Wex, Michael. “Rhapsody in Schmaltz: Yiddish Food and Why We Can’t Stop Eating It”, St. Martin’s, 2016.
“Rhapsody in Schmaltz” looks at the history and social impact of the cuisine that Yiddish-speaking Jews from Central and Eastern Europe brought to the U.S. and that their American descendants have developed and refined. Author Michael Wex looks at how and where these dishes came to be, how they changed from region to region, the role they played in Jewish culture in Europe, and how they play in Jewish and more general American culture today. I remember going to lecture by Joan Nathan (of Jewish cookbook fame) about two years ago and she stressed that there is really no such thing as Jewish food but there is, for example German Jewish food, Polish Jewish food, Russian Jewish food and so on Wex here traces what he refers to as Jewish food back to the Bible and the Talmud and then to other places and shows how that food came to us in America today.
Rhapsody in Schmaltz traces the pathways of Jewish food from the Bible and Talmud, to Eastern Europe, to its popular landing pads in North America today. He writes with humor and with detail as he examines the impact that these foods have on us. For example, Diane Keaton had a pastrami sandwich in her classic “Annie Hall” and Andy Kaufman was known as Latke in the film “Taxi”. Larry David features a Seder on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, and from these examples we see that food is always there in our imaginations. Wex takes us on a journey into “the sociology, humor, history, and traditions of food and Judaism”.
For Wex, schmaltz is “a salve, a balm, the heart, soul, and very tam of the edible delicacies and their origins that he chronicles here”. What we read in this book is “a learned examination of the religious whys and wherefores of the food found in North American Polish-Jewish homes (like mine and his) through the 1960s”. Writer Ben Schott puts in like this, “’Rhapsody in Schmaltz’ is essential reading for anyone who has shmeared a bagel, trifled with trayf, or hunted the Afikomen.” We learn a lot here through the wisdom of Wex. He gives us the
the true stories behind these the dishes we love as he takes us on a tour of eating Jewish. We look at food from the dietary laws in the Torah to the modern bagel. The history of our food coincides with the history of our culture.