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Why don't Jews eat Jewish?


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If you're saying that the subcategories of Central and Eastern European cuisine include Russian cuisine, German cuisine, various other cuisines, and Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, I agree with that: each of those cuisines derives some of what it is from common culinary elements of that geographic area, each is influenced by available ingredients, and each displays other influences (cultural, religious, ceremonial, migratory, trade-related, etc.).

But if you're saying, for example, that there's no Russian cuisine, but rather that Russian cooking is a subcategory of Central and Eastern European cuisine, then I think that definition of cuisine is not particularly recognizable.

I also think the Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine that settled into the US vernacular in the 20th Century -- and that's really the locus of the cuisine now, not Europe at all -- is not as formally imitative of East European cuisine as you're indicating. Just like any other cuisine that migrates, it adapts and becomes an amalgam. While European Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine was a cuisine of poverty, it developed in the US into a cuisine of abundance. Meat, meat and more meat, suddenly available in limitless supply, became the centerpiece. The dishes evolved.

And there is now, and has been for quite some time, a relatively standardized repertoire of quite a lot of dishes shared by a culture of millions. So, if that's not a cuisine, then the word cuisine only means "regional cuisine as consumed in its region of origin, as determined by a snapshot of a fixed date in history." That seems an entirely too restrictive definition, one that doesn't square with the way the term is used in any context other than a few posts here.

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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This discussion sort of begs the question as to who the ultimate authority would be, could be, or is - in any "cuisine".

Is it the writers of cookbooks, is it the heads of state, is it the sociologists or historians, or in this case one could even add is it the religious leaders?

Or is it the people that eat it, or the people who cook it, and even then of course one never gets a "single" answer, for there are as many answers as there are people who eat.

It's sort of like "Aunt May's Cooking", to use an imaginary example. Aunt May thinks of her "cuisine" as one thing. Her family thinks of it as something else, from their vantage point. It is a part of their lives in close and intimate ways that challenge attempts at formalization, for it is "theirs", through Aunt May, and what belongs to one is often imbued with some lack of objectivity, even when attempting measurement or definition. It is, or is not, one thing or the other based upon who is reading it, or in this case eating it.

The neighbors think of Aunt May's Cuisine as something else than her family. The chef that lives down the street thinks her cooking an entirely different thing altogether than all of the above.

The recipes can be listed, the ingredients detailed, the techniques of how it all happens can be saved for eternity. But the idea of the thing that is Aunt May's cooking will not be one thing, ever, unless an ultimate authority is put in place to decide, who everybody will then agree to agree with (whatever it is) the ultimate authority says.

Close, on any attempt to tie down a cuisine in terms of what it "is", but it seems to be impossible in terms of finally getting the cigar.

In my opinion. :wink:

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To say that Aunt May has a cuisine is to take the term to the other end of the absurdity spectrum. If everything everybody cooks is a cuisine then the term cuisine has no meaning. There are very few if any individuals in history who could seriously be argued to have had cuisines of their own -- Escoffier might work.

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 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 think there was a well-established American diner menu by the 1950s, perhaps even by the time of the Depression. I think the mass-media monoculture explanation applies more to the rise of McDonald's and fast food in the postwar era than it does to the American diner menu. But it's so tangential to the topic that I'll defer to whomever does the actual research. The point, however, is that this is cuisine defined not by region but by culture.

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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To say that Aunt May has a cuisine is to take the term to the other end of the absurdity spectrum. If everything everybody cooks is a cuisine then the term cuisine has no meaning. There are very few if any individuals in history who could seriously be argued to have had cuisines of their own -- Escoffier might work.

It's a question of proportion, perhaps, and definitely of importance in terms of world-wide impact of any stature.

I don't want to argue that Aunt May has a cuisine, but yes, do want to insert the note of absurdity, because the attempt to finally, formally, categorize any cuisine seems to approach both the humor and pathos of the absurd.

But there's nothing wrong with trying.

"The cuisine of Escoffier", certainly, could be another interesting discussion. Preferably with lots of French people involved. :smile:

As far as the term "cuisine" having no meaning, of course it does. It has meaning in all sorts of ways, though in this discussion it is being used in one particular way. It is even interesting to note that we use the word "cuisine" for the bodies of cookery of many places, most places, even though it is likely they might have their own words for the same thing. That might make for a good discussion, too. "What is this thing, "cuisine"?

:wink:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Kinsey and Fats have really gone to bat on the intellectual end of this, and I think the answer lies in between.

Jewish food, coming from a transient people who lived all over the world, is clearly going to be a variant on those local dishes.

However, to say that it isn't a cuisine because it isn't the foundation of those dishes is a belittlement. The Chinese spread their cooking techniques and styles all accross Asia, influencing everything from Thai to Japanese. Because Pad Thai and Gyoza are both variants of Chinese dishes originally, are they not Thai or Japanese?

If people (Joan Nathan for example) are basing their careers on it, believe me lads, it qualifies as a cuisine. Is it the same as French, Italian, or Chinese? No, but what is?

I'm off to get some soup at a Japanese restaurant run by Koreans...I call it lunch.

Ess Gezunt!

Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com
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Might "Jewish Food" be a cuisine simply because a significant number of people who make up a community identify it as one, and want it to be considered a separate cuisine?

How is this dumpling soup unlike all other dumpling soups? Because the community says it is.

Other foods get included because they are similarly recognized as belonging to the group, regardless of where they came from.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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How is this dumpling soup unlike all other dumpling soups? Because the community says it is.

Other foods get included because they are similarly recognized as belonging to the group, regardless of where they came from.

That's not only almost exactly what I mean, but has the advantage of sounding Talmudic on top of it all. :biggrin:

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Might "Jewish Food" be a cuisine simply because a significant number of people who make up a community identify it as one, and want it to be considered a separate cuisine? 

How is this dumpling soup unlike all other dumpling soups? Because the community says it is.

Other foods get included because they are similarly recognized as belonging to the group, regardless of where they came from.

Thank you, Chris. You have just given a very good anthropological discourse, similar to the great (ethno)musicologist John Blacking's point that even if different tribes sing certain things the same way, the music will be different because the web of social meanings invested in it will be different.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Chris, I'd support most of that definition, but not the "want" component (as in, "and want it to be considered a separate cuisine"). It doesn't matter what people want. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding: the cuisine needs to be established by what's actually cooked and eaten.

Googling for a fact-check of a tangential issue, I came across what to me seems a strong definition of Jewish cuisine in an unlikely place: About.com. But hey, this guy, Giora Shimoni, seems to have done some good thinking here. Anyway, he defines it thus:

Jewish cuisine is the product of Jewish dietary laws, Jewish Sabbath laws, Jewish holiday rituals, and the local food and cooking customs of the many lands in which Jews have lived over the centuries.

In other words, Jewish cuisine is a unique synthesis of foods from around the world that have been adapted to meet the constraints of Jewish religious law and/or developed to fulfill Jewish cultural needs.

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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Chris, I'd support most of that definition, but not the "want" component (as in, "and want it to be considered a separate cuisine"). It doesn't matter what people want. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding: the cuisine needs to be established by what's actually cooked and eaten.

Googling for a fact-check of a tangential issue, I came across what to me seems a strong definition of Jewish cuisine in an unlikely place: About.com. But hey, this guy, Giora Shimoni, seems to have done some good thinking here. Anyway, he defines it thus:

Jewish cuisine is the product of Jewish dietary laws, Jewish Sabbath laws, Jewish holiday rituals, and the local food and cooking customs of the many lands in which Jews have lived over the centuries.

In other words, Jewish cuisine is a unique synthesis of foods from around the world that have been adapted to meet the constraints of Jewish religious law and/or developed to fulfill Jewish cultural needs.

Funny. That is exactly what I was saying. :wacko:

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It's very interesting for me to read this thread as a month or so ago the first ever Kosher restaurant opened up here in Beijing - and one of the first reviews pointed out that there was very little 'Jewish food' on the menu. (see That's Beijing Review for May 30 - Dini's Restaurant)

- it did make me laugh to see that 'Jewish food' here would be firmly in the "exotic" category considering Beijing is a place where you can easily score camel's paw and donkey dumplings.... :rolleyes:

But I do find it relevant to this thread that the owners (see www.kosherbeijing.com) are most focused on the fact that their food is Kosher rather than anything else.

The menu (on the website) runs the gamut from sushi to pasta to hamburgers - which I think here must be a reflection of the restaurant's need to serve kosher-observant Jewish people in Beijing (who were heretofore limited to home-cooking) rather than to serve Gentiles who wished to eat a specific Eastern-European type cuisine.

Edited by Fengyi (log)

<a href='http://www.longfengwines.com' target='_blank'>Wine Tasting in the Big Beige of Beijing</a>

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Jewish cuisine is the product of Jewish dietary laws, Jewish Sabbath laws, Jewish holiday rituals, and the local food and cooking customs of the many lands in which Jews have lived over the centuries.

In other words, Jewish cuisine is a unique synthesis of foods from around the world that have been adapted to meet the constraints of Jewish religious law and/or developed to fulfill Jewish cultural needs.

Funny. That is exactly what I was saying. :wacko:

Exactly what you were saying was:

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

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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