“Pass the gefilte, please.” Don’t roll your eyes, ungrateful shmuck!
Sure, gefilte fish is one of those traditional eastern European Jewish foods that everyone loves to loathe. The poached white fish, ground up and pressed into loaves, and long associated with Passover and old people, may have developed a reputation for being slimy, gray, and generally unappealing in past decades, but so did offal and anchovies, and just look what Brooklyn’s culinary scene has done for them!
Gefilte fish and all kinds of Ashkenazi Jewish foods are back. Like Mile End and Shelsky’s Smoked Fish before them, The Gefilteria, a new Clinton Hill-based ‘pushcart start-up,’ is taking a ‘new Brooklyn’ attitude to Old World food by remembering what made them good in the first place: recipes steeped in tradition, made by hand with good ingredients.
Here’s The Gefilteria “Manifesto”:
In today’s reality, most families don’t store a live carp in the bathtub before the holidays anymore, or spend all day preparing labor-intensive foods with their grandmothers. Under the banner of convenience, the past several decades have seen treasured food traditions stuffed into jars and neglected, gefilte included.
Gefilte fish was once an innovative way to stretch how far one fish could go to feed a family, a powerful symbol of European peasantry. The canned variety, by contrast, is a poignant reminder of how far we’ve strayed from the old days, so much so that gefilte has become synonymous with the outdated, the gray, the antiquated and the Old World.
But we need not accept the extinction of this tradition, or of the robust, colorful, fresh flavors of Ashkenazi cuisine. We know that gefilte—like Borscht and kvass and so many Old World foods—is excellent when done right. It comes down to the basics of quality, freshness, care and creativity.
Gefilte is not just about your bubbe. It is not about kitsch or a foodie revolution. Gefilte is about reclaiming our time-honored foods and caring how they taste and how they’re sourced. It is about serving a dish with pride, and not simply out of deference to hollow convention. It is about taking food traditions seriously and reclaiming the glory of Ashkenazi food—what it has been and what it can be.
We of The Gefilteria plan to bring our foods out of the jar and back to the street, to the pushcarts where we began, to the flavors of the people.
And they’re not just Brooklynizing gefilte (made with sustainably caught Great Lakes whitefish and pike, of course): They’re reimagining borscht, pickles, krauts, a ginger kvass (which they call ‘the Jewish response to kombucha’), beet and carrot horseradish and black and white cookies.
The Gefilteria had their kickoff party on March 11th and are now taking orders for Passover, for delivery throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens on April 5th and 6th. Check out their products on their website, sign up for their email list, and keep an eye out for their modern day pushcart in your neighborhood.