As many of us know, bialys are chewy, onion-topped rolls, delicious with a cream-cheese schmeer. They originated in Bialystok, Poland, from which they--and the Jews who made and cherished them--have all but disappeared. In The Bialy Eaters
, food writer Mimi Sheraton traces the history of this traditional treat and recounts her pursuit of it from Manhattan's Lower East Side (now bialy central) to Bialystok and elsewhere. Her book is principally a tale of the men and women, many pogrom and Holocaust victims, who have lived to recall the once plentiful kuchen
. If the story lacks the thrust and imaginative life another writer might have given it, it is still a compelling blend of culinary investigation and poignant cultural evocation.
After carefully drying and wrapping exemplary bialys from Kossar's bakery in Manhattan to take with her as memory jogs, Sheraton heads first to Poland. She encounters no true bialy in Bialystok (a hamburger-roll-like bun is proffered in its name), nor does she find one in Israel, Paris, or Argentina. Look-sees in Miami Beach, Florida; Chicago; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Beverly Hills, California, are more encouraging, but also reveal underbaked and undersalted versions made--horror of horrors--with cinnamon sugar, raisins, and blueberries. Her investigation achieves moving resolution, however, in the person of Pesach Szsemunz, an ex-Bialystoker and bialy baker who survived Auschwitz, Dachau, and "other concentration camps" and now lives in Australia. "In 1941," he writes Sheraton, "the Nazis came to us, and since then there are no more Bialystoker kuchen, no more kuchen bakeries, and no more Bialystok Jews. [No other] Bialystoker," he adds, "can tell you more." Yet, as Sheraton reveals in her touching book, bialys do live on, delighting those who eat them--a tribute to endurance itself and the power of everyday life. --Arthur Boehm
From Library Journal
The bialy is a small, round yeast bread with an indentation in the center, topped with onions and, sometimes, poppy seeds. This bread was a staple of the 60,000 Jews who lived in Bialystok, a city in northeastern Poland, before they were murdered or forced to flee during the Holocaust. After having discovered the bialy in New York, Sheraton, cookbook author (Food Markets of the World) and former New York Times food critic, set out to investigate the history of this salty, crusty bread. She began her quest in 1992 with a visit to Bialystok, where she found a Jewish population of fiveDand no bialys. Undaunted, she tracked down and spoke with former Bialystokers throughout the world. With warmth and candor, Sheraton records her aging interviewees' memories, allowing them their anger as well as their longing for the bread of their lost home. A bialy recipe is included. Highly recommended.DJane la Plante, Minot State Univ., ND
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