So. First up: More Jewish talk. I know that’s what my last post involved, but I feel justified in talking about this stuff, because food is such an integral part of culture and religion, and the only part of mine that I’ve ever really taken seriously. Toward the end of class today, we discussed major staple crops and how they are invariably eaten cooked. I started thinking about bread, and that almost every culture in the world has some form of it. And it’s a big deal. You put the ground up seeds with some other stuff, it swells up, you cook it and it swells up some more, and it’s delicious. The miracle of yeast. The staff of life. Just think about all the different ways it can be made… most western cultures have a special Christmas bread – I’m thinking stollen, panettone – as well as a million signature ways of preparing what provides a significant portion of their everyday carbohydrates, as well. Challah. Bagels. Baguette. Focaccia. Pretzel. Bialy. Lavash. You get what I mean.
And then, in gross generalization that ignores a lot of diets that involve other boiled grains, tubers, etc., etc. and clumps the rest of the eating world into one horrible culturally insensitive category, there are people who eat rice.
The difference is very interesting. Rice, wonderful and delicious though it may be, isn’t quite as magical as something that rises, something that is alive (until you bake it). And I think it’s really telling that there’s one Jewish blessing for a meal that includes bread, and another for meals that don’t. Of course, Judaism sprang up in areas where bread was a staple (matzo, Israelites in Egypt…?). But there are and have been significant populations, mostly Sephardic, in more rice/other non-bread-centric locales, mostly the Middle East. I’m no scholar of this stuff, and couldn’t tell you the history of all this, but it’s something to think about. We haven’t discussed bread at all in class, but it’s so culturally important that I think it deserves to take a little time out of my two-essay evening.
Okay, next: Umami!
So, I read Gentlemen’s Quarterly whenever I get the chance. I love it. Great publication, good foreign news reporting, nice fashion, and brilliant food writing. And today I read this. The Umami Burger is apparently taking Los Angeles by storm, and this short article discusses what it is, why it’s so good and the myth vs. magic of “umami,” something we’ve talked about a little in class.