If you’re an American Jew, there’s a pretty good chance that somewhere, somehow, someone in your family made dinner on the Lower East Side.
Though the area has been home to a countless nationalities and ethnic groups, it holds a special place in the hearts of American Jews, many of whom can trace their first foothold in the country back to “the old neighborhood.”
On June 5, the Tenement Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary, and the 150th anniversary of the restored building at 97 Orchard Street, which housed over 7,000 people from more than 20 countries from 1863 to 1935.
As a tribute to the many sights and smells imprinted into the tenement’s walls, the gala was set up as an edible timeline, a “taste of the tenements,” catered by current local vendors and restaurants and inspired by the neighborhood’s residents. Here’s a window into what they would have been eating, and where you can find those treats today.
When you can cook Shabbat dinner for 30-40 people, opening a restaurant is a cakewalk. Or so it seems for chef Einat Admony of Taim and Balaboosta fame, whose third restaurant, Bar Bolonat, will open in “hopefully mid-July” on the corner of Hudson and 12th Avenue in New York’s West Village.
The Forward’s Anne Cohen recently spoke by telephone with Admony to talk about what “New Israeli” food means to her, if she ever gets tired of cooking it, and how this restaurant is different from the others.
She even gave us a sneak peak at the menu… Judging by her descriptions, we should start counting down the days to “mid-July.”
How would you describe the food at Bar Bolonat?
New Israeli cuisine mostly, it’s very playful. It’s a little more elevated than Balaboosta. Over there is going to be a lot of twists on traditional food.
Take a tasty tour through New York’s Holyland Market for Israeli staples from amba to za’atar. [Serious Eats]
Healthy, fall ingredients like carrots, quinoa and caraway seeds combine to re-imagine the traditional kugel four times over. [The New York Times]
Ever tried a vegan Reuben before? Locali, a “conscious convenience store” in Los Feliz, Calif., uses tofu, pickling spices and Daiya cheese for a clever, cruelty-free copy. [LA Weekly]
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver: statistics savant, presidential pick predictor … food blogger? His Burrito Bracket blog from back in the day puts tacos from his (and President Obama’s) Chicago home in an NCAA-style bracket. [Grub Street]
In 1432 a Venetian captain, Pietro Querini, returned home after surviving a terrible shipwreck off the Northern coast of Norway, and described for the first time the stocfisi (dried salt cod) he had tasted in the remote islands where he’d been nursed back to health. His description probably went largely unnoticed at the time, given the abundance of fresh fish in the waters of the lagoon.
Baccalà (stockfish) is a particularly tough kind of dried salt cod, sold by the slab. It became such a staple in Europe in the Middle Ages that it supported the expansion of trade routes with the New World; soon it was popping up in the traditional dishes of areas as diverse as Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil.
However, it wasn’t until the 1500s that Venice becomes its main point of distribution. The Council of Trento (1555), prohibiting meat to Christians on Fridays, probably gave it a little push; so did the Spanish Portuguese Jews and conversos who settled in Venice after the expulsion, and were already accustomed to eating it. As a matter of fact, for a while it was considered (like pickled fish) a “Jewish food,” which could draw the unwelcome attention of the Inquisition.
Although carrots often play a supporting role in the culinary world, I’ve long appreciated them in their own right. As a baby I turned a subtle hue of orange from consuming so much carrot puree, and as a child I happily mimicked my favorite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, by chomping on carrots every chance I got. Apparently the world has caught up, since a recent New York Times article declared carrots the new Brussels sprouts.
Carrots probably originated in Afghanistan from a purple variety thousands of years ago, and have been enjoyed for their culinary and medicinal purposes ever since. Today they’re more popular than ever, with the average American eating nearly 10 pounds per year, according to a USDA report on the subject.
Though they have a long history, carrots don’t appear alongside the seven species of the Old Testament, and Gil Marks points out in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking that “The carrot, never mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, was a rather late arrival to the Middle East and Jewish cookery.”
With the explosion of craft beers in the past five years, it was only a matter of time before an intrepid soul conquered the final brewery frontier: Queens, New York. Rich Buceta and the team at Single Cut brewery are opening a 5,000 square foot brewery there later this month. And the star of the Single Cut lineup? Matzoh-based beer.
“The folks at [local pub] Queens Kickshaw came up with the idea for this beer as a tribute to the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve,” brewmaster Rich Buceta explained. The brew, which is made by mixing Szechuan peppercorns and matzoh into the malted barley mash, is dubbed a “White Lagrr,” perhaps because of the ferocious kick that the spicing will bring to it.
Aside from creating what sounds like the perfect Chanukah beer, Buceta plans a number of other yet-to-be-revealed concoctions. “We’ll be aging several beers in rum barrels, as well as brewing a number of Belgian-style ales,” he said. But the heart of the brewery lies in hoppy ales, like the Halfstack India Pale Ale that clocks in at 6.6% alcohol by volume. They plan to release a seasonal “Fullstack” IPA that’s even more alcoholic — a whopping 8.6%.
From crispy fried gribenes to the mouth-puckering sorrel soup, schav, too many of the foods loved by our Jewish ancestors have fallen to the wayside. Help the Forward’s Ingredients columnist, Leah Koenig, elect the top 10 traditional Jewish foods/dishes (Ashkenazi, Sephardic or other) to rescue from culinary oblivion and bring back to the contemporary table. Nominate your favorite lost treasures by posting comments here, or send your thoughts to email@example.com. Then watch for the final list in the March 11 issue of the Forward.
This article is cross-posted from the Joy of Kosher.
Shifrah Devorah Witt and Zipporah Malka Heller are the mother-daughter team that co-authored “The Complete Asian Kosher Cookbook.” As they grew in religious observance and began following the laws of kashrut, they were not willing to give up the Chinese food and Asian dishes they love. The inspiration for their cookbook was born.
Joy of Kosher: How do you explain the Jewish people’s love affair with Asian food?
Shifrah Witt: You know the joke. The Jewish man and the Chinese man are talking and the Chinese man says, “My culture has been around for 2,000 years.” And the Jewish man says, “Well my culture has been around for 3,000 years.” And the Chinese man looks at the Jewish man and asks him, “So what did you guys eat for the first thousand years?” This joke describes my love affair with Asian cooking. My earliest memories of eating are in dark Chinese restaurants with my parents. I don’t know if that explains the Jewish love affair but it certainly explains ours.
You've successfully signed up!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please provide the following optional information to enable us to serve you better.
The Forward will not sell or share your personal information with any other party.
Thank you for signing up.Close