It would not be inaccurate to say that I have the palate of an octogenarian Polish Jew, despite the fact that I’m a 27-year-old Australian living in Brooklyn. Whenever I hypothesize with friends about what my final meal would be (you know the game), my answer is always the same: Shabbos dinner, Ashkenazi-style: challah, schmaltz herring, gefilte fish, chicken soup with kneidlakh and lokshen, roast chicken with potatoes, poppyseed cake, and a finger or two of Johnnie Walker, neat. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.
To that list I’d add something incongruous, though no less essential: my mother’s avocado, egg and onion dip. There was no avocado in my grandparents’ respective shtetls, certainly, but it’s as native to Shabbos dinner in my Australian family as hummus is to an Israeli lunch. We ask for it in one breath, not bothering to enunciate the words properly: “pass-the-avocado-egg-n-onion.” No please, no thank you. (Ours is an etiquette-optional table.) My father, who is unfailingly generous with food — always insisting that everyone else serve themselves and eat before him — only ever seems disappointed when he misses out on avocado-egg-n-onion dip. Occasionally, when ripe avocados prove elusive, there’s no dip at all, and dinner feels incomplete.
I have a complicated relationship with egg salad. As a child I consumed it the way other kids inhaled fruit roll-ups. A creature of consistency, I demanded egg salad on challah every day for lunch. Then I went to the doctor, who determined I had the cholesterol of a 97 year-old Kentucky Fried Chicken employee. I was 9.
My egg salad days were swiftly replaced with peanut butter on whole wheat eternities, and egg salad became a Shabbat treat. We went to my Bubby’s for Shabbat dinner every week. There, she plied us with traditional Czech delicacies like schnitzel and palacinki (delicate crepes stuffed with fruit), and of course egg salad.
But Bubby’s egg salad was a far cry from the bright yellow, creamy, mustardy deli staple. It was a more mature, mayo-free affair made with chopped eggs and sautéed onions and dashed with sweet Hungarian paprika. Given its ratios it could’ve just as well been called onion salad. Bubby mushed it flat like a paté and served it as an appetizer, with chunky slabs of challah. It kept us busy while she finished readying dinner in her small kitchen, which smelled like sautéed onions, cigarettes and icing sugar.