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The Bialy Eaters (2000)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767910559, Paperback)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
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:05 -0400)
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