Spain’s Most Visible Jewish Heritage Is Edible.

August 3rd passes largely unnoticed in Barcelona, though down in Huelva Province it’s the last day of a week long festival. It was from there that Columbus set out on August 3, 1492, on his first voyage in search of the Indies. That was a good day or a bad one, depending on your perspective.

In the history of Barcelona, August 5th – today – is a terrible day about which nothing good can be said. It too, goes by unnoticed here, and with good reason. Six centuries ago, on the heels of a violent pogrom that destroyed the entire Jewish community of Seville, Christian mobs took to the streets and wrought the same havoc on the Jewish quarter of Barcelona, that at its peak was home to the largest single Jewish population of the Middle Ages: 4,000 Jews – fifteen percent of the city’s population. In one horrible day mobs killed several hundred Jewish citizens. The neighborhood, too, which had at its center a small synagogue that had stood for a thousand years, was destroyed. This brutal event took place 622 years ago today – on August 5, 1391, a full hundred years before the Edict of Expulsion. The scene was repeated in several more Spanish cities before the violence subsided. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Barcelona rampage, the local government, fearing repeat incidents, declared it too dangerous for Jews to live there. Their solution to stem further violence was a mandate that the Jews of Barcelona convert or leave the city immediately. The rest, as we say, is history.

Today a walk through the medieval Jewish quarters of Spain calls for a vivid imagination and a well informed story teller to bring our history alive. With nearly all Jewish buildings having been destroyed or remodeled beyond recognition, it takes a keen eye to pick out the few structural fragments that remain: a Hebrew dedication carved in worn stone; a subtle detail on a doorway or a lintel; the curve of an old archway, long ago bricked over; the doorway to a bakery; mikvehs tucked away in the bowels of trendy shops. Visiting Spain’s Jewish quarters can feel more like going on a treasure hunt than a history walk. But there are real treasures to be found!

What Barcelona’s Jewish heritage lost in impressive buildings, it has retained in its gastronomy. To my eye (and people’s faces aside), food is the single most visible vestige of Jewish history here. Barcelona overflows with the foods of its Jewish ancestors, much of it altered, but much still made exactly as it was centuries ago by Spanish and Catalan Jews. The reasons why are varied and fascinating, and now I’m sharing these histories here where they first unfolded.

Are you visiting Barcelona? Come take a Sephardic tasting walk with me. I’ll introduce you to my gastronomic ancestors, probably yours, too, and certainly the world’s. They’re very much alive here, and waiting to meet you!

Inquiries are welcome in the comment box below. It’s that simple.

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12 Comments

Filed under History

12 responses to “Spain’s Most Visible Jewish Heritage Is Edible.

  1. Mary Ann Oliva Newhouse

    I know. I see the connections between the food I grew up with and that of our ancestors….Bunuelos, Empanadas, Papa Rellenas, Cocido de Garbanzo y Carnes ( Adafina ), Pollo adobado con Naranja, Jengibre y Miel and so much more.

    • Janet

      Mary Ann, I also find it so fascinating that certain recipes traveled in one direction but not another, while others went everywhere; there were very regional dishes, and universal ones, as well, and your list represents some of each. Thanks for sharing – it sounds delicious!

  2. Moises Hernandez Amateau

    Very interest articles.

  3. INO ALVO

    When I visited Barcelona the first time, I went to the street market (takes place once or twice a week, I believe) I saw displays of homemade products, mainly in jars (dulces) . They were identical to those made by my mother 70 years
    ago in Salonica!!! The same appearance, and I am sure, the same taste!

    • Janet

      Pride makes me say ours taste better ;), but you’re right, Ino. Homemade preserves here begin with exceptional Mediterranean fruits, and they are delicious!

    • INO ALVO

      When I saw the displays at the open air street markets in Barcelona, I had the feeling that I was transported to the pre-war Jewish kitchens in Salonica (I say “pre-war” as the whole community was wiped out by the holocaust).

  4. ana

    my family makes a summer salad very similar to the Israeli salad of toda
    y

  5. Hello Janet, such an interesting and informative post. Thank you. My family came from Monastir and most of the food Maryann mentioned was in my home.
    You mentioned perserves. Are you talking Jam? Rose petal jam was what my mom made. Were there others?

    • Janet

      Hi, Estelle! I thank you. Rose petal jam is a favorite in the Balkan states, where the roses are very fragrant. My great grandma made her own, too, using only deep red roses. There were – are – loads of jams and preserves in our repertoire. Look at the post on spoon sweets for some ideas. By the way, guess what’s coming in my next post… (really!).

    • healthgal

      Really? I can’t wait. I’ll check on the post on spoon sweets.
      Can’t wait, can’t wait.

  6. bonnie burt

    Please tell me about tbe tasting tours..

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