I opened it not expecting much. It’s quite heavy, and, let’s be honest – when was the last time you used an encyclopedia for anything? But with each entry I skimmed in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks (Wiley Hardcover, $40), I wanted more. And more it’s got. More on not just the standard Eastern European Jewry we tend to think of, but also Sephardic, American, the Bene Israel in India, and others. Where other “Jewish” cookbooks cover topics like holiday recipes or regional cooking, this one covers terms, traditions, recipes, and, well, more.
Although it’s not for everyone, it is exceedingly helpful for those with an inquisitive mind and an adventurous palate. Ever wondered what’s the difference between pita and naan (and non, and nan – that’s right, there are separate entries for all four of them)? Or where corned beef originated? How about a basic recipe for za’atar and how to use it (not to mention, what it is)? The history of kugel? What nigella is? It’s got all those things and, you know, more (there’s a theme here…).
Once you open the back cover and read about the author, it all starts to make sense how a book combining epicurean appreciation, biblical insight, and storytelling came to be: Gil Marks is a rabbi, historian, social worker, self-made gourmet cook, and has an array of culinary-focused books to his name, including the James Beard Award-winning Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World. So, it makes sense that this kind of thoroughness would be the product of his labors.
A shortcoming? It is exceedingly short in the photo department, containing what seems like scarcely more than a handful of photos in its hefty 656 pages – and all are in black and white. In its defense, many other extremely handy books have a similar lack of pictures and we appreciate them all the same. (Even if it takes us longer to warm up to them.)
This would make a great gift for a foodie this Hanukkah. Or their birthday. Or as a host/ess gift for Pesach. You get the idea. More than trivia meant for small talk, if used properly this could be as useful as Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook and Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking.
Disclosure of Material Connection, required by the FTC: TC Jewfolk received a complimentary review copy of the book.