Mexi-kosher:avery un­likelyshid­duch

A sur­pris­ing fu­sion food was born when Ashke­nazi im­mi­grants to Mex­ico em­braced the lo­cal cui­sine

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY ANTHEA GER­RIE

GEFILTE FISH smoth­ered with chill­ies, gribenes with gua­camole — it would be hard to think of two more di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed culi­nary tra­di­tions than those of East­ern Europe and Mex­ico. One is heavy, bland fare cre­ated for cold-weather com­fort, the other — hot weather peas­ant food in­fused with the heat of chilli pep­pers, zesty lime juice and the pun­gency of cumin and co­rian­der. This un­likely fu­sion cui­sine has been cre­ated by waves of Ashke­nazi Jews pour­ing into Mex­ico over the past 150 years, who have em­braced the ver­nac­u­lar cui­sine while cling­ing fiercely to their shtetl favourites.

Chef Daniel Ova­dia, the son of a Hun­gar­ian refugee ex­plains: “We love Mex­ico for tak­ing us in, and we have em­braced every­thing about the coun­try in­clud­ing its food.”

Ova­dia is cur­rently com­pil­ing a cook­book of Jewish fam­ily recipes while serv­ing in his res­tau­rants in Mex­ico City all the tra­di­tional dishes lo­cals ex­pect when they go out to eat. Tacos, que­sadil­las and other vari­a­tions of the tor­tilla stuffed with meat or cheese, mush­rooms or squash blos­soms, with spicy salsa on the side and a help­ing of gua­camole.

For the Mex­i­can di­as­pora, spice has be­come an in­te­gral el­e­ment of Jewish home cook­ing: “For the hol­i­days we make the honey cake our par­ents grew up with, but also gefilte fish a la Ver­acruzana, in which we sub­sti­tute red snap­per for carp and add chilli and lime,” Ova­dia ex­plains.

Vis­i­tors to this year’s Ge­filte­fest may be fa­mil­iar with this dish as food his­to­rian Jayne Co­hen re­vealed there how strongly Latin flavours have gripped the palates of Jewish im­mi­grants who fled south dur­ing the 20th cen­tury, es­pe­cially those who went to Mex­ico.

Co­hen ex­plains that th­ese tra­di­tions were be­ing car­ried abroad by Mex­i­can ex-pats like Su­san Sch­midt, whose Challa-peno blog is a play on the way the name of Mex­ico’s quin­tes­sen­tial chilli is pro­nounced.

Sch­midt, born in Mex­ico City in 1953, re­calls that she has had jalapenos and their spicier rel­a­tives on the ta­ble ever since she can re­mem­ber. She serves gua­camole spread on home-made tor­tilla chips and topped with that most Ashke­nazi of Fri­day-night treats, gribenes.

“Mex­i­cans would use chichar­ron — pork crackling — but as a kosher cook I’ve adapted all my recipes. Ren- dered chicken skin has all the same crisp meati­ness,” she says. “As for gua­camole and tor­tillas, they have been on the ta­ble for as long as I can re­mem­ber grow­ing up.”

Her own mother, who ar­rived from Bu­dapest as a child ab­so­lutely hated the first tor­tilla she tasted: “But pretty soon she learned to love them, while also miss­ing her mother’s Hun­gar­ian cook­ing which I tried very hard to recre­ate for her.”

Luck­ily for Sch­midt, when her par­ents de­cided their chil­dren should have an Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion and moved them to Los An­ge­les, she found her­self in an in­creas­ingly Latino city where Mex­i­can food is deeply cher­ished.

“So for the ob­ser­vant who don’t want to cook at home, there’s Mexikosher,” she ex­plains of an LA take-out which serves the kind of recipes which have drawn hun­dreds to her blog over the past five years.

“They seem fas­ci­nated by the idea of a tra­di­tional Mex­i­can peas­ant soup like po­zole be­ing served with matzah balls Su­san Sch­midt is deeply nos­tal­gic for Mex­ico, the coun­try of her birth; Daniel Ova­dia, the son of a Hun­gar­ian refugee, says has “loves Mex­ico for tak­ing us in” — my late fa­ther’s Fri­day night favourite,” she ex­plains.

Sch­midt, who is still deeply nos­tal­gic for the coun­try of her birth, got her wish that she might meet and marry a Mex­i­can, and her hus­band’s fam­ily re­mains in Mex­ico City: “They were Pol­ish from the shtetl, and my moth­erin-law has also been a big in­flu­ence on my cook­ing.”

LA may have Mexikosher, but Brits have Mex­gro­cer, an on­line pur­veyor of au­then­tic Mex­i­can in­gre­di­ents, some de­clared kosher. Masa ha­rina, the corn­meal soaked in lime from which proper tor­tillas are made, and a press to flat­ten the dough, are the stuff of truly au­then­tic tor­tilla chips like the ones Sch­midt likes to spread with gua­camole or the black bean paste which is the favourite of her vegetarian rabbi when he comes to din­ner. “Bean tacos and he’s in heaven,” she laughs. “And I’m not averse to tak­ing a cou­ple of cubes of meat from a goulash and wrap­ping it in a tor­tilla to make a Hun­gar­ian-style taco

my­self.” Su­san Sch­midt’s Challa-peno blog is at mex­i­can­jew­ish.com; for au­then­tic in­gre­di­ents

check out mex­gro­cer.co.uk

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