Saturday, December 26, 2009
One of the mysteries of the known universe is the fact that you cannot find a decent Anglo-Jewry style biegal (pronounced “bi-gall”) in Israel yet the first thing any Israeli does when he makes yerida to the UK is to open up a Biegal bakery. Where did they learn this skill? Perhaps it’s something the chutz la’aretz malachim that he acquires as he leaves the borders of the holy land teach him as one of the survival techniques for living in galus?
We learn this from parshas Vayeitze. As Yaakov leaves Eretz Yisrael he witnesses the changing of the guards so to speak as his Eretz Yisrael melachim climb the ladder back to shamayim and his chutz laaretz malachim come down. (See Rashi).The fact that Yaakov sleeps on twelve stones (Midrash Raba) could well be a remez to his first taste of a dozen biegals which every real biegal baker knows should be boiled until they are as hard as rock. This is in stark contrast to the stodgy puffy doughnut like monstrosities the American’s call “beigels” (pronounced “bai-gels”).
Another rarity in Israel is real Shmaltz Herring, matured in salt for about the same amount of years as a bottle of Islay Laphroaig single malt (which coincidently happens to be the perfect accompaniment to this delicious black delicacy). Alright, so I’m exaggerating slightly but it is the maturing process of a few months that gives the herring its wonderful flavour and texture. No wonder Israelis and Americans fuss over sushi. They’ve obviously never tasted matured herring like this.
In England you buy the herring wrapped up in paper. The slices of fish meat are browny black with the consistency of soft toffee and just like toffee; the herring melts in the mouth. Here in Israel they sell herring which they call “matyas” (from the Dutch “maatjes”).
It is bright pink and grey and covered in, what looks and smells like linseed oil whose only use that I was aware of until I made aliyah, was to harden new virgin cricket bats. The maturation process consists of the time it takes to cut the fish into squares, drown it in oil and pack it in tubs.
The correct term for Shmaltz Herring in Lashon HaKodesh is in fact “Dag Maliach”, which is mentioned in Meseches Brachos, Perek vav, mishna zayin. I doubt that our Tanaim as mentioned in this mishna were talking about these squares of pink slime when they asked the servant for some bread to help the salty herring go down. It’s much more likely they would have recognised the regal black Shmaltz Herring of England.
The English Jewish community prefers to eat their Shmaltz Herring either with a biegal or on a cracker which is common to all United Synagogue Kiddushim, along with bridge rolls and chopped herring and cocktail fried fish balls. It is of course a minhag at every Kiddush to recite the following joke over the black stuff: You hold a cracker up to your ear and ask “What’s this?” to which you are supposed to reply “a herring aid”. (Boom boom).
As just mentioned, there is one Jewish food which is guaranteed to be found in every kosher food outlet in Britain. The classic fried fish ball. This basic Jewish food stuff of Anglo Jewry is incredibly versatile, suitable for any occasion and perfect for picnics. It can also be bought from every Tesco supermarket kosher department. Well I say department, it’s actually one foot of shelf space, squeezed between the seafood and the pork section. If you are lucky they’ll have some cheddar cheese, tubes of Swedish roe and some Blooms vieners. However you can always guarantee they’ll have a packet of fish balls. These balls which for some are the last connection they have to Judaism before they sink into the abyss of assimilation are of course no where to be found in Israel.
An English friend’s wife (also English) decided to make boiled and fried fish balls, English style, for a Kiddush she was hosting for her extended family. During the Kiddush, her daughter spoke to her and told her that the daughter’s mother-in-law (an Israeli) wanted to know why her mother was serving cold kneidalach and cold falafel balls with chrain at the Kiddush.
In my opinion, a Shabbos Cholent is not complete without Kishkeh, as Ashkenazi as Gefilta fish. The good news is that you can buy Kishkeh in Israel. The bad news is that the Israelis seem to think that it’s a good idea to put Sefardi style hot spices in it. Why? It’s like eating Gefilta fish with Schug!
Fried Fish balls
Salt and pepper and sugar to taste.
2 tsp sugar. (If the liquor already contains sugar then reduce amount).
Add sugar to taste.
Some sprinkle with chopped boiled eggs. Some serve on a bed of lettuce.