It’s Pi Day, so here’s something to chew on.
Most parents aren’t prepared to teach their children a first language, let alone a second one. They just talk to their babies who, being babies, soak it all up, and before you know it they’ve figured out how to make themselves understood around the house. The next time languages come up, the kids are turning twelve and on their way to junior high. I believe this is the real reason so many Sephardim of my generation never learned to speak Ladino.
As small children, my siblings, cousins and I already knew we belonged to something very special. Even so, we were kept a little bit apart from our culture, observers as much as willing participants in our living heritage. We learned to cook. (Delicious!). We learned our family history. (Fascinating!). We learned traditional melodies. (Beautiful!). But when it came to their utterly charming language, most bets were off. Though we may have heard it every day, my elders more often spoke at us in Ladino (typically to shower us with endearments) than with us. Nor with my dad, who they adored ( in case you’re wondering), and he had even taken up Spanish when he was dating my mom. Continue reading
This has never been a “recipe” blog, and I know that frustrates some of the people who come across it, but my aim here is to keep Sephardic cuisine alive by giving it meaningful context. So much context is conveyed through the names of our foods, which come of course from the Sephardic language, Ladino. Today I’m apologizing for my slow output (I’ve gotta make a living, too), but there are some fun and interesting posts on the horizon, and maybe some snark. Frankly, sometimes I unearth historical information that makes my hair stand on end. I hope to publish some of that here before too long.
In the meantime, I’ve just finished reading an article in The Forward about the linguistic cultural work of Rachel Amado Bortnick, a Sephardic woman born in Izmir who lives in the States. This dedicated woman is achieving for the Ladino language what I set out to do for Sephardic food: to keep it alive by giving it meaningful context. Continue reading
I can’t ask anyone from the vast Salonican Jewish community that existed before WW2 as it was wiped out almost completely by the Nazis. Still I wonder why they gave such diminutive names to all their food.
Thus borekas were called borekitas, sfongato=sfongatico, enkiousa=enkiousica, pastel=pastelico, samsada=samsadika, nogada=nogadika, and so on.
The only unavoidable name in this series are the kalavassicas (zucchini, courgettes, κολοκυθάκια), to distinguish them from the kalavassa amariya (pumpkin, potiron, courge, κολοκύθα). – Ino Alvo
That’s a great question, Ino, and one I’ve touched on in other posts, but it’s worthy of a few paragraphs. The use of diminutives is common among all Ottoman Sephardim, and it has some very specific applications to our food.
The first is the most obvious: anything that’s a physical miniature version of something else is called “little,” which is indicated by a diminutive suffix. This is the meaning of the –ico/-ica (or –iko/-ika) ending you refer to. (As an aside for those not familiar with Ladino, the “o” on these suffixes is pronounced “ū” as in who.)
The second is to distinguish different varieties of the same thing, as in the example you’ve given for kalavassa, which is the generic name for gourds and squashes. To be a little more precise about this example, note that kalavassica is diminutive of kalavassa (calabaza in modern Spanish) – the generic word for all squashes – and not of kalavassa amariya (yellow gourd, or pumpkin). Continue reading
My small-but-growing Sephardic food glossary is back online; there’s a link in the righthand column (or you can click here). You can still find any related articles I’ve written here on the blog (and slowly but surely I’ll put cross-referenced links on all the various entries).
Mi pequeño-pero-creciendo glosario de comida sefardí esta’ online de nuevo; hay un hyperlink a la derecha (o puedes cliquear aqui). Todavía se encuentra aquí en el blog articulos relacionados que he escrito. Y empiezo 0 – finalmente! – a traducir todo en castellano.