I have had an interesting run with library books lately. I have been going in for one thing and often coming out with at least one thing I hadn’t planned on. This is not a complaint, but I have to wonder if my doppelganger in terms of reading tastes may have been recently hired on there. So, on to The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List. I am not Jewish, but I do have an interest in food writing and history.
This book is a collection of shorts by a variety of chefs and foodie people, each concentrating on a single item of food. Some of the included pieces are obvious, like matzo, matzo ball soup, and kugel. Many of these entries also come with recipes, which as far as I can tell are pretty standard. Which items do or do not come with recipes seemed a little uneven though, and I have to wonder at the source of the recipes. Were they from the article author, or somewhere else? I was also a little unhappy with the fact that many of the recipes provided were for things that you could recipes for anywhere, like brisket or kreplach, but not for things I hadn’t heard of but would like to try, like flodni. Could I look that up? Sure, but it’s still aggravating that recipes I would have wanted weren’t included.
What I was not expecting was the sheer variety of tones and voices that you don’t often see in essay collections, and I was also a little surprised by some of the items that were given a section. “Leftovers” for example is something that is not exclusive to Jewish food, and the justification in the discussion was not especially convincing that this is a truly “Jewish” thing. Are leftovers an important thing with Jewish food? Maybe, but I’m not convinced that it’s so different from how a lot of cultures would respond. A few things were interesting, such as the inclusion of Tofutti. Apparently this company was founded by Jews, and this qualification shows up elsewhere, as in the food item itself is not exclusively Jewish but the inventors might have been. For the tone thing, the voices varied wildly. Many had some kind of historical note about how or why the item was meaningful, while others included personal memories. These things were expected; what was a little surprising were entries like the one for brisket which was apparently written by 2 women who were raised Protestant, and the whole thing was comparing the pot roast of their youth to brisket, always in brisket’s favor. This was a little off-putting. While personal taste is just that, it seems a little culturally insensitive to say things like “We’ll spare you our holiday tables, but can we join yours?”