Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trendy Jewish Cuisines

There was a time in American Jewish life, in the 40’s and 50’s if you wanted to see a Jew you would go to a Chinese restaurant on a Sunday night. Full of Jews. You certainly wouldn’t find them in temple or a synagogue. Even today the most popular food in American Jewish life is Chinese.

A reason why Chinese food is so popular might be that the Jews who were overly fond of brisket have died. Another reason might be because Chinese food is all cut up. The food goes down easy without much chewing. It is similar to the Gerber baby food jars we feed infants, toddlers and hospice people. There is a certain unconscious regression to life when we were very, very young, coupled with a decent amount of fat, salt and cholesterol. Pre –Oedipal regression plus an infusion of the holy trinity of fat, salt and cholesterol is a very Jewish idea, and is part of what makes the Sabbath so very special, so shabusdig. Chinese food enables Jews who violate the Sabbath to acquire a small taste of the holy day of rest, and thereby gain a faint impression of the pleasures that are available in the afterlife that awaits us all. Jewish life owes a debt of gratitude to the secular Jews who were the early adopters of this cuisine. Eventually its popularity spread to all sectors of Judaism, to a point where it has now become natural and part of our Jewish traditions. And why not, if borscht is a Jewish food, why not egg foo yong?

In the 90’s sushi all of a sudden became a must have Jewish food. My sense is that sushi has already peaked and is on the way down in its popularity. The last Jewish groups that are really keen on sushi are Orthodox Jews. As in so many things, the Orthodox came late to the party, and still find sushi to be tres’ cool. “…and did you see the smorgasbord at the chasuna, (wedding) had a special sushi chef? So very elegaant.” The kosher supermarket in Skokie, Illinois, a hotbed of elegance if there ever was one, has a Japanese couple bowing and peddling kosher sushi. ‘Have a good shabus, Reb Chaim San’.

I have been told the new Jewish food in liberal Jewish circles is concept food. There are all these new restaurants that have totally new food. Creation ex-nihilo. Yesterday this type food didn’t exist. Today, POOF, it’s on your plate. The chefs use new ingredients, flowers and plants and what not, and new methods ….it’s all very complicated, and voila there is this shot-glass of vaporized brisket, something you and everyone else on the planet have never heretofore tasted. Here is a description of a dessert from one of these restaurants, Alinea in Chicago. “The flavors of Creamsicle and root beer are combined in Cointreau-spiked sassafras cream encapsulated in mandarin ice with vanilla cream and root beer sauce.” (I don’t know , but this dish sounds awfully close to what New Yorkers called an egg cream.) A 24 course meal, actually 24 dollops, sets you back $175 per person without wine or gratuity. Secular Jews who dine seem to be hot on this style of cuisine because it’s artsy and avant garde, and generally give these places good reviews. Jews who like to eat, hate it. I’ll wait for the kosher stores to hire one of these chemists. Until then I’ll stick to ptcha.

Speaking of ptcha, why is it that after so many years Jewish- American and American- Jewish cooking has not developed a single new authentic Jewish dish? Everything Jewish is from Europe or from sefardi cooking. All the other recipes are appropriated from American and other cuisines. Why is our cuisine so very derivative and unoriginal? What does this say about American Jewish culture?


At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

outside of places like Rome and venice where the ghettos lasted a long time, where was there authentic jewish food? It all seems to be local dishes adapted for kosher


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