a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Dear Ashkenazi Food,

Posted on: February 16, 2012

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that whenever I read The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden that I skip your section and go straight for the Sephardic Food.

I’m sorry that I don’t pick up Jewish cook books if the book is only filled with you  I’m sorry that I have written you off as gross, inedible food only found in jars of the kosher section of grocery stores.

I’m sorry that whenever I want to get in touch with Jewish culinary traditions I scoff and turn my nose up at you.

Truth is, I didn’t understand you, Ashkenazi food.  I assumed that you were the bastard red-headed step child of European poor folk food.  I didn’t understand your heritage and what you mean.  I will admit that I judged you and didn’t even consider the fact that you, like Black Soul Food, are the food of the people.  People who weren’t eating steak dinner every night.  People who needed to make food stretch.  People who ate the food that others considered “bad food”, or “scrap food”, or inedible cuts of meat and fish.  People who looked at a long winter as hard, but not unbearable because you knew how to turn potatoes and cabbage and beets into delicious foods that fed your children.

I know that I can’t take back the things that I’ve written about you, and I know that I hurt your feelings with that Latke post and then that other one.  I want to make amends, though.  I want to learn about you and understand you more.  Thanks to the wonderful team behind The Gefilteria, and the amazing conversation I had today with one if its three founders I think we have a lot more in common than I could have ever imagined.

I’m going to be honest, it will be a long road for me to get to the place where I choose borscht over lentil soup and I don’t think I have to choose, really.  It’ll be good to know that they’re equally tasty and that each has a great history.  I’m excited to learn more about you and I can’t wait to fill up my kitchen with your soulful smells.

No Hard Feelings,

Sincerely,

Erika Davis

5 Responses to "Dear Ashkenazi Food,"

that just warmed my heart and made my day.

[...] I mentioned in my letter to Ashkenazi Food, I had a great talk with the brains behind what is sure to be New York’s latest and best food [...]

This makes me smile so much.

I’m going through a similar process myself. I love Sephardi cooking, always will, but I’m slowly learning more about the roots of Ashkenazi food, in all of its not-exactly-glamorous glory, and learning to appreciate the stuff I grew up on.

And the little mouse with the bouquet makes my day.

As a convert, when it came to choosing my minhag, I went straight for Sephardic. It had a lot to do with beans and rice over Pesach, but also because I was familiar with Middle Eastern-style cooking. The flavors are universal, they pop, they’re bright and usually the food can be fresh and healthfully made. Walking down the “ethnic aisle” of the grocery stores in Ohio and coming to the “kosher” section proved way to scary. Gefilte fish in a jar is still the most disturbing site ever.

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