“Tradition!”: Some Thoughts on Traditional Foods

“Tradition!” Tevye the Milkman sings in Fiddler on the Roof.  What did he mean?  Mostly, he was referring to an adherence to the Orthodox traditions of his small Russian village, but I’d like to think he could have also been singing about food.  It seems like winter sort of just begs for traditional comfort foods, doesn’t it?

Traditional foods is a phrase with several meanings to me.  The historian in me recognizes traditional foods as those foods indigenous to a particular place or time.  The average person in me thinks of a wide assortment of foods from the many influences which make up my background and which at some point or another were considered ‘traditional’ in my childhood home.  We usually had cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning; family gatherings always included guacamole and probably enchiladas; summer meant grilled chicken (or BBQ since Californians aren’t so picky about what constitutes actual BBQ); and our mac’n’cheese used to come with cut up hot dogs in it.  Then we moved around…a lot.  I learned that it isn’t a party in Indiana without a slow cooker full of meatballs; sweet tea is not the default in eastern Missouri north of about Perryville; BBQ does not mean chicken on a grill in North or South Carolina; and I do not like collard greens (even though everyone swears I’d love them if only I had So-and-So’s collards).

Since embarking on my journeys into parenthood and Judaism, I’ve also learned even more about traditional foods.  I’ve learned that as a parent, there is always room for new traditions.  This is especially true when integrating you and your spouse/partner’s traditions into one family set of traditions.  I have also learned that taking traditional foods (such as traditional Jewish yom tov dishes) and making them your own can be one of the most rewarding and deep ways to connect to a new tradition.  So, I’ve made my own version of savory hamantaschen, kheema kreplach, and a savory onion kugel.  Sometimes it’s nice to stick to bubbe’s recipes, but sometimes your own spin on something can be even more delicious and meaningful.

Variety is the spice of life after all, isn’t it?  So maybe even more than “Tradition,” Tevye had food on his mind when he sang, “L’Chaim!  To Life!”

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