Sunday, May 2, 2010
The Inedible: Five Jewish Foods To Avoid
I'm not a wimpy eater. I grew up with all the traditional foods; after all, my parents were Eastern European. Everything on our kitchen table was unidentifiable. What was identifiable was somehow referred to only by its Yiddish name so that I could feel as foreign as possible in the neighborhood. For example, I only knew the Yiddish names for chicken leg (polka) and chicken wing (fleagle). This is how I ventured out of our house (which was actually part of Poland) into America (outside the door): unable to communicate with the neighbors.
I wasn't that picky. I liked herring, I liked smelly fishes, I probably could've eaten an onion like an apple as a kid, that's how foreign we were. But when certain foods showed up on our table, there was no way my mother was fooling me - I knew inedible when I saw it. Mysterious foods, nefarious foods, foods that we'd stir to take a look-see and there'd be a globule of some primevil creature bobbing to the surface and then a leaf. With all of them, my mother was exceedingly evasive about the ingredients which led to one response only: my mouth clamped shut.
Here, then, to supplement my recent list of Essential Yiddish words, are five Jewish foods to avoid. Don't be lulled by exotic-sounding Yiddish names and don't think you'll offend the hosts by turning these foods down. These foods are always being turned down.
2) Schav - This is cold sorrel soup. It's green and comes in a glass jar. It's the evil half-twin of Borscht.
3) The Glop from the Gefilte Fish jar - Each Passover I buy several jars of Gefilte Fish which come packed in something called "jellied broth," a gloppy, gunky, clear slime that I wash off each piece of fish before serving. My mother loves this stuff. She begs me to save her all the extra glop in one jar and bring it to her after Passover. She doesn't want the fish; she wants the glop.
4) Poopik - Here's a newflash: when I was a little girl grown ups would play with me pretending they were going to eat my "poopik" - my belly button. And guess what, it means the exact same thing when, a few hours later, I'd sit down at the kitchen table and my mom would say, "Who wants the poopik?" Today - yes, forty-five years later - I asked her what animal, exactly, she had stolen this belly button from. She said, "A chicken." It's actually part of the Yiddish food psychology to drive you a little crazy thinking about whether chickens actually have belly buttons.
5) Kishke - This is fat mixed with sugar and flour and then stuffed in a casing, which I believe it means it's stuffed in an intestine. This is something I grew up with and loved but, as an adult, how does one make this exactly? How am I supposed to go to the butcher and request fat or casings? How am I supposed to tell my family that tonight we're going to eat, um, fat? How many calories, exactly, is this fat plus sugar plus flour going to have? So onto the inedible list it goes.
What foods were on your table as a kid that you considered inedible? Did you ever try them? Are there any foods you eat now that your own kids consider inedible?