewish food" rather than "Eastern European food" in the "new world."

It's not just the adaptation of recipes. Certain things are, for the most part, considered "Jewish food," while others are not. Coq au vin, no matter what you use in place of the bacon, is not considered "Jewish food." Matzoh balls, however, are. Both might be adaptations of a recipe from a "host" country where Jews lived, but both did not make it into this "Jewish food canon."

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cakewalk, see the last paragraph you quoted for reasons this is true with respect to some dishes. Also, we of course don't have much of a population of French-derived Jews and their cooking in America (or elsewhere around the world) whereas we do have a sizeable population of Eastern European-derived Jews and their cooking. I would suggest that matzoh balls are only considered "Jewish food" because they are made with matzoh, a uniquely Jewish ingredient. If you sat down a bowl of matzoh ball soup in front of someone in who is used to eating Grießnockerl soup every day, it's likely they wouldn't tell much difference. Just because matzoh ball soup has made it into the "Jewish food cannon" for most American Ashkenazi Jews doesn't mean much. Chicken parm heros have made it into the "Italian food canon" for most Italian-Americans, but it's still not really Italian food.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I don't know if that link points to a canonical recipe for the German precursor to knadlach (German-derived Yiddish for matzoh balls/dumplings) but the differences between that and a standard Ashkenazic matzoh ball soup recipe are many. Even discounting the difference between semolina and matzoh meal, the German version is based on beef bones, it has juniper in it, and the dumplings contain butter and nutmeg. Matzoh ball soup is invariably chicken soup, juniper would not be a normal addition, and the dumplings are made with schmaltz. If those aren't two different dishes, then the standard for uniqueness in cuisine is going to be really tough to meet. And over time and with migration the variations become greater. I mean, I assume there isn't a significant school in Germany that favors making those dumplings with seltzer water. So I certainly agree that the Jews didn't invent knadlach, but at some point all those adaptations shift the center of gravity enough that you have a new dish.


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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Well, I'd say this:

Grießnockerl are dumplings made with fat (butter) and a fairly granular, golden-colored grain (semolina), served in meat broth. Beef broth is common, but I've had lots of Grießnockerl in chicken broth. Juniper and nutmeg are not standard or required.

Knadlach are dumplings made with fat (schmaltz, a kosher substitution for butter) and a fairly granular, golden-colored grain-substitute (matzoh meal), served in meat broth. Chicken seems standard in the United States (I don't know if this is true in Eastern Europe). Some people use seltzer to lighten the dumplings, but this is by no means universal.

So... yea, I'd say that the evidence trends towards Knadlach being a kosher adaptation of Grießnockerl. That said, Grießnockerl in broth isn't consumed much in the United States, so most people are unfamiliar with it. Matzoh ball soup, on the other hand, is common among American Jews and is fairly unique among foods familiar to Americans. Therefore, it is popularly identified as "Jewish food" here. If, on the other hand, Grießnockerl in broth was ubiquitous here, this would not be the case and Knadlach in broth would be considered a Jewish variant much like the coq au vin variation described by Swisskaese. Also, if I were to make matzoh balls using matzoh meal, butter and a touch of nutmeg, and put those matzoh balls in beef broth, would it no longer be "matzoh ball soup"? (Also, isn't markk's post above showing Knadlach with beef?)

Of course Knadlach in broth can also be considered a dish that is separate from Grießnockerl in broth. But the questions are how different and whether this can be seen as the basis for proclaiming a distinct and unique "cuisine" as opposed to a religion-based practice of adaptation that has resulted in some different derivative dishes.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Well, I'd say this:

Grießnockerl are dumplings made with fat (butter) and a fairly granular, golden-colored grain (semolina), served in meat broth.  Beef broth is common, but I've had lots of Grießnockerl in chicken broth.  Juniper and nutmeg are not standard or required.

Knadlach are dumplings made with fat (schmaltz, a kosher substitution for butter) and a fairly granular, grain-substitute (matzoh meal), served in meat broth.  Chicken seems standard in the United States (I don't know if this is true in Eastern Europe).  Some people use seltzer to lighten the dumplings, but this is by no means universal.

So... yea, I'd say that the evidence trends towards Knadlach being a kosher adaptation of Grießnockerl.  That said, Grießnockerl in broth isn't consumed much in the United States, so most people are unfamiliar with it.  Matzoh ball soup, on the other hand, is common among American Jews and is fairly unique among foods familiar to Americans.  Therefore, it is popularly identified as "Jewish food" here.  If, on the other hand, Grießnockerl in broth was ubiquitous here, this would not be the case and Knadlach in broth would be considered a Jewish variant much like the coq au vin variation described by Swisskaese.

Of course Knadlach in broth can also be considered a dish that is separate from Grießnockerl in broth.  But the questions are how different and whether this can be seen as the basis for proclaiming a distinct and unique "cuisine" as opposed to a religion-based practice of adaptation.

heh...if you go to Milwaukee you'll find people identifying matzoh ball soup as Grießnockerl no matter which broth you use.

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No two matzah balls soups are alike. Here is my matza balls and chicken soup. This is a lot different from how most people make theirs.

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I put juniper berries in my matzah ball soup.

Good for you. I like the sort of piney thing juniper berries do for food. Reminds me of the pine trees I grew up with.

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Before this whole thread gets out of hand, as is the case with anyone arguing over ownership of a culture and identity, let me say that I agree with both camps:

-Jewish food is a variation and often direct result of the cultures/countries/territories where the Jewish diaspora lived pre-Holocaust and Israel. Some dishes are no different than that which was local, others evolved beyond their origin to something more easily identifiable as Jewish (matzo balls).

-If a Jew considers it Jewish food, bubuleh, you aren't going to do much to convince him/her it ain't Jewish. Once a recipee is passed down a few generations, that ownership is in the heart and soul of those who cook it. You can say my grandmother's recipee for baked rice pudding or sweet and sour meatballs is Hungarian/Austrian (or Bessarabian), but to me it will always be Jewish.

So let me try and move this discussion forward before posters break off into various political parties.

How would you make Jewish food (loosely defined) interesting and attractive again?


Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com

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How would you make Jewish food (loosely defined) interesting and attractive again?

Make new Jewish food that's consistent with the times and the lifestyles/preferences of modern-day American Jews. It's unclear to me that one can update or reinterpret Jewish adaptations based on 200 year-old Eastern European cooking without loosing whatever it was that made these foods seem "Jewish" to American Jews. This will be difficult, however, because most modern-day American Jews aren't kosher, and Jewish dietary law is precisely the thing that produced adaptations like matzoh ball soup. Without the dietary laws, how can new Jewish food be created?

I'm interested: do you have any ideas how to update/reinterpret/reinvigorate/lighten/modernize matzoh ball soup, kreplach, kugel, cholent, knishes, etc. and still keep them "Jewish"? One of the major issues is going to be that people today want to eat lighter, healther, less starchy/fatty food that, as Fat Guy put it "emphasizes fresh ingredients and bright flavors."


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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How would you make Jewish food (loosely defined) interesting and attractive again?

Make it as goyish as possible. :wink:

"Interesting and attractive" to whom? Many still eat it and cook it. (See Pam's posts.)

Since so many [American] Jews over the past several generations have moved away from religious observance (kashrut, shabbat), and so many other ethnic cuisines have become popular, the competition is much greater than it used to be. When people had a choice of only one cuisine, that's what they ate. If they have a choice of five, the original one is inevitably going to lose out.

Another thing crossed my mind about the "lack" of Jewish delis: the children of the old deli owners, well, they went to college. An example: on Jerome Avenue in the part of the Bronx where I grew up there were two Jewish delis: Epstein's and Schweller's. The neighborhood is no longer Jewish, and (as far as I know) neither of these delis is still open. (Although I think there might still be an Epstein's in Westchester.) However, I think they would still have a thriving business if they were open (different customers, but so what?) But there was no one to take over the business, because the kids became doctors and lawyers. This is quite common, not just in the "deli trade," and I think it has a lot to do with the demise of the "mom and pop" stuff, delis included. So you will find a lot of people who moan and groan about "no good Jewish delis," -- but who wants to run one? [bTW -- my father was a kosher butcher, he worked in a meat packing factory and they used to have a smokehouse. On weekends he always brought home all the deli stuff. I hated it. :sad: Still do. Except for those long strands of frankfurters. Now they were good!]

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By showing people that it isn't just Polish food!

Make Georgian, Bhukaran, Uzbeki, Iraqi, Yemenite, Algerian, Lebanese, Cochini, Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan or Kurdish dishes.

I have to agree with Pam, I am offended that you think Kosher food has to be made Goyish and that it doesn't taste like anything.

Come to Israel and I will give you an education on Kosher food that isn't boring and bland Polish food.


Edited by Swisskaese (log)

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How would you make Jewish food (loosely defined) interesting and attractive again?

I think there is huge potential for doing something modern and interesting with gefilte fish. Not only to rescue them from the lousy reputation they've gotten from all the bad jarred gefilte fish out there, but also because, well, think of the possibilities. Varying the species of fish used. Varying the seasonings and flavorings. Bringing in some cross-cultural ideas (kamoboko/gefilte fish hybrids, anyone?).

Yeah, yeah, I know, if you monkey with it too much, will it still be gefilte fish anymore? :smile: But one of the lessons I'm learning from this discussion is that, in many cases, Jewish food is in the eye of the beholder and/or what you grew up with.

(Example: Is my aunt's chicken fricassee specifically Jewish, or related to many other non-Jewish takes on fricassee that may well have pre-dated it? I dunno; all I know is that, when I was a kid, the fricassee was served in the context of a Jewish home, and I picked up by osmosis that my family considered it a Jewish dish, and it was like nothing I saw in my gentile friends' homes or in local restaurants or on TV, so I concluded, rightly or wrongly, that it must indeed be a specifically Jewish thing. And I'm not alone in considering chicken fricasee to at least have a distinctly Jewish-identified variant--click here.)

Anyway--I keep on meaning to one day reconstruct my maternal grandmother's method of making gefilte fish from scratch, based on my mother's recollections. And once I've got the basic method down--or maybe even before--I mean to play with it to see what kind of trouble I can get into.

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How would you make Jewish food (loosely defined) interesting and attractive again?

I think there is huge potential for doing something modern and interesting with gefilte fish. Not only to rescue them from the lousy reputation they've gotten from all the bad jarred gefilte fish out there, but also because, well, think of the possibilities. Varying the species of fish used. Varying the seasonings and flavorings. Bringing in some cross-cultural ideas (kamoboko/gefilte fish hybrids, anyone?).

Individuals and caterers here have been making "gefillte fish" with other types of fish for years. They make it with salmon, sea bass, red mullet. This is nothing new.

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Don't forget - gefilte fish as we know it is not what gefilte fish once was. As odd as it sounds, the fish balls of today are the classy, updated, new version. And they are what we think of when gf is mentioned - and that's what I remember my grandmother (from Poland of course) making. But if you ask my dad, he remembers when she made 'real' gefilte fish.

Gefilte fish literally means "stuffed fish". If we revert back to a stuffed, whole fish - can we call it a modern day version?

My question is: Why must we change things? If somebody is on Atkins, fine. They're not going to eat a knish or a piece of cheese kugel with sour cream on it. But if they want some good tasting Jewish food, they can learn to make it or find somebody who does. It does exist and people are eating it.

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Of course Knadlach in broth can also be considered a dish that is separate from Grießnockerl in broth.  But the questions are how different and whether this can be seen as the basis for proclaiming a distinct and unique "cuisine" as opposed to a religion-based practice of adaptation that has resulted in some different derivative dishes.

I still don't see how it's possible to have the discussion without a standard for determining the uniqueness of dishes. What's the standard for determining, for example, whether the Russian svatovska juha (vegetable soup with semolina dumplings) is or isn't the same dish as the German/Austrian Grießnockerl in broth. There are semolina dumplings in many European cuisines, including the variety of gnocchi made from semolina. Are they all the same thing?

I'm not sure the answer is all that important, because I think the way the cuisine needs to be defined isn't particularly dependent on the different-dish theory, however since it has come up I can't really see a basis for saying that all Jewish dishes are exact copies of some other dish. If you reduce all these dishes to their most formally accurate recipes, the differences are pretty clear.

I actually think the project of defining Jewish cuisine has a lot of parallels to the project of defining American cuisine, because American cuisine is also largely derivative, with adaptation and evolution contributing to it, and too diverse to define all that well. Nonetheless, it's pretty easy to say hot dogs, hamburgers and fried chicken are American cuisine, even though you can certainly find those same items all over the world in various formats.


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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[...]First, it's not clear to me that we necessarily think of, e.g., Umbriano cooking as being an entirely distinct "cuisine" from Marchegiano cooking.  Rather, they are closely related culinary aesthetics that evolved certain distinct dishes and methods largely based on geographically-mediated differences having to do with availability of certain ingredients, etc.  It's not like the cooking style changes drastically when one crosses the border from one region to another, and the reason is that the geography and availability of ingredients, etc. are the same on either side of the border.  This is fundamentally different from the way Jewish cooking evolved in, e.g., Eastern European communities, where the availability of ingredients and cultural/culinary influences were the same, but the Jewish community did/didn't use certain ingredients, combinations and cooking techniques (for religious reasons).  I'm not sure that makes the Jewish cooking in those communities a "cuisine" that is distinct from the non-Jewish cooking.  Unless, of course, one reduces the brush to the level of narrowness that lets us say that the cooking on the North side of Napoli is a "cuisine" that is distinct from the cooking on the South side of Napoli.[...]

I generally agree with your points about Jewish vs. non-Jewish food and also about verismo, bel canto, and cantillation (I'd also add that, as I understand, an awful lot of klezmer music was played by local Gypsies and Slavic Christians, as well as Jews -- sometimes in the same group, and playing for both Jewish and Christian celebrations -- and tunes often had words in a few different languages). But at what point does not using ingredients or techniques for religious reasons and developing other ones in place of the forbidden ingredients and techniques approximate a difference related to the availability of those ingredients and regional non-use of those techniques? I think that when it gets to the level of Calcutta Jews using eggs rather than yogurt as a thickening agent, the difference in taste and feel is substantial.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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Come to Israel and I will give you an education on Kosher food that isn't boring and bland Polish food.

I think what people have been saying is that, in America anyway, "Jewish food" is seen as something different from "kosher food." Most Americans would see your kosher Moroccan food as "kosher Moroccan food" and not necessarily as "Jewish food." This certainly seems to be the sense in which savethedeli and others have been using "Jewish food."

My question is: Why must we change things?  If you're on Atkins, fine. You're not going to eat a knish or a piece of cheese kugel with sour cream on it.  But if you want some good tasting Jewish food, learn to make it or find somebody who does.  It does exist and people are eating it.

I think the original premise of this thread is that fewer and fewer people are eating these foods (especially outside of the holidays). Most people seem to think it's because they are increasingly viewed as bland, old fashioned, unhealthy and out of step with current culinary trends.


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