Tuesday, November 30, 2010
On bread, part IV. How a Mexican baker invented a New York tradition
Everything you are reading in this story is untrue. It is fabrication, a flight of fancy. The wingspan on it is so wide that you can’t see from one tip to the other. It is the story of how the early Mexicans created the bialy.
We really don’t know much about the baker who created the first bialykuchen. What we do know however, is that its inventor followed Jewish religious traditions. Here’s what we’ve been able to piece together from historical accounts. During the time of the Spanish inquisition when a person’s choices were Catholicism or death, some Jews chose a third option, find a new place to live. Some families went to Mexico with Cortez and other early Spanish explorers. Like every other transplanted culture, familiar foods were introduced to the new lands. One of the breads the Spanish had long enjoyed were buñuelos, a slightly sweet bread, fried in oil and topped with sugar . The Spanish version looks remarkably like a filled jelly doughnut, while the Mexican buñuelo is flat, like a tortilla, and the jelly has been replaced with a honey syrup poured over the top.
After toiling long years to try to keep the Spanish buñuelo version alive, the Mexican born baker Jesus Perez decided to move his family and bakery to Poland, where there were large communities of followers of the Jewish faith. The only problem was, everyone was making buñuelos! Jesus thought about switching to the Mexican version but to the world’s delight, he decided to present a deconstructed buñuelo by baking the dough instead of frying it and putting the jelly on the outside. And in another moment of serendipity, this was during the Polish sugar shortage at the turn of the century, so he decided to use beets instead of the red jelly to top his baked buñuelos. History shows us that the sweet-onion topped version was more popular. He also needed to find a name for his new creation and decided to name it after his new town, Bialystok. His was a very successful bakery and others copied his delicious new offering, the bialy.
History repeats itself and Jesus had heard the first hints of the formation of another religious purge movement and quickly sent his family to New York, staying behind to continue his bakery. He, along with most of the Jewish population of Poland were wiped out during the pogroms that swept the Russian empire, but his family survived and prospered in the new country. Thus, a Spanish born Mexican baker was the inventor of the hero of the New York Deli scene, the bialy. Its all true, you can look it up if you don’t believe me.
Monday, November 22, 2010
When you crave Chinese food and are ready to resort to do-it-yourself you have been in La Paz just long enough to appreciate the restaurant Nuevo Oriental. It’s a house semi-converted into a restaurant on Marcelo Rubio between 16 de Septiembre and Reforma.
Back in the day when La Paz was unknown by readers of Money magazine as a great place to retire, a strong Chinese presence existed in the heart of downtown and the best of the Chinese food palaces was known as the restaurante Dragon. It’s still there, on the top floor above a coffee place on 16 de Septiembre and Esquerro. Food isn’t bad, but imagination and authenticity long went the way of progress. What happened was, the chef/owner passed away and the family kept the restaurant open.
The folks who were privy to the ancient one’s recipes, however, split off and opened the loncheria out of their home, for those who still wanted what they used to have.
Imagine a small place keeping the same menu and traditions for 21 years now…
From the street, one sees a small sign on the light pole announcing the Cantonese loncheria with the interior open to the street and two lonely empty tables daring up to 8 people to cross the threshold. Once you do decide to chance it, you see the action is just to the right, where there are 9 other tables, families gathered over their platters of chow mein, chop suey and cashew chicken. I opted for takeout and selected a half order of sweet and sour chicken with white rice, to go.
All I can say is that if I didn’t find Cantonese style so boring, I would be very excited. The meat was chicken wing, just the first bone, and the bone had been frenched, leaving a tender drumstick of battered white meat chicken. The sauce was a pineapple sweet and sour sauce and it was nicely studded with celery, wedges of pineapple and yellow bell peppers. Classic!
Loncheria Nuevo Oriental, Marcelo Rubio between 16 de Septiembre and Reforma. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 1pm until 6. dine-in or take out.
- The Bread Guy
- La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
- Before gaining control of my life, I created pastries for some cool places in California: San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Brix Restaurant in Napa and The Lodge in Sonoma. Now I am the chef/owner of Pan D' Les bakery in La Paz. My personal favorite is the Multigrano loaf, full of crunchy seeds and a nice chewy crust.