Anat Ghelber
Some people call me Ana

Is Ashkenazi food nasty?

“Ashkenazi food? Ewww!”

I have heard people say that so many times. They vent about how, supposedly, Ashkenazi food just isn’t very good. Some say it’s downright disgusting.  Now, I grew up on my grandmother’s food which was, clearly, Ashkenazi. She came from the Ukraine, and began cooking when she was a child after the Holocaust. I have always adored her food. Whether she made chicken soup, potato Latkes, cheese Latkes…I loved it all.  I believe she cooked the best Russian-Jewish food in the whole world.

I enjoyed it so much growing up that, sometimes, I’ll get nostalgic and feel the need to enjoy cooking similar to hers.  I’ll venture to either Coney Island or Crown Heights, where a lot of Ukrainian Jews reside.  I’ve tasted some of the food in those neighborhoods, but it is nothing like my grandmother’s delicacies, even though they’re technically the same dishes.  I’ve begun to analyze why a lot of people aren’t cooking it right.  I came to the conclusion that Eastern European food has to not only be cooked with a lot of love, but with a lot of finesse.  This is so very key to creating a delicious tasting Ashkenazi dish, versus a mediocre or even wretched-tasting one. You have to be very keen as to the amount of ingredients you use in cooking Ashkenazi food.  You may think that’s true with cooking in general, but it’s not.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at differing types of Ashkenazi foods versus, say, Indian food. Now, if you use a great deal of spice while making an Indian dish, or too much of any kind of ingredient, it can still come out tasting perfectly yummy.  This simply isn’t true with Ashkenazi food, which is extremely fragile.  With Gefilte Fish, if you add too much salt, you aren’t going to taste the fish, only the salt.  The same is true with Borscht and chicken noodle soup. Too much of anything will ruin the entire experience for whoever tastes it.  You simply can’t play around with Ashkenazi food, it’s either good or bad, there is no in-between.  I remember this one time I had chicken soup at a Shabbat dinner and the host put too much oil into it. It tasted horrible because it masked the taste of the chicken and I felt like I was just eating a bowl full of oil.

This is why I praise my grandmother for cooking the best food in the world.  To really cook Ashkenazi food just right, you have to be a very sensitive and loving person.  You have to almost be a surgeon to cook Ashkenazi food.  In surgery, even a small mistake can ruin the entire operation.  The same is true here.  Like with the story of Goldilocks, the food has to be, “just right.”

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