Bagels, deli sandwiches, and kosher dills are only a few of the Jewish foods to have crossed into American culture and onto non-Jewish plates. From the Bible and Talmud to the delis of North America, Rhapsody in Shmaltz traces the history and impact of the cuisine that Yiddish-speaking Jews from Central Eastern Europe brought across the Atlantic and that their North American descendants have developed and refined.
“Mouthwatering and eye-opening in equal measure, Rhapsody in Schmaltz is essential reading for anyone who has schmeared a bagel, trifled with trayf, or hunted the afikomen.” – Ben Schott, author of Schott’s Original Miscellany
“Wex has give us a learned examination of the religious whys and wherefores of the food found in North American Polish-Jewish homes (like mine and his) through the 1960s. There are not a few wisecracks mixed in, like onions in kreplach, with all the scholarship. Wex more or less does for kugel what Knausgaard has done for lutefisk.” – Stuart Rojstaczer, author of The Mathematician’s Shiva: A Novel
“Wex proves once again in Schmaltz that he is Yiddish culture’s equivalent of his titular fat: a salve, a balm, the heart, soul, and very tam of the edible delicacies and their origins that he chronicles here. Not since the Rascal House menu was last printed has there been and finer assembly of words on Jewish food upon the page.” – David Sax, author of Save the Deli In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen.
With an eye for detail and a healthy dose of humor, Michael Wex also examines the role of these foods in modern culture, from temple to television. He looks at Diane Keaton’s pastrami sandwich in Annie Hall, kosher chocolate Santa Clauses, and the bridge of blintzes that links The Three Stooges to The Big Bang Theory, shedding light on how Jewish food has affected our modern imaginations.
“Rhapsody in Schmaltz is a masterful work, one I’ll turn to over and over for both historical reference and a hearty chuckle.” – Leah Koenig, author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen
“Only Wex can write an insightful, witty read on the history of Jewish food and its ingredients. According to Leviticus, ‘all the fat is the Lord’s.’ Lately I think my butcher has been giving me too much of God’s share.” – Ziggy Gruber, owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen and star of the documentary Deli Man
“A rare combination of erudition and wit – an irreverent romp through the highs and lows of Yiddish food by a yeshiva boy gone rogue.” – Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, chief curator, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Rhapsody in Schmaltz is an entertaining and fascinating journey in the humor, history and traditions of food and Judaism.
“Chicken, Kishke, Cholent and Matzoh have dominated the Yiddish menu and kept it in virtual bondage for hundreds of years. Rhapsody in Schmaltz tells the true story behind these fetishized dishes and gives us what Yiddish, no stranger to pain, calls the Essen Emes.” – Adeena Karasick, author of Amuse Bouche: Tasty Treats for the Mouth
“Only Michael Wex could unravel the delectable mysteries of Ashkenazi cuisine with the precision of a Talmudic commentator and the wit of a Jon Stewart. Here are all the usual suspects–from kasha and knishes to kugels–but their explication comes by way of Chaucer and Ray Charles, Petronius, Pynchon, and Homer Simpson. A savory must-read for all food and language mavens, who will discover the true Yiddish vegetables, not to mention, the subtle erotic sirensong of a challah.” – Jayne Cohen, author of Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations
“An enticing tour of Judaism’s culinary past. Wex brings lighthearted humor and his considerable expertise on Jewish culture to a wide-ranging look at Jewish food, from biblical dietary restrictions to New York bagels. An informative, merrily entertaining culinary and cultural history.” – Kirkus Reviews (Read the full review here)
“Don’t miss a chance to remember what we ate when life seemed to be much simpler.” – Amos Lasson (Read the full review “This is NOT a cook book here)
“Without being “schmaltzy” (sentimental), Wex conveys his knowledge of Yiddish culture and food laws with a healthy dose of humor” – Dan Kaplan, Booklist Starred Review (Read the full review here)