There's this scene in Srugim (S01, E04 - pictured above) where the character Hodaya - a rabbi's daughter drifting from the religious fold - has a dinner date with Avri, a secular Jew. Anyway, Avri has made pasta for dinner, and as he sprinkles the parmigiana, Hodaya looks positively revolted. Pop quiz for those just learning about Judaism: why? Those who keep kosher can probably guess that the pasta has a meat sauce. Even though she is losing faith, shaking the food thing is not so easy. There's nothing obviously offensive to someone with a Western or Mediterranean diet about a meat-sauce pasta with grated cheese (ask any Italian). Nevertheless, in keeping kosher, diet becomes intertwined with morality. And, through religious dietary restrictions, in this case kashrut, an otherwise morally neutral action, e.g. eating a pasta dish with cheese is perceived as immoral (and can elicit a visceral reaction). Well, if pork is the least kosher of ingredients, perhaps guilt is the one that is most kosher.
There are of course many cultures that harbor taboos around food. Some are religiously motivated: Jains, Hindus and Rastafaris favor vegan or vegetarian diets to varying degrees. Jews, Mormons and Muslims also abide by a variety of restrictions, etc. There was a Jamie Oliver episode where he was in a Navajo tribe, and the people there talked about refusing to eat foods of a certain shape (I think it was round food). Other food taboos are not related to religion, but culture (though of course there's overlap). In North America we typically are grossed out by the idea of eating animals that we think of as pets: e.g. dogs, cats, bunnies, and horses. Also, certain textures turn off the typical Western consumer: slimy, gelatinous, or spongy textures are rare. Few of our foods are very bony (e.g. as bugs might be). Bugs in and of themselves are taboo for food consumption. Many North Americans find eating offals (organs) off-putting. There are also taboos around perceived health dangers: e.g. most North Americans eating avoid raw eggs.
Anyway, all this to say, many things that fall into the kosher category could easily gross someone from a different culture. So, just for fun, here are what I think are the "grossest" things we eat. Just to be clear: I am pretty much an omnivore, and I LOVE food (to eat, not a big fan of cooking it). I am basing grossness on the non-religious categories above. There is very little in terms of food that I would be too grossed out to eat.
OK . . . Top Ten "Gross" Jewish Foods:
1. Beef Tongue:
|Photo from Just edible|
2. Gehachte Leibe (Chopped Liver):
|Photo from Central Coast Wine Report web-site|
I could easily live on this stuff. I'm partial to the kind where you don't see the chopped egg (i.e. my personal preference is a smoother texture - but not too smooth). As an offal, liver is not first pick on many a burger-fries-and -bbq diet. We tell Mini CL that it's like a meat Nutella. Somehow, he's not sold.
When my parents cooked liver, it was usually fried with onions. Other similar offals, chicken hearts and giblets were also popular in stews with potatoes growing up. I'm not sure if that's a Jewish thing, or a European thing. (A popular Israeli Toronto eatery (Me Va Me) serves these offals fried in their Jerusalem sandwich). I'm not sure whether the chewy fried or pastier chopped texture would be easier to stomach for a newcomer to Ashkenazi cuisine, but either way: Try it, you'll like it!!
Mr. CL's sister told me that another offal they ate was spleen, called "miltz" . . . That's got a Yiddish name - so it's got to be Jewish ;)!
|Photo: Eat Me Daily website|
|Photo from Slash Food (grilled chicken hearts)|
3. Chicken Claws and Necks:
Not sure if people are more bothered by claws because of their boniness or because they look like little hands. North Americans typically do not like their dead food to look remotely as it did when it was alive. As for the boniness, I personally am a bit of a lazy eater, and prefer food that I don't have to work for (i.e. with parts I need to spit out: sunflower seed, grapes with seeds, fish with bones etc.), and you definitely have to work for both chicken claws and necks (my MIL calls them "gorgelach", very similar to the Russian word for the "gorle"). In any case, after they've been cooked in Friday night soup broth - really yummy, and well worth the effort. *(The best chicken claws I've ever had, though, were not Jewish at all, but Chinese, at one of our favorite Dim Sum places).
|Photo from Delicious Coma|
|Photo from The Modern Apprentice|
4. Gefilte Fish from a jar:
|Photo from Meijer|
Yeah . . something about non-refrigerated fish in a jar just kinda grosses me out. I'd try it, though. I'm not a huge gefilte fish fan to begin with (except the kind my MIL makes - Ungers frozen - which bears very little semblance in look or taste to any other gefilte fish - or fish in general, for that matter - that I've had). These look like the fish patties that are part of my Baba's gefilte fish . . which has some bony parts, some gelatinous parts . . not really my thing*. But, gefilte fish in a jar just seems wrong.
6. Gogol Mogol:
|Photo: Tasting Poland|
7. Eyerlach (Unhatched eggs):
|Photo from Israeli Kitchen|
Eyerlach are eggs found inside the chicken. I've never eaten them, but Mr. CL's sister tells me that when his mom made them they were delicious. I love eggs, so I'm sure they are. Incidentally, while buying meat at the kosher butcher today, someone had asked for them. She was told that Eyerlach are no longer considered kosher. Does anyone know if this is true?
|Photo: Helen's cooking|
9. Shmaltz and Grieven
|Photo: Three Points Kitchen website|
10. Sheep's Head
Photo: Daily Cocaine
One of my B-IL's is from Morocco, and on Pesach his family traditionally serves sheep head. He tells me his dad especially enjoys eating the eyes. (When sheep head isn't available, fish head is used instead). So, while my Ashkenazi BIL enjoys food that tastes you back, my Sephardi BIL, doesn't mind the one that looks right back atcha!
Honorable Mention: Mr. CL's family's Passover Egg Soup
Mr. CL's family's "egg soup" has three ingredients: hard boiled eggs, warm water, and a pile of salt. I really like it because I love hard boiled eggs and salty stuff, but calling it soup is a bit of a stretch, and reminds me of the scene in Arrested Development where Lindsay Bleuth (who loves cooking as much as I do) serves raw chicken to her family which she presents as "Chicken in a chicken water".
Anyway, was there anything I missed? B'tai avon!***
** Eventually my parents learned to serve it only to Russian guests.
* Through writing this I am reminded of how much I enjoyed grocery shopping in Neve Yaakov with Baba One, where she bought live fish that swam in her bathtub for a while.
***(Hebrew for Bon appetite!) How do you say that in Yiddish?
A big thank you to Mr. CL and my sisters in-law for their suggestions!!