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savethedeli

Why don't Jews eat Jewish?

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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.

Interesting comparison there, American and Jewish cuisines as melting pots in different ways.

But I think that the way you end your 2nd paragraph begs the question of whether there really is a "most formally accurate recipe" and whose Bubbe will be taken as the authority on that! Considering that no traditional dishes started life as formalized recipes, but rather, as "a little bit of this, a little bit of that," I think you may be going on a positivist wild goose chase.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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geez thanks, all this talk about new york delis has gotten my stomach to grumble with hunger. why, oh why, are there no decent delis on the west coast? is it something in the water?

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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.

Right. And my point is that I don't fully agree with that premise.

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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).

Just to stray OT for one second, sing or hum through 'Casta Diva' (especially the high passages) and tell me that isn't identical to a cantorial outpouring (though it's not specifically a sigh, it's cantorial wailing for sure, I think) - and I guess you should PM me if you want to continue this discussion or point me to another board. But back to food....

Jewish food does not neccesarily have to be made by Jews today to be Jewish,

No, it certainly does not. I have to go back just a few years in my tales of Rascal House when it was going strong - on my fourth night there in a row with my favorite waitress, pigging out on all the things that tasted like my Grandmother was in the kitchen cooking them, I asked if I could perhaps meet the Jews in the kitchen who were cooking all the delicious foods, and she replied "There hasn't been a Jew in that kitchen in over 40 years". I questioned that, and she thought for a second, reminded me that she'd been there for at least that long (a Rascal House specialty is waitresses who'd been there for 80-90 years), did some mental figuring, and said that indeed it had been over 40 years since a Jew had cooked in that kitchen.

So if we're talking about food being "Jewish Food" by the criterion that it could fool a Jewish guy into thinking his Grandmother had come back from the dead and had cooked it herself, than no, Jewish food does not have to be made by Jews today to be Jewish.


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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Hm.

Savethedeli, your definition of Jewish cooking is the regional food of an area with a history of Jewish culture adapted to Kosher dietary restrictions.

But the cooking styles of India, Eastern Europe and Western Europe are all so different, it's difficult to classify under one cuisine. And if the Jewish cooking of each relative stems from the distinct cuisine of each area as you say, then they really are all distinct styles of cooking.

Not to mention that the Indian Jewish cooking doesn't receive much attention or recognition as "Jewish" cooking.

I just think that it's very difficult to classify food by religion because religions can and do exist everywhere.

ETA. Of course, I'm not arguing against anyone classifying any of these foods as Jewish. That's just my opinion concerning foods of any religion. As for popularizing "Jewish" (Ashkenazy I presume) I think it goes the same for any currently untrendy cuisine. Reasonable amounts of any type of food won't make anyone fat, so it's just the obvious answers of updating the seasonings and ingredients to fit today's tastes, like using and showcasing fresh produce.


Edited by Chihiran (log)

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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?

The answer, I think, is that they're not terribly different (although it would appear that svatovska juha is more different from Grießnockerl in broth than matzoh ball soup). But what makes Russian cuisine different from Bavarian cuisine is a wide range of ingredients, characteristic approaches to ingredients and signature dishes. The point is that we're not going to distinguish Bavarian cuisine from Russian cuisine based on dishes with similarities as close as svatovska juha and Grießnockerl in broth. Also, I think it's reasonable that one could observe that there is a sufficient commonality among the cooking of the Slavic peoples to make the argument that there is "Slavic cuisine" and that Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, etc. represent regional variations similar to the regional variations in Italian cooking (which may actually be more varied).

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.

So, I'm curious if you can forward support for the idea of a unique "Jewish cuisine" that is distinct from "Eastern European" cuisine in any meaningful way other than the fact that it is/was kosher? What ties it together in a culinary sense? I agree that the "different dish" theory is not essential, but your point doesn't necessarily support the idea of "Jewish food" as a distinct cuisine. Because, for example, one could certainly say: "Yea, I agree that matzo ball soup is a different dish. So what? According to any culinary criteria, it's entirely within the scope of non-Jewish Eastern European cooking. How does matzoh ball soup deserve to be considered 'from a different cuisine' when dumplings made by the gentile down the street with old rye bread don't?" I guess what I'd like to see is a list of distinct dishes/treatments and an cuisine-based way of setting them apart from other traditions as well as tying them together into a culinary tradition of their own. I think it's certainly possible to say "this dish and this dish and this dish are Jewish" but that doesn't necessarily equal a "cuisine."

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.

There are some parallels, to be sure. But the main difference is that all the things you're talking about that make "American food" into "American food" have to do with the fact that they're taking place here, in America. Barbecue evolved into the American classic that it is precisely because of the new and unique culture, ingredients and cooking styles that grew out of living together in a new location. What makes the idea of "Jewish cuisine" different from all other cuisines, is that all the other cuisines are tied to location.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I just think that it's very difficult to classify food by religion because religions can and do exist everywhere.

But the religion is only part of the equation. Ashkenazi Jews -- again, for the past century hovering between 80 and 90 percent of the world Jewish population -- are also an ethnic group. I can tell you that for sure, because as an Ashkenazi Jew married to another Ashkenazi Jew we underwent extensive genetic testing and counseling at Mount Sinai Hospital's Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases when we decided to have a child. Judaism is a religion but you're born into it -- conversions are limited and not all that significant statistically. It's not like Christianity where you say "I accept . . ." and, poof, you're a Christian no matter whether you're racially Asian, black, or whatever.

In the Jewish ethnicity, you've got the overwhelming majority of the population sharing an ethnic background, just like "Italians" or another small ethnic group (indeed, if you're Italian-American marrying another Italian-American you'll want to undergo similar genetic screening procedures if you decide to have a child). And the ethnic group of Ashkenazi Jews doesn't come from everywhere, it mostly comes from a limited number of European countries: Russia, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, etc. The cuisine very much has a geographical basis -- not a single country but certainly a region -- and it involves copies and adaptations of dishes from throughout that region, plus a few items (cholent, matzoh, charoset) that actually do stem from the religion as much as from regions.

Now of course there are other Jews, particularly Sephardic Jews, and also some small communities (or former communities) in places like China, India, Egypt, wherever. So I think one has to speak of "Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine" rather than just "Jewish cuisine" because there's also a "Sephardic Jewish cuisine" and it's not right to steal the "Jewish cuisine" label from it. Although, these days, there seems to be a lot of convergence and cross-awareness, and many key items of Sephardic cuisine (which are in turn derived from other cuisines) are being adopted by Ashkenazim, not just in Israel but in the US as well.


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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What makes the idea of "Jewish cuisine" different from all other cuisines, is that all the other cuisines are tied to location.

I'm not sure you've really established that for American cuisine, nor am I sure it's true in general. I think it's safe to say that all regional cuisines are tied to location, but how is a hamburger tied to location? Any dish that enjoys popularity all over America can't possibly be tied to location because America is too big to be considered a location for these purposes. Even the larger European countries, like France, have cuisines that are difficult to peg to location. The regional cuisines of France, sure, but the national cuisine of France, not really.


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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What makes the idea of "Jewish cuisine" different from all other cuisines, is that all the other cuisines are tied to location.

I'm not sure you've really established that for American cuisine, nor am I sure it's true in general. I think it's safe to say that all regional cuisines are tied to location, but how is a hamburger tied to location? Any dish that enjoys popularity all over America can't possibly be tied to location because America is too big to be considered a location for these purposes.

No, it's not too big. The America that made the hamburger into an "American food" is the America of a mass-media induced monoculture.

I should point out that there is considerable dispute as to whether there truly is such a thing as "American cuisine." Again, we may be running into the issue where we can identify a few "American dishes" but they may not add up to any kind of meaningful "American cuisine."

Even the larger European countries, like France, have cuisines that are difficult to peg to location. The regional cuisines of France, sure, but the national cuisine of France, not really.

This observation actually supports my thought about cuisine and location. Yes, it's true that one can't necessarily say that "this food is French" on one side of the border and "this food is Italian" on the other side. This is because the geography, ingredients, etc. are largely the same on either side of the border. Whether there is something that ties together all of French cooking is another question. More geographical diversity means that there will be more uniquely diversified cooking and culinary culture in a smaller area.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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What makes the idea of "Jewish cuisine" different from all other cuisines, is that all the other cuisines are tied to location.

I'm not sure you've really established that for American cuisine, nor am I sure it's true in general. I think it's safe to say that all regional cuisines are tied to location, but how is a hamburger tied to location? Any dish that enjoys popularity all over America can't possibly be tied to location because America is too big to be considered a location for these purposes.

No, it's not too big. The America that made the hamburger into an "American food" is the America of a mass-media induced monoculture.

I should point out that there is considerable dispute as to whether there truly is such a thing as "American cuisine." Again, we may be running into the issue where we can identify a few "American dishes" but they may not add up to any kind of meaningful "American cuisine."

Even the larger European countries, like France, have cuisines that are difficult to peg to location. The regional cuisines of France, sure, but the national cuisine of France, not really.

This observation actually supports my thought about cuisine and location. Yes, it's true that one can't necessarily say that "this food is French" on one side of the border and "this food is Italian" on the other side. This is because the geography, ingredients, etc. are largely the same on either side of the border. Whether there is something that ties together all of French cooking is another question. More geographical diversity means that there will be more uniquely diversified cooking and culinary culture in a smaller area.

there isn't an American cuisine. there are a number of clearly identifiable regional American cuisines...all quite dissimilar:

Italian-American, Pacific Northwest, BBQ/southern, Tex-Mex, coastal Atlantic, Cajun/Creole, southwestern, Chinese-American.

many other immigrant cuisines haven't really changed much....the German, Polish and Norwegian cuisines of the midwest haven't really morphed into anything else (yet).

then there are the ubiquitous American dishes that are made in every American household (pretty much literally): the hamburger (it apparently was first put in a bun in the U.S.), meat loaf, pot roast, roast turkey, chili, steak (American cuts)....but I don't see how those five items a national cuisine make.

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What makes the idea of "Jewish cuisine" different from all other cuisines, is that all the other cuisines are tied to location.

I'm not sure you've really established that for American cuisine, nor am I sure it's true in general. I think it's safe to say that all regional cuisines are tied to location, but how is a hamburger tied to location? Any dish that enjoys popularity all over America can't possibly be tied to location because America is too big to be considered a location for these purposes.

No, it's not too big. The America that made the hamburger into an "American food" is the America of a mass-media induced monoculture.

I should point out that there is considerable dispute as to whether there truly is such a thing as "American cuisine." Again, we may be running into the issue where we can identify a few "American dishes" but they may not add up to any kind of meaningful "American cuisine."

Even the larger European countries, like France, have cuisines that are difficult to peg to location. The regional cuisines of France, sure, but the national cuisine of France, not really.

This observation actually supports my thought about cuisine and location. Yes, it's true that one can't necessarily say that "this food is French" on one side of the border and "this food is Italian" on the other side. This is because the geography, ingredients, etc. are largely the same on either side of the border. Whether there is something that ties together all of French cooking is another question. More geographical diversity means that there will be more uniquely diversified cooking and culinary culture in a smaller area.

see the Italian cooking of Alto Adige (or the proximate area of the Veneto)

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Nathan, it's not just five items. Go into any diner anywhere in America and you'll find a menu of dozens and dozens of the same items, with only minor regional additions and alterations. I don't think you get just to proclaim "There's no American cuisine." This is a subject that is studied at a serious level, the subject of entire academic conferences, and it's simply not that cut and dry.

Sam, I'm not even sure what it means to say, "The America that made the hamburger into an 'American food' is the America of a mass-media induced monoculture." The hamburger remains a non-regional item, as does just about anything on the diner menu. You can certainly explain American cuisine in various ways, but I don't think you can't explain it as being tied to anything regional or local.

If the claim is that "cuisine" equals "regional cuisine" then the regional aspect of the definition becomes tautological, and of course there's never going to be a cuisine under that definition that's anything other than regional, because that's the definition. But if non-regional cuisines exist, then I'm not sure why it's any harder to define Jewish cuisine than it is to define any other non-regional cuisine, like general-menu American cuisine or the contemporary pan-European cuisine of the French brasserie. If those are cuisines, what they're defined as is the list of dishes they include, as opposed to where they arose. You can look at that list of dishes and draw various conclusions about the purpose and development of the food, but the cuisine is the list and the culture behind the list. So if there is such a thing as a non-regional cuisine, Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine surely is that, though it's also tied to a regional 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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I know places where the diner menus are composed of the following:

1. Greek items.

2. hamburgers

3. soups

4. meatloaf

5. chicken fingers

6. fried chicken.

7. breakfast items.

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7.  breakfast items.

That's like saying "7. 42 items." The breakfast component of American cuisine is pretty extensive in and of itself. But just to add a few things to your list: mac and cheese, turkey club, Caesar salad, Cobb salad, chicken salad, tuna melt, Reuben, Monte Cristo, BLT, split pea soup, clam chowder, grilled cheese, fish and chips, chicken pot pie, apple pie, turkey with stuffing, hot open-face roast beef sandwich, hot fudge sundae, milkshake . . . we could go on like this for awhile. And it's not all just crummy diner food -- the restaurant Delmonico's alone contributed quite a few dishes to the American canon (Lobster Newberg, potatoes Delmonico, Delmonico steak, eggs Benedict, baked Alaska, etc.). The same list exercise can be done with Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Just pick up any of the scores of 300+ page Jewish cookbooks out there.


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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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.

Right. And my point is that I don't fully agree with that premise.

I think what Sam is saying, and what I was saying, is that the traditional Ashkenazi dishes are viewed this way, not that they are or have to be this way. I think the perception issue has been factually established by industry research. The reality, that's a different story.

I remember the book launch party for Mitchell Davis's book, "The Mensch Chef." (The subtitle of the book, by the way, is "Or Why Delicious Jewish Food Isn't an Oxymoron.") I think this was back around 2002. It was held at Cafe Boulud. Mitchell and Andrew Carmellini prepared all the food. It was amazing. As I was stuffing my face with the best renditions I'd ever had of about a dozen Ashkenazi Jewish classics, I thought that if everybody in the world could come to this party there would, overnight, be a transformation in perception of Jewish food.

But I think there are two issues. The heaviness is one of them, and I think it's quite possible to make Jewish food that's not heavy. But the other problem is more integral to the cuisine: it's simply not a cuisine that emphasizes fresh produce, fresh fish, high-quality cuts of meat . . . all the things we can get now and that form the basis of the food that educated middle class food-aware Jewish people like to eat. So it's never going to be what most people like that eat on a regular basis. It's an occasional player on the food scene, enjoyed in certain limited contexts.


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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7.  breakfast items.

That's like saying "7. 42 items." The breakfast component of American cuisine is pretty extensive in and of itself. But just to add a few things to your list: mac and cheese, turkey club, Caesar salad, Cobb salad, chicken salad, tuna melt, Reuben, Monte Cristo, BLT, split pea soup, clam chowder, grilled cheese, fish and chips, chicken pot pie, apple pie, turkey with stuffing, hot open-face roast beef sandwich, hot fudge sundae, milkshake . . . we could go on like this for awhile. And it's not all just crummy diner food -- the restaurant Delmonico's alone contributed quite a few dishes to the American canon (Lobster Newberg, potatoes Delmonico, Delmonico steak, eggs Benedict, baked Alaska, etc.). The same list exercise can be done with Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Just pick up any of the scores of 300+ page Jewish cookbooks out there.

the George Webb diner chain and its clones (there are something like a 100 George Webb's) do not serve any of the following: mac and cheese, turkey club, Caesar salad, Cobb salad, Reuben, Monte Cristo, split pea soup, clam chowder, chicken pot pie, turkey with stuffing.

but I take your point that there's a ubiquitous diner culture of Americana, I just don't think the list of universal items is that long.

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But I think there are two issues. The heaviness is one of them, and I think it's quite possible to make Jewish food that's not heavy. But the other problem is more integral to the cuisine: it's simply not a cuisine that emphasizes fresh produce, fresh fish, high-quality cuts of meat . . . all the things we can get now and that form the basis of the food that educated middle class food-aware Jewish people like to eat.

Well, yes. It has to do with a rigorous climate with below-freeezing temperatures for much of the year. Our Ashkenazi ancestors lived through long winters when the only vegetables available were the sturdy root veggies and cabbages stashed away in the cellar. We read of the traditional Greek and Italian springtime dishes based on dandelions and wild chicory - but I'll bet those Russian and Polish women ran out at the first sign of sorrel and chickweed greening up and harvested as much as they could too.

Those who could afford it had meat or chicken; those who lived by rivers had fish too, but the poor did not see beef except for the holidays, and perhaps not even then. Pickled and salted fish were to be had cheaply, though there were many who couldn't afford that either. It would be common for one shochet (ritual slaughterer) to make the rounds of several far-flung villages, starting his visits in the spring and ending when the winter roads became impassable. Then there would be chicken, or goose, or duck, if the family had the means to raise the more expensive fowl. Every precious scrap of kosher fat was saved and rendered for eating later, or for soapmaking, or for medicine.

Like the Inuit, people needed lots of protein and as much fat as they could get. I used to wonder why Jewish visitors from the States demand so much beef - the Israeli way of eating doesn't emphasize all that meat protein. I understand that the "need" for brisket, stews, steak, and the like, is a culinary throwback to the traditions brought over from Europe: lots of meat equals healthy kids. Lots of fat equals warmth.

Now I wonder what the greenhouse effect will be having on future worldwide culinary trends.

Miriam


Miriam Kresh

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

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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.

Well, it would be a new thing here in this rather goyishe town in the USA. :smile:

Admittedly, the question that started this topic probably only makes sense in the context of a largely gentile country (like the USA, to name one) where Jewish culture is in the minority; has a specific ethnic history (i.e. Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewish emigration, mostly in the late 19th/early 20th century); and has also undergone a whole bunch of assimilation into the majority culture. I totally hear you that the question sounds, at best, a bit odd in your context, living immersed in Israel's multicultural Jewishness. So maybe the question needs to be rephrased to make it more regionally specific.

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? 

Oh yeah, I do know that once upon a time intrepid Jewish cooks stuffed a whole intact fish skin with the chopped fish mixture. My grandmother's version must have been a transitional one--she made the chopped fish into patties but then wrapped a strip of fish skin around each one. As to reverting vs. innovating: it does happen, in various creative fields, that artisans seeking to do something new turn to the history of that field for inspiration. Everything old is new again? I dunno. But since I don't think my hand is quite steady enough to skin a fish in one intact piece, I don't think I'm going to go quite that far back for my inspiration. :biggrin:

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.

Well, I'm not on Atkins, but I've got other health constraints. And there just ain't a whole lot of Jewish cooking going on in this goyishe town, and what little there is, is not all that inspiring in quality; so yeah, if I want it I'm probably going to have to make it myself. And since I'm going to have to make it in a way that works for my health constraints and tastes, I will have to make some changes here and there. But hopefully these will not be just random changes for the sake of novelty, but knowledgeable and respectful changes done with knowledge of the history of the art.

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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.

The fundamental thing that most of you are not getting is that because the dish is Kosher, it is Jewish food, not because of the origin of the dish. The reason people don't understand this is because most Jews in the States do not keep Kosher.

Kosher = Jewish

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Kosher = Jewish

Grapefruits are kosher. Are they Jewish?

Nah. Too many Jews on Lipitor from all that Jewish food. :laugh:

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geez thanks, all this talk about new york delis has gotten my stomach to grumble with hunger. why, oh why, are there no decent delis on the west coast? is it something in the water?

where on the west coast do you live?

LA has some of the best delis in the country: nate and al's, brent's, junior's, langer's, factor's, pico kosher....


Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com

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Kosher = Jewish

Grapefruits are kosher. Are they Jewish?

I said dish, not individual ingredient.!!!!

I give up. If you don't agree with FatGuy then it must be incorrect.

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If you open up any cookbook from any cuisine in the world and you subtract the pork dishes, shellfish dishes, dishes that mix meat and dairy, and a few other dishes, every recipe you're left with is kosher. But not necessarily Jewish.


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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Sam, I'm not even sure what it means to say, "The America that made the hamburger into an 'American food' is the America of a mass-media induced monoculture." The hamburger remains a non-regional item, as does just about anything on the diner menu. You can certainly explain American cuisine in various ways, but I don't think you can't explain it as being tied to anything regional or local.

What I'm saying is that radio and television (not to mention post WW II social pressures for universal American sameness and conformity) are what made things like the hamburger and fried chicken ubiquitous in America. Mass media is what made it possible for a food like the hamburger to become universal "American food." And I think you'll find that things like hamburgers and hot dogs and fried chicken weren't well-known or popular all across America 100 years ago. In fact, I'm quite sure that the American ubiquity of the hamburger can be positively linked to Ray Kroc and the spread of McDonald's restaurants across the country, which started in the 1950s. Much the same could be said about your example of American menu items, which I also think you will find were not so universally the same across the country 100 or even 50 years ago. What made their sameness possible was, again, the American monoculture created by television, movies and radio; mass transportation; franchizing; and outfits like Sysco. I can say with little fear of contradition that if you walked into a diner or little restaurant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama or Deport, Texas or Neenah, Wisconsin in 1950, you would not find a lot of the things on your list of "universal American foods" on the menu.

I'm not sure it makes sense to use America-wide culinary trends as an example to support the idea that "cuisine" is not grounded in location. First of all, most if not all foods we can reasonably think of as "American" began as regional foods that were tied to a specific location and culture within America. Second, whatever foods or culinary trends did become America-wide did so primarily as a result of modern mass media, franchizing, rapid transportation, government propaganda and advertising campaigns (this gave us the hamburger, the hot dog, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, the "American breakfast," roast turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner, etc, etc, etc.). Third, given the fact that these American foods became widespread only or mosty due to modern technology, I'm not sure it makes sense to apply these same criteria to foods which grew up hundreds of years ago when the world was a much more regional/local place (especially in Eastern Europe).

If the claim is that "cuisine" equals "regional cuisine" then the regional aspect of the definition becomes tautological, and of course there's never going to be a cuisine under that definition that's anything other than regional, because that's the definition. But if non-regional cuisines exist, then I'm not sure why it's any harder to define Jewish cuisine than it is to define any other non-regional cuisine, like general-menu American cuisine or the contemporary pan-European cuisine of the French brasserie. If those are cuisines, what they're defined as is the list of dishes they include, as opposed to where they arose. You can look at that list of dishes and draw various conclusions about the purpose and development of the food, but the cuisine is the list and the culture behind the list. So if there is such a thing as a non-regional cuisine, Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine surely is that, though it's also tied to a regional cuisine.

Certainly one may decide to define a "cuisine" as a collection of dishes. But this doesn't make much sense to me. Is "American strip mall" a cuisine? How about "fried straight from the frozen Sysco bag cuisine"? "Megacorporation fast food cuisine"? I would argue that none of these things is a "cuisine" and I would also argue that neither "general-menu American" nor "pan-European French brasserie" is a "cuisine." However, I suppose one might reasonably put all of these things into a separate and distinct category of "professional restaurant cuisines." But no, "general-menu American" is not a "cuisine" the same way that French home cooking is a "cuisine."

According to your argument, Ashkenazi Jewish cooking might seek to be labeled a "cuisine" that is distinct and separate from Eastern European cuisine, rather than a subcategory of the same, under the criteria of "look at list of dishes and draw various conclusions about the purpose and development of the food." That would put it under the same definition that makes "megacorporation fast food" a "cuisine" -- or, for that matter, that might make "vegan cooking" a "cuisine." I think this shortchanges Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. But, more to the point, this is not the same definition that makes French, Chinese, Indian, etc. food a "cuisine."

I think that, if one steps back and tries to look at it dispassionately, it makes the most sense to think of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking as an interesting, largely derivative subset of Eastern European cuisine that includes many wonderful dishes. This is illustrated by the difficulty in modifying any of these recipes and still keeping them "Ashkenazi Jewish" instead of "Eastern European." Let's return to the dumpling soup again. If you start with Grießnockerl and change out the semolina for ground up stale bread, or any other coarse grain, you still have an "Eastern European dish." If you start with matzoh ball soup, first of all you're starting with something that already seems both "Ashkenazi Jewish" and "Eastern European," and if you change out the matzoh for anything else the dish is no longer "Ashkenazi Jewish" and joins "Eastern European." This sort of thing strongly suggests that the most logical way to think of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking is as a subcategory of Eastern European cuisine.


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