There was a time when cookbooks were written dry as a road map, the writing was limited to exact cooking directions, nothing more; in their current generation, cookbooks tell a story – besides presenting us with succulent recipes – we are regaled with personal anecdotes, or the various transformations of the specific dish, something about the region or culture that created it and so on. Quite often the result is very readable and interesting, even if you do not plan to make the specific recipe at the moment, there is something about it that catches your eye, excites your imagination and makes your taste buds salivate.
Food writing, differs from other types and yet it combines so many staple features of all the others. More than any other writing, however, it affords us huge insights into its author’s personality, interests, quirks, likes, dislikes and sometimes, personal life. Oft, you come away with the feeling you reunited with an old friend or that you just met someone you’ll love revisiting time and time again.
From books that trace Jewish influences on a specific country’s cuisine (like Joyce Goldstein‘s Cucina Ebraica), to books that bring us anecdotes, personal stories and more about the author’s or the recipes’ background (like Lévana Kirschenbaum‘s Lévana’s Table), or the incredible well researched Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods by Gil Marks (I’ve only seen a few random pages of the last, but I found it absolutely fascinating!!!), reading food writing – specifically kosher food writing - connects us with our past as a people, connects us with new friends we’d probably never have met otherwise, connects with our traditions. Yes, gentle reader, reading a cookbook is not what it used to be, there is a lot to learn from it – far more than how to prepare a flavorful dish. As Gil Marks so aptly puts it in his Encyclopedia:
Food is more than just sustenance. It is a reflection of the history, culture and values, and this is specially true of the Jewish people–a community that spans the globe. From Brooklyn to India and everywhere in between, Jewish food is represented by a fascinating array of dishes, rituals, and traditions.
Jewish cuisine is truly international. In every location Jews settled, they brought culinary traditions and also adapted local dishes modifying them to fit dietary laws, lifestyles and tastes. Unique traditions and dishes developed within the cuisines of North Africa, Europe, Persia, and the Mediterranean, but all are recognizably Jewish.
Enjoy your reading, gentle reader, and excite your taste buds.