The tree of Jewish Food: lessons from Junction Barcelona 2012

People often ask me, if I get anxious when I have to give a talk. Actually, I don’t get much stress about the presentation itself, I just suffer of what I call the “little girl birthday party syndrome”. I can still see myself as a little girl suffering and wondering if my friends will show up. This was a funny insecurity as they always did and I was never left sad and lonely with all the food ready. And that is the crucial matter, it was not about the loneliness, it was my secret fear of what to do with this superb amount of food my mother & company had prepared for me.

I don’t even need a big audience to enjoy teaching. I just want people to feel good, with enough air, heating, seats, light, whatever. I tend to behave rather like a host than as a speaker. I don’t ask myself if they would like it, enjoy it or understand it, as I am absolutely sure that they will. I enjoy talking with people, answering questions and being creative in the classroom. Ok, let’s face it, I run the show more like a Yiddische mame than a speaker, but just can’t help it.

Last time was no exception, especially because I was talking about Jewish food. The audience had to decide between learning Jewish salsa, making some kind of body clap experience, discovering the origin of creativity, having a nap before Shabbat, going shopping, sightseeing in Barcelona and joining my food & film workshop. I expected about ten people, but there where like twenty-five, and we had fun. We did some “arts and crafts” which lead us into the world of cultural evolution, we watch the trailer of the documentary “Each Flavour is a Journey”, which I recently produced in Berlin. And then things got personal, very personal.

I asked the attendances to divide in groups, depending on their Jewish culinary identity. In one corner, were the Ashkenazi; in the other the Sephardic, top on the left the Israelis and opposite the Oriental Jew, a woman from Iraqi descendant who decided to join the Sephardic. I left the option open if someone did not feel represented in any of these groups. And surprise, surprise, there came the Italians, who quietly decided to join the Sephardic. The Israelis -who where only two- stayed calm and relaxed confident with their identity.

But while the Sephardic were growing and joining forces with others and the Israelis were waiting for the game to get started, the big bunch of Ashkenazim where already drifting away from each other. First they decided they were just too many and that they would never be able to get to an efficient teamwork, so they split in two groups, before we even started the discussion.

The task was to look at the picture and name portrayed in each slide, with a Jewish traditional food. They have to rate it from one to ten, being one the nearest to their Jewish culinary identity, and ten as far away as you can imagine. Everything looks nice and easy, and recipes, memories and personal stories started to flow, till the group Ashkenazi A, split because of ideological reasons. There was a fraction of the group who decided that stuffed peppers where actually quite Jewish, while the other said that there is nothing Jewish in the red paprika. I looked at them so amused and asked: “Are there some Hungarians in the group?” The paprika dilemma was solved. There must have been some quite radical northern Europeans in the group as aubergines were also expelled from any Jewishness, but they still managed to continue working. There were no Austrian or Germans to defend the Jewish taste of the strudel.

I really regret not to have film the whole session just to see again the expression of the Sephardic group when they saw the slide of the kreplach. At the same time the Ashkenazi discussed the type of fillings or if they should go in soup or not, the Sephardic looked intrigued and stated: “we have never heard of something like that, we have no idea what it is”. In the meantime the Israeli couple discussed on how to stuff peppers and grape leaves, and probably about falafel and humus, which I forgot to add to the list. The results were fantastic, a human representation of the history of Jewish cooking and a trip to their identity. They could have cracking differences, but for all of them there was matzah, the most essential and old of all Jewish foods, which links us back over 3,000 years. Although, the Ashkenazi group B, would prefer them as matzo balls floating in chicken soup.

For those who want to know more about their family history through their recipes, can get in contact with me and I can give you some tips. If you want to watch the trailer of the film you can do it on the following link:

and of course join the discussion at our FB page:


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