Jew­ish Cui­sine in Hun­gary: A Cul­tur­al His­to­ry with 83 Authen­tic Recipes

Andras Koern­er

January 1, 2013

András Koern­er refus­es to accept that the world of pre-Shoah Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ry and its cui­sine should dis­ap­pear almost with­out a trace and feels com­pelled to recon­struct its culi­nary cul­ture. His book — with a pref­ace by Bar­bara Kir­shen­blatt-Gim­blett — presents eat­ing habits not as iso­lat­ed things, divorced from their social and reli­gious con­texts, but as an organ­ic part of a way of life.

Accord­ing to Kir­shen­blatt-Gim­blett: While cook­books abound, there is no oth­er study that can com­pare with this book. It is sim­ply the most com­pre­hen­sive account of a Jew­ish food cul­ture to date.” Indeed, no com­pa­ra­ble study exists about the Jew­ish cui­sine of any coun­try, or, for that mat­ter, about Hun­gar­i­an cui­sine. It describes the extra­or­di­nary diver­si­ty that char­ac­ter­ized the world of Hun­gar­i­an Jews, in which what could or could not be eat­en was deter­mined not only by absolute rules, but also by dietary tra­di­tions of par­tic­u­lar reli­gious move­ments or par­tic­u­lar communities.

Ten chap­ters cov­er the culi­nary tra­di­tions and eat­ing habits of Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ry up to the 1940s, rang­ing from kashrut (the sys­tem of keep­ing the kitchen kosher) through the his­to­ry of cook­books, and some typ­i­cal dish­es. Although this book is pri­mar­i­ly a cul­tur­al his­to­ry and not a cook­book, it includes 83 recipes, as well as near­ly 200 fas­ci­nat­ing pic­tures of dai­ly life and documents.

Discussion Questions

András Koerner’s Jew­ish Cui­sine in Hun­gary paints a vivid por­trait of pre­war Jew­ish Hun­gary through its food, its bak­ers, its home­mak­ers, and more. The focus on Jew­ish house­holds and local busi­ness­es shifts the schol­ar­ly gaze from typ­i­cal his­tor­i­cal sub­jects to the realm of work­ing peo­ple and women — fer­tile ground for mean­ing­ful inquiry. The book quotes exten­sive­ly from mem­oirs, cook­books, and peri­od­i­cals of the time with each rich pas­sage rev­el­ing in the minu­ti­ae of dai­ly life. Koern­er mas­ter­ful­ly weaves togeth­er pho­tos, objects, and eighty-three recipes plucked from rare his­tor­i­cal cook­books to trans­port the read­er to Budapest in the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­turies, to Hun­gar­i­an-Jew­ish hol­i­day tables and rur­al goose farms. Ulti­mate­ly, Koern­er sheds new light on pre­war Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish life by explor­ing the role food plays in its cul­ture in such inno­v­a­tive ways, and so too does he help us under­stand the Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish place in broad­er Jew­ish food cul­ture. Jew­ish Cui­sine in Hun­gary will no doubt serve as an essen­tial his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence for years to come, while also mod­el­ing what’s pos­si­ble in the field of food scholarship.