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The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World Hardcover – September 12, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767905024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767905022
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mimi Sheraton was fascinated by French Toast in Paris, Turkish Delight in Istanbul, Danish pastry in Copenhagen, Scotch Salmon in Glasgow, and Parma Ham in Parma. So why not hunt for the elusive Bialy in Bialystok? I am a Kossar's Bialy (Grand Street at Essex in NYC) afficionado, so I approached this book with a chip on my shoulder. But Mimi knows her stuff. She even studied the art of bialy making at Kossar's (she includes a Kossar based recipe in the book). Mimi Sheraton (formerly with The New York Times) took off on an adventure to Bialystok (which was once the home of 50,000 Jews), packing some bialys (bailystoker kuchen) for the trip with her husband, Dick Falcone. Her COBD, or Compulsive Obsessive Bialy Disorder, originated after a 1992 sidetrip from her Conde Nast Traveler assignment on Polish foods. After placing an ad seeking stories in the Bialystok Shtimme Yiddish newspaper, she sorts through the stories, and then visits Israel, Australia, Argentina, Paris, Lincolnwood, Scottsdale (jalapeno flavored), and NYC's Lower East Side over seven years, and creates this history (herstory) of the bialy and the community that is now lost. By the way, did you know that Bell Bialy of Canarsie Brooklyn ships 96,000 bagels and bialies to Japan's Hokushin Corp. each month (where they sell for over $1.10 each)? Or that bialy's should never be sliced like a bagel? Or that Jews created a settlement in Bialystok officially in 1558 and were granted citizenship in 1745. This is a fun read. Now if someone would just tell me the difference between those who say kugel and those who say kiegel.
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Format: Hardcover
Sheraton comes out with two statements that are on the surface contradictory: the best bialys (and the customs used to eat them) were from Bialystok, but the bialys she most enjoys are from the places she is most familiar (ie, Kossar's). For instance, even though every Bialystoker she encounters states that you absolutely do not split the roll open, she states that she still continues to do this because she finds it awkward not to. Fair enough. However, other variations of the bialy, such as the amount of onion used and the generosity of poppy seeds on top, she seems to feel are intolerable. And that's fine, too, because what she is really saying- and what just about everyone she interviews is saying- is that the bialy you love best is the bialy you grew up with. When all is said and done, it isn't about the specific recipe or food as much as it is about the past. The food you grew up with is one of the strongest links to your past. This is what Sheraton is really writing about; when the Bialystokers talk about how much they miss the bialy they grew up with and how inferior the modern versions are, what they are really mourning is the loss of the home they lived in. That the exact method of producing the bialy has been lost is just one more testament to the world that was destroyed in the Holocaust.
My mother went to visit my sister in New York recently, and I asked her to bring back some bialys. Surely the bialys in New York would be better than the bialys I eat here in Boston. Not even close. My bialy has definite merits over its New York counterpart (abundant onions and poppyseeds, huge and fat, not flat), but it wasn't simply that. My bialys are the ones I've grown accustomed to eating and remind me of the neighborhood I buy them in and the people I eat them with. I cannot imagine losing all of that, and every passage of this book that spoke about those losses brought tears to my eyes.
Read this book and fall in love with an old bread and a lost world.
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Format: Hardcover
As a child when I asked my Grandfather where the family was from - he told me a town called Bialystock. When I asked him where it was he told me "well sometimes it was in Poland, othertimes it was in Russia." Before reading this book I knew there was some sort of connection between the Bialy and that town, and this book opened some doors for me.
Mimi Sheraton has opened a time machine, sparked by her curiosity about a humble breakfast treat. By starting out with a simple question about a roll, she goes on a quest and opens a the lost world of pre-Holocaust Poland in the process. Her book takes you to every corner of the world (Poland, France, Israel, Texas, Austalia and of course NYC) in search of a lost world. This is more than abook about bread, and perhaps one of the best history books I have recently - and a great exploration of what it means to be Jewish, and in a bigger sense explores what it means to be human.
While it's a short book (I read it in one night) Mimi packs in the details. When you are done reading it you wish you were taking notes. This book would make a great gift, and is worth sharing with your friends and family.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mimi Sheraton's book, The Bialy Eaters (Broadway Books Div. Random House, first edition 2000) is aptly titled. It is mostly a memoir about Jews of Bialystock before World War II--part of Russia before the end of World War I and of Poland afterward--also of those among them who emigrated to the U.S., Israel, Argentina and Australia, and of their offspring. It is not mainly about bialys that Jews of Bialystock often ate or about bialy bakers who made them or make similar items today, although it has some observations on those topics.

Bialystock's pre-War Jewish community was destroyed by Nazi invaders in one of the most brutal episodes of the terrible War. Ms. Sheraton managed to interview several survivors of the War, some who emigrated before the War and many of the community's offspring. In the U.S., components survive from what became a thriving expatriate community by the late nineteenth century, organizing a synagogue in 1865 and acquiring its present structure on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1905 (at 7 Willett St., see [www (dot) bialystoker (dot) org (slash) history.htm]).

For a reader seeking authentic bialys of pre-War Bialystock and the early twentieth century in the U.S., Ms. Sheraton offers only a few hints. Bakers made them larger than ones common today, she writes, perhaps about 15 cm diameter versus about 10 cm common now. Crusts were baked crisper and darker than now, and flakes of onion emerged toasted, while "puffy, soft" interiors of the rims were maintained. A coat of poppy seeds tended to be the rule rather than the exception that it is now. However, her informers who remembered the past also conveyed that there was no one invariable style but a sea of differences, varying with neighborhoods and bakers.

Unfortunately, Ms.
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