The 100 Most Jew­ish Foods: A High­ly Debat­able List

  • Review
By – November 25, 2019

Your gift giv­ing prob­lems are now over — just stock up on The 100 Most Jew­ish Foods: A High­ly Debat­able List. This book will help deal with one of life’s most per­sis­tent prob­lems, the appro­pri­ate gift for any occa­sion — host­ess present, Hanukkah, engage­ment, birth­day, or get well. Well, maybe not a bar or bat mitz­vah, but suit­able and absolute­ly enjoy­able for almost any oth­er occasion.

In 2018, a list of the most Jew­ish foods appeared in Tablet mag­a­zine. It was met with such an enthu­si­as­tic and live­ly response that it prompt­ed Alana New­house, the edi­tor of Tablet, to com­pile this book. Although most dish­es are famil­iar, oth­ers are tra­di­tion­al dish­es that live main­ly in Jew­ish mem­o­ry, like the unhatched eggs that once in awhile came with your chick­en back in the days when a chick­en was com­plete with feet, giz­zards, hearts, liv­ers, necks, and no plas­tic cov­er­ing. There’s the time-con­sum­ing mul­ti­lay­ered flód­ni, which dates to about the year 1000 and made its home in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Hun­gar­i­an-speak­ing Europe, and ptcha, calves-foot jel­ly (bones includ­ed), a once pop­u­lar Shab­bat del­i­ca­cy. And, of course, there are the foods, like chopped liv­er and blintzes, that most read­ers will rec­og­nize, to their plea­sure or their dis­taste. The delight of the book is turn­ing the pages and agree­ing hearti­ly with the selec­tion or say­ing no, nev­er, to the next one.

Note the phrase the most Jew­ish foods” — not the best or most famous. Accord­ing to the edi­tor, these foods have the deep­est Jew­ish sig­nif­i­cance,” even if they are no longer served. Read­ing through them is like read­ing Jew­ish his­to­ry. Most of these foods orig­i­nat­ed in coun­tries all over the globe, and they have been served for cen­turies while oth­ers blos­somed in the diver­si­ty of the New World and Amer­i­can food.

Each dish is intro­duced by a well-known chef or food writer, and six­ty are accom­pa­nied by recipes. Four-star chef Eric Ripert presents gefilte fish; farm-fresh food restau­ra­teur Dan Bar­ber riffs on apples; New York Times’ Melis­sa Clark bakes up black-and-white cook­ies; nov­el­ist Shalom Aus­lan­der unloads on cholent. Pho­tographs of each dish are by Noah Fecks, and light-heart­ed illus­tra­tions by Joana Avillez dot the text.

Warn­ing: Not all the most Jew­ish foods are kosher. Once in Amer­i­ca, Jews respond­ed, as they have for cen­turies, to the cul­ture and foods around them and adopt­ed new eat­ing habits. The joy of this book, how­ev­er, isn’t in the recipes but in the selec­tion and the infor­ma­tive and good-humored descrip­tions of each dish. To para­phrase the title of a major his­to­ry of Jew­ish food, Read and be satisfied.”

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions