Is it really Sephardic? Is it Sephardic enough?
Ethnic food is born and evolves out of common cultural experience and worldview. There’s no law against creating your own modern Sephardic recipes and no need to think you can’t do a riff on someone else’s version of a traditional one, either. We can be become so obsessed with preserving our culture that we tend to deny ourselves permission to experiment, or to accept someone else’s interpretation of something as valid, even if they’re from within the same culture. This holds true for any people (but probably with a higher level of anxiety when they’re propagandized as being extinct!). But it’s openness and experimentation that keep all cultures alive and interesting, and that can also get things back on track if they’ve lost their connection to a basic principle. If you do lose touch with the fundamentals of your own culinary heritage, if you start using too many shortcuts and too many substitutions, you deviate so far from your roots that you’re left not so much with a pale imitation of the real article as with something virtually unrecognizable. Continue reading
I moved to Spain in 2005 to do Sephardic culinary research at the oldest source: Sepharad. Spain. I am half Sephardic and grew up in a New York suburb eating ridiculously delicious food, Spanish-Jewish food, in the style of the Island of Rhodes. I’ll get to that eventually – and often – but for now back to what brought me to Spain.
When I began teaching Sephardic cooking my own repertoire was limited, and in trying to learn more I read whatever “Sephardic” cookbooks I could find. The more I read, the angrier I got. Typically, the books I found in English – those most readily available – were not written by Sephardim, and they were just plain bad on several levels: either not particularly good recipes; or recipes so adulterated as to no longer be Sephardic; or filled with outrageously inaccurate information about Sephardic history, culture, language. Like the notion that we’re all dead and gone – tell that to all my relatives. Too much “authoritative” information based on heresay or on very, very lazy research, about my soul food, my heritage, and Spain‘s and the world’s. So I started a website. And then, inevitably, I moved to Spain and started digging, and without even trying very hard I found a goldmine of information. It’s all here if you know what to look for and how to ask (and who to ignore).
Last year I opened a restaurant up the coast from Barcelona, so my free time has dwindled down to, uh, none at all. No more traveling for now, little time to write and less time to maintain the website, which I haven’t updated in eons (and am taking offline). But I do want to share what I know about our food – why its made a certain way, or why it’s called by a certain name, where this dish or that comes from, how it survives in the mainstream Spanish culinary repertoire. And my ongoing discoveries. All of this matters, not just to me personally, or to the Sephardic community in general, but for the sake of historical accuracy.
As does how to prepare it so well it’ll knock your socks off. Of course I’ll get to that.