A comment (see below) on a prior posting brought to mind an old "machlokes": Are Hungarian women the best cooks?
"Finally, any thoughts on the notion held by some that Hungarians (broadly defined, let's say, not by the borders of the present day state of that name) are 'the best cooks' ? If there is something to that generalization, how much credit would you give to the relative abundance there for it? Such things can be hard for non-Hungarians to swallow.... :)"
Oh boy, how to put this. Let me cover myself by stating first that anything written here is my own opinion. You can only argue fact, not opinion. You cannot say that an opinion is wrong, only a fact. So yes, I believe that Hungarian women, in the broad definition of Hungarian, are in general, the best cooks. I base my belief on personal experience, based on having eaten a lot of meals over the years by balabustas of various ethnic origins. Cooks from other ethnic origins are not bad cooks. Some have a few dishes that are truly inspired. But for across the board excellence of cuisine and variety of cuisine, the Hungarians win.
This is not a new machlokes. The Europe of the 1800s and early 1900s was rife with ethnic and nationalistic strife, yes even among the Jews. The Western Jews looked down on the Eastern European Jews. The Eastern European Jews looked down on the Western European Jews. The various Eastern European Jews looked down on those from countries, regions or cities not their own. We like to think of the whole Jewish population of Europe as being some sort of unified whole; nothing is further from the truth. The conflicts were about religious observance and the conflicts were also about cultural observances. Some countries were considered more "advanced" then others. Some countries were considered on a higher level culturally. Whether or not this was true across the board, the differences were there.
The old Austro-Hungarian Empire unified a huge slice of middle Europe. While there were ethnic differences, there was much of a shared culture. What is today Hungary and Romania were officially a part of that Austro-Hungarian Empire through WW I, as was part of what is/was modern Czechoslovakia. (And yes, it is why you get many Czechs who claim to be Hungarian, because their grandparents were, indeed, Hungarian.) Hungarian was the official state language of the area known as Romania; it was taught in the schools. Also prevalent throughout the Empire was a type of cuisine we now like to call Hungarian. There were specific dishes native to the geographical areas of Hungary and Romania, but there was also an adoption of the cooking styles and dishes and ingredients of the general Empire.
Compared to the countries of Eastern Europe, the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had access to a wider variety of cooking products, particularly for those families with money. There was a larger variety of produce that could be procured because of the more temperate zones extant in the far western reaches of the Empire. "Cooking well" was a much bigger deal in Western Europe then it was in Eastern Europe.
Now bring this "machlokes" into the present. Women my age are definitely the product of European influence when it comes to cooking. And those of us with that general Hungarian background were exposed to a wider variety of dishes and ingredients then the women coming from the furthest Eastern countries. In general, those from the general Hungarian areas were economically better off than those from the countries further east. That's not to say that there were not poor people in Hungary--there were. In general, however, the Hungarian communities had more to work with. The further east you go, the less the influence of the Western and Middle European countries that you see.
The sheer volume of "traditional" pastries and cakes of the Hungarian cooks is astounding. The number of sauces and condiments shows a clear France into Austria into Hungary progression. The huge variety of meat dishes, and fish dishes and side dishes and vegetable dishes outnumbers those of countries further to the east. There is also evidence of some of the more Eastern recipes that found there way west into Hungarian cooking. In short, Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a sort of cross-roads for Jewish cooking in Europe.
When I look around at the women in my extended family, from both my mother's and my father's side, I see balabustas of cooking excellence, Hungarian background all. The only one of the cousins who is not a "great" cook married into the family and came from______(I'm not looking to start an all-out war today).
And in some cases today, those women who do not self-identify as Hungarian nonetheless may have an Austro-Hungarian bubby in the background somewhere who gifted them with the "fine cooking gene."
So yes, in my opinion, Hungarians are the best cooks. Go ahead, take a shot at me. Centuries of practice in dodging bullets should keep me safe.
Please note: I am not including the various Sefardi cooking traditions here. There are some truly inspired cooks in this tradition, many of them. I am limiting myself, however, to an ashkenzic comparison.
Profk--as long as you have already started WW III, let me add in my vote. I have a non Hungarian mother and a Hungarian mother in law and wife. Even my mother agrees, and certainly my father does, that the Hungarians win the contest hands down. I love my mother with all my heart, and I love my mother in law's cooking with all of the rest of me.
Yikes, almost in trouble here. And my wife is the best cook in the world.
Does anyone today really qualify as a Hungarian cook, outside of the older women in the community? I'm second generation American and except for a few dishes I think I cook American, not Hungarian or any other culture. My grandmother may have been from Poland but that doesn't make me Polish or a Polish cook. Are you saying that the children and grandchildren of those who are Hungarian have some kind of genetic tendency towards better cooking? Are they taught differently? Is it even relevant to argue Hungarian cooking when it comes to the younger generations?
A good question Rae. I also consider myself and my parents as Americans. Where my grandparents were born has no particular importance to me in the way I live. Besides I think of the few traditional foods that my mom cooks that she got from her mom as being Jewish cooking not hungarian or anything like that. My grandmother was not born in Hungary so I guess if I had to answer the question I would say that Hungarian women are not the best cooks. But then my grandmother is not as good a cook as my mom is anyway. Who cares?
Where was my mom when it came time to picking up the Good Hungarian Cook gene?
My grandmother was a good cook (If I remember correctly) but I guess my mom liven in America for too long and though I love her she is lousy in the kitchen.
I'm thinking this is more a generational thing. My mothers generation and certainly my grandmothers generation competed for balabusta of the year. Women were judged mostly on their housewifely talents. For my generation that isn't so much the case. The competition for us is more in who was the best in school, or who is the thinnest and stuff like that. In high school it was who did the most chesed and who was the most tsnua and who was the most aidel. At least in my group how well you can cook doesn't seem to matter. And I have no idea where anybody's parents came from generations ago. That doesn't seem to be important either.
I'm Hungarian on both sides. My mom is a CPA and has also a master's degree in corporate finance. She works outside of the home. And yet cooking was and is still really important in our house. She and both my grandmothers passed on recipes and taught all of us girls how to cook. My married sisters are all teaching their little daughters about cooking. I don't necessarily see the emphasis in some of my friend's houses. I won't say every one of us is the best cook in the world but most are really terrific. It might be something that hungarian grandmothers cared enough about to make an issue of.
I think this is more about cooking versus not cooking then where the cooks family once came from. I asked a shadchan once if the girl she was redding me could cook. She looked at me all funny and asked why I would ask. I said I like to eat. I'd like my wife to be able to cook well. The shadchan knew all about her schools and where she went to seminary and what chesed projects she did. She thought I was being petty with the question. She told me that it is no big deal and all girls learn to cook when they get married.
I guess for most people the who is the best cook question doesn't matter any more. I'm just unlucky that I guess it matters to me.
I hate to admit it, but I can hear the German relatives talk about the "Hungies."
I'd heard all the jokes made about Hungarian houses and the way they are house proud. I'd heard the women are supposed to be great cooks. But I'd never actually been inside a hungarian home until my son got engaged. Our daughter in laws parents invited us over for a meal to meet. My wife is a decent cook and I have no complaints after all these years. But you really have to taste what my son's shviger cooks to know what unbelievably good cooking is. Our daughter in law is a wonderful girl and has many fine midos but the best thing she has is that she learned how to cook from her mother. My son is a really lucky man that way.
The answer is none of the above. I am half Yekke, and half Austrian/Hungarian. My sister-in-law is married to a Temani (Yemenite), and we have family members of every type. I can report that good cooking has nothing to do with origin, some Yekkes are good cooks and some are horrid. Some Hungarians are good cooks and some are horrid. Most Yemenite cooks are excellent, but some modern ones aren't, or don't cook hardly at all. So, in sort, it depends.
Mark makes an interesting point about Temani cooking. I know you left out sefardi cooking in the posting but I wonder if so many of the sefardi women in the US are good cooks because their traditional dishes and style of cooking is not available in the take out food stores and grocery stores? Far more ashkenazi foods available. It would be interesting to see if this also holds true in Israel where the sefardi population is much larger and so much more ready food is available.
It doesn't surprise me that you would feel that Hungarians are the best cooks since you were brought up appreciating the foods and flavors in that style of cooking. I've eaten in enough Hungarian homes to know when any particular cook is better or worse at her craft but I can't say that I've ever really liked Hungarian style foods. But then that's my taste, I was brought up with French cooking and that's what I generally prefer...my point being that one generally likes what they were brought up eating.
Well, I don't have a speck of hungarian in me but there's some pretty mean cooking in my family.
I think the commenters who mentioned they were Americans so the Hungarian question doesn't really apply to them are right. My grandmother was always talking about "in der heim" meaning Europe. We pointed out to her that for us "in der heim" was New York. The question would really be silly if we asked instead who are the best cooks--those from Brooklyn or those from Teaneck? Or maybe New York or California? Comparing cooking was a real European thing not an American thing.
Rachel is right that it sounds very silly if we would ask are Brooklyn cooks better then Los Angeles cooks. So maybe we don't compare cooking any more, but we do ask who is frummer, Brooklyn or Los Angeles and whose hashkofah is better Brooklyn or Los Angeles. Maybe we would have been better off just comparing who cooks better.
I do not particularly like Hungarian cooking, with a few exceptions. I do not like Russian cooking either, and I'm Russian. I prefer Ukrainian cooking.
Also, most of my Ukrainian cooking became Americanized (ie I put less fat into everything) For example when I make mash potatoes I mash them with water instead of butter/margarine. I do not add oil into my chulent, and when I fry fish or cutlets, I make sure that there is no drowning in oil going on.
Your disclaimer should have topped this post. I kept thinking, wait a second, the further East we go the more interesting the food gets. :)
When it comes to Sephardi cooks, I have to hand it to the Moroccan ladies. Some of us don't hold a candle to that.
Post a Comment