On Hanukkah, a new definition of Jewish cuisine emerges in Bay Area restaurants

When the sun went down on November 28, Jews around the world lit two candles to observe the first night of Chanukah (the first is called a shamash, an “auxiliary candle” that lights all the others). But for chef and owner Craig Stoll of Italian restaurant Delfina in San Francisco, Hanukkah began weeks earlier, when the restaurant opened online orders for latkes, as well as Belfiore cream and Sqirl conserva mixes. This year, the restaurant will sell 24,000 latkes as part of its Hanukkah take-out service, paying homage to the Jewish Festival of Lights and offering non-Jewish customers the option of participating in the celebration, with or without candles.

Delfina Latkes
Annie stoll

This is not Stoll’s first foray into Jewish cuisine through the kitchen of his Neapolitan pizzeria. When he moved to the Bay Area in the late 1980s to lay the groundwork for what would become a defining starting point for understanding Italian cuisine in the area, Stoll, who is Jewish, developed a menu reflecting a Jewish interpretation of the country’s food culture, with items like carciofi alla giudia (Roman-fried Jerusalem artichokes) and bollito misto (an Italian stew) with breast and tongue alongside a mostarda au kumquat. At Delfina, diners may not know that they are eating Jewish food or even that Italian food may simultaneously be Jewish until they are informed of the history of a dish. At a time of year when the overlap could not be illustrated more explicitly, this begs the question: What makes Jewish food Jewish?

For Kristin Eriko Posner, a San Francisco-based Jewish and Japanese cook and recipe maker, Jewish cuisine is defined by both tradition and community, anchored as much by the historical stories the dishes convey and their ability to inspire. new traditions. It is an intentional interpretation of Jewish food and one that informs Feed Co., the lifestyle brand for multicultural and interfaith homes that she founded in 2016.

Posner converted to Judaism six years ago after marrying her Ashkenazi Jewish husband (an ethnic distinction referring to Jews of European descent, especially from Eastern Europe). Posner says conversion to Judaism brought her closer to her Japanese heritage, to which she had long felt linked through food. She has since created Judeo-Japanese staples that honor both her cooking traditions and those of her husband, such as mochi sufganiyot and mochi latkes. This year, she plans to order latkes from Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, a staple for Bay Area Jews, and offer a bar of persimmon topping, Fuji apple relish, sour cream and fresh ikura.. By mixing the flavors of her two cultures, she has developed an appreciation for what they share. “In Judaism and Japanese culture, I feel like there is always way too much food on the table, and I think it stems from a story of not having enough,” Posner says. “The only Japanese anchor in my life was food, and I think that’s true for a lot of Jews as well as in the Diaspora… it’s kind of a way to put our roots down. ”

A woman with long dark hair leans against a fireplace and smiles off camera.

Kristin Eriko Posner, a San Francisco-based Jewish and Japanese cook and recipe developer.
Kristin Eriko Posner

Both a self-identified Jew by choice and a Jew of color, Posner is careful not to label Ashkenazi Jewish food as “Jewish food” in the broad sense, in order to avoid acquiescing to greater forces of God. Ashkenomativity in American Jewish culture. Centering Jewishness around the existences of European Jews (largely white) can erase Sephardic and Mizrahi people and traditions, Posner says, referring to Jews whose lineage is rooted in Spain, Iran, Iraq and Ethiopia, among other countries. “It’s so easy to do when the norm here is [established] because so many people are Ashkenazi Jews, but that doesn’t mean Sephardic and Mizrahi don’t exist either and their cultures are neither important nor beautiful.

With this, Posner hints at something more ingrained: When what it means to be Jewish is so often defined by what counts as Jewish food, it is essential that the definition of Jewish food considers all Jews, and not just centric. on those whose food traditions are most associated with one of the best-known Jewish holidays.

Despite its relative insignificance in the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah is one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays, in part because of its marketing as an American Jewish alternative to Christmas. Like most Jewish tales, Hanukkah is the story of near annihilation, when the Syrian King Antiochus sent his army to ancient Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish temple. The Maccabees, an unofficial army of farmers and underfunded rebels who staged a temple defense, defeated King Antiochus’ deputies. They then lit up the Temple Mount for eight days and eight nights using a single pot of oil – an unlikely feat considered a miracle and the reason for the fried food festival tradition.

Latke, the Yiddish word for pancake, is a fried mixture of grated potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, eggs, and some kind of additional binding agent, like flour or flour. of unleavened bread. Fried until golden brown, latkes are usually served with sour cream and applesauce. It is an Ashkenazi food whose history is rooted in the Spanish colonialism of Colombia; the settlers sourced their potatoes from Colombia for Europe, where they were then relegated to prison food and made a staple for people who couldn’t afford much else, including Russian Jews. Because they were cheaper to make, in the late 1800s, potato latkes supplanted the Hanukkah tradition of serving pancakes with ricotta cheese, which had made its way to European countries when the Spanish government exiled Jews from Sicily in the late 1400s.

For David Nayfeld, Ashkenazi Jewish chef and owner of the Italian street spot on Divisadero Che Fico, food is at the heart of Jewish self-definition; for both secular and practicing Jews, food allows for the exploration and potential recuperation of one’s heritage. And like Posner, Nayfeld says that in order to create Jewish food, there should be an element of history, culture, and knowledge sharing in the meal.

A table topped with challah, roasted carrots, sliced ​​beef brisket and latkes on a red and white checkered tablecloth.

Che Fico Allementari

Che Fico offers Hanukkah take-out meals, ranging from brisket and latkes to butternut squash lasagna. But year-round, the restaurant’s menu also includes Roman Jewish, Sicilian Jews, and Venetian Jews, including pollo arrosto and zabaione with pear and persimmon. “The inspiration behind part of the decor and also the menu of Che Fico was my parents’ journey as refugees from the former USSR to stay in Rome while they waited for their refugee status, and then finally come to the United States, ”Nayfeld said.

Before the massive migrations to the United States, living in somewhat culturally separated neighborhoods, often referred to as shtetls, allowed Jews to fuse culturally Jewish food with ingredients and techniques from the countries in which they resided, which is why there seem to be so many organic crosses between Jewish food and German, Moroccan, Iraqi or Italian food , for example. And it is through this adaptation and these adjustments to religious norms that food becomes Jewish. “It’s about the people who adopt it and proliferate it, and leave their mark on it,” says Nayfeld. Take marsala wine, for example. “When the Jews finally got to Sicily on the coast over there and set up shops there for hundreds of years, actually thousands of years before their exile… rather than taking maybe something expensive like veal or something they didn’t eat like pork chops with marsala sauce, they [made] chicken cutlets or roast chicken with marsala sauce.

On holidays like Hanukkah, Jews can engage in the tradition with regional adaptations of Jewish dishes. For American Jews who do not have access to a Jewish bakery, a donut can become a useful supplement for sufganiyot. For Jews living in Hawai’i, it is the dense and mellow malasada and in India, Bene Jews to eat Gulab Jamun. In this sense, Jewish food is a demonstration of how food becomes Jew through the meeting of tradition and adaptation, ancient narration and acculturation; Jewish food is about the How? ‘Or’ What of food, as much as the What.

Jewish culinary traditions don’t even necessarily have to be created by Jews to be accepted into the Jewish culinary canon. For decades, Stoll has sold matzo ball soup to Delfina, using the same recipe he grew up with – one that features matzo balls with the surprising addition of half a walnut in them. center. It was a family tradition that Stoll brought from Florida to the Bay Area, the origin of which he did not know until adulthood. The story goes that his grandmother’s housekeeper helped prepare the soup one year, and while they were making the matzo dumpling mixture to bake, “they put a nut in it and [everyone] loved it. And no one ever knows why, but it just became a thing in the family. Years later, Stoll says, “I read the recipe on the box… and she asks you to form the dough into a ball the size of a walnut. What was considered an inexplicable family tradition turned out to be a lost message in translation, but thus a new Jewish food was born.

At the same time, some Jewish foods are so acculturated that they are hardly recorded as even having Jewish origins, such as donut, first peddled by Polish Jews. In accordance with Jewish food symbolism, circular bread without a clear beginning and end is very Jewish. The roundness reflects the passage of time and the poetry of the endless being, suggesting that Judaism itself, and perhaps Jewish food as well, relies on a cycle of constant renewal and regeneration.

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