Anyway, on to what I have been up to (aside from work).
The Great Big Jewish Food Fest: I mentioned David Sax’s interviews on the state of the deli. I listened to / watched several other talks of this event, which finished May 27th. (I also donated some money to their food relief efforts).
Ben Katchor did a session related to his new book, The Dairy Rrestaurant, which is in my to-read pile. Most of those institutions are long gone, but I know I used to have a cookbook from Ratner’s, which was one of the most famous. I love lots of Jewish dairy dishes – blintzes, pierogi, and especially borscht. I have probably told the story before of my mother buying 12 cases of borscht, 24 bottles per case, at a public TV auction. Katchor wasn’t the most fluent speaker, but was still interesting. My favorite thing of what he said was about lactose intolerance, which is common among Jews. His response was “pain was part of eating.” (In truth, fermented dairy products, notably sour cream and yogurt, are more digestible. I am still glad for lactaid.)
Another interesting session was one by Rachel Gross and Jordan Rosenblum on what Jewish food means. They pointed out that the only specifically Jewish food is matzoh, while other foods are more widespread. That said, I don’t know non-Jews who love gefilte fish with horseradish the way I do. They also talked about the growing dominance of middle Eastern food, after years of what they called Ashkenormativity. That is, when people think of Jewish food, they think of things like pastrami on rye, not, say, malawach (Yemenite pancakes) or a Moroccan tagine. Hummus and falafel and shakshouka have somewhat taken off, recently, however. Anyway, it was an entertaining talk.
One of the talks I was most looking forward to was with Joan Nathan and Ruth Reichl. Their conversation was pretty wide-ranging. I thought I had written some notes, but I can’t find them. The only thing that is really sticking in my mind was a discussion of pickle soup, which sounds both wonderful and horrible. I will probably give it a try at some time to make up my mind.
After the fact, I listened to a recorded talk on Soviet-Jewish cooking, which reminded me of how much my father enjoyed multiple types of herring, a food that, to this day, I have refused to even try. (There is an even worse food – ptcha, which is calves’ foot jelly, a black gelatinous mass that looks and smells too disgusting to contemplate.) I can deal just fine with foods like kasha and black bread, however. But, for the most part, I still think a lot of my relatives emigrated from Eastern Europe in search of a good meal.
There are several more recorded talks (at least 6 hours worth). I’d love to find the time to listen to at least a few of them.