08 July 2010

Food: 'Jewish' in America?

[My traveling schedule has forced me to cut back a bit on posting -
everyone needs a few days to kick back.
Here's a post of a few weeks ago - but still delicious -
that was languishing in draft format]

American Jews are mostly familiar with Ashkenazi-based food products, both in supermarkets and at home. Have you ever looked at the shelves in a large Middle Eastern market?

When I'm in northern California, a favorite store is the Rose Market in Mountain View, a well-stocked bazaar of exotic Persian foodstuffs and kitchen essentials. If they don't carry a desired Persian product, it's likely not available anywhere!

Today I arrived in Los Angeles from Seattle. My schedule is tight with the 30th IAJGS International Conference of Jewish Genealogy starting on Sunday, but I'm still hoping for a chelo kabab meal at one of the great Persian restaurants here.

Attesting to the influence of the Los Angeles Persian Jewish community - sometimes called Irangeles or Tehrangeles - are the many kosher-certified products, from exotic ice cream specialties, baked goods, canned foods, dairy items and much more. These products are available across the US, wherever there are Persian or Middle Eastern shops.

It's a far cry from Eastern European gefilte fish to Persian faloudeh (a frozen rosewater-rice stick confection that's both delicious and safe for the lactose-intolerant!). Frozen confections - from little ice cream sandwiches encased in wafers, to large containers of exotic items such as creamy saffron pistachio or rosewater ice - bear the names of Golnazar or Mashti Malone's and others.

US supermarket yoghurt is too watery to the Middle Eastern palate. If you're a yoghurt aficionado, try some Persian mast (yoghurt) - I recommend the thick Ab Ali brand - perfect for making various summer salads with spinach (borani-esfanaj) or other vegetables. Ab Ali comes out of the container looking like thick stiffly beaten whipped cream. For those who want an even thicker type, there is mast-e-kiseh (literally "yoghurt in a bag," where the yoghurt is even further drained) which can be mistaken for cream cheese.

Another Ab Ali product is doogh, a carbonated tangy yoghurt drink, beloved by most Persians. It isn't to my taste, but watching someone shake it, carefully open it with a glass on top, is an experience. Those who love it claim it is very refreshing on very hot days.

Ab Ali, a natural spring, was a destination resort for picnics and barbecues outside of Teheran. My husband's family went there very often when he was young.

Persian breads are different and delicious. Instead of bagels, try breakfast-size nan-barbari (photo left). While the original version is a long flattish bread with ridges; the loaves are about 8" wide and may be more than 24" long, the breakfast size is about 4" by 8". Split it, toast it, spread with Persian-style panir (a feta-type cheese).

In Iran, the best panir(also sheep mik) was from Bulgaria and it came in large green or green-and-white cans. Here in the US, an excellent less salty, milder brand is Valbreso (sheep milk from France, photo right) is available in bulk and smaller portions. For an even more exotic taste, spread the Valbreso on your barbari and add some Persian halvah over the cheese. Yum! The combo of salty and sweet can't be beat!

Or, use a bit of butter on your barbari and add sour-cherry (al balu) jam. With a cup of fragrant steeped Earl Grey tea, this is heaven!

Feel like making barbari? Try this recipe.

When we visited Shiraz years ago, we sometimes stayed at the Park Hotel, with its lovely gardens. We enjoyed breakfast outdoors, amid the fragrant roses, with all the delightful essentials plus fresh watermelon juice. Who would want to forget those experiences?

Giving Jewish American food its due is a current National Yiddish Book Center exhibit presenting food-related artifacts reflecting the search for a balance between acculturation and identity.

The Jewish experience in America has been told in home kitchens and grocery shelves across the country. It represents the past, present and future from the early-20th century immigrant community through today and beyond. I don't know if the exhibit includes any references to the Jewish Persian influence, but that would be nice.

The Amherst, Massachusetts-based center offers signs, menus, ads and packaging from the collection of Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, and a Garden Cafeteria sign is on loan from the Museum at Eldridge Street. The exhibit runs through October 3.


1 comment:

  1. Loved reading about the different Persian products.
    I miss having them as available as they were to me
    in L.A
    I tried to get Faloudeh in N.J,was not able to find it.