26 October 2008

Cholent-in-a-Can: It's Everywhere!

So I had an odd experience in Israel the week before last. My good friend Yair, with whom we were staying pulls out a can and says "look at what I've got. Cholent in a can!" To which I responded "huh?". It appears that they are now making Cholent in a can, convenient for any occasion: from intimate dinner parties to overseas jaunts.

Now for those of you who aren't familiar with cholent, or as it's known in the Sephardic Jewish world (and I believe the Talmud as well) as Chamin (a slightly different variation on the same theme), I will give you a brief explanation. In the olden days most Jews were quite poor, particularly in the Eastern European shtetl (village). This isn't to imply that most Jews today aren't poor, although at least in the US they often don't lack for food anymore (although there are exceptions particularly with the elderly which is why I believe unwieldy, high-overhead traditional Jewish charities like the UJA are still important and relevant since they are the ones who so often make initatives like JASA possible). Anyway back to my main point. The Jews were poor. So come the end of the week they needed something to eat for Shabbos that would be nutritional, palatable, and filling - that could be made from low quailty ingredients like old veggies, bits of meat, hardened beans, dirt and whatever else they could find (the last part about dirt was a joke, mostly). So they used the brilliant invention of Cholent: a stew into which everything could be put and cooked, continously for 24 - 36 hours straight until it had all become a nourishing stew with properties all its own. Plus since it's always on the fire, it can be kept warm without running into all sorts of technical Sabbath prohibitions about heating food. It als can be really quite good (and incidentally my friends Jen & David who are coming over tonight have offered to lend me their crock pot for the duration of my stay here in Paris, so I'll definitely be cooking up some Cholent while here if you want to try).

So now there is Cholent in a can. Seems a bit oxymornic to me, since Cholent is something that needs at least 18 hours of time to make - it's not the kind of food you'd think of as a microwave meal (except leftover cholent). But I can see the utility and Yair tells me it's not too bad. Apparently folks all over the world agree, because while I was in Le Marias (the touristy Jewish area of Paris) I was shocked to again see my new acquantaince, Mr. canned Cholent - he's everywhere!

Oh and for those meat-supramacist/veggie-haters/hardcore-Yavnehites (the Orthodox group at Columbia U. whose members seemed pretty opposed to my assertion that Cholent could be vegetarian) out there - guess what? Cholent in a can is vegetarian & parve no meat, but it's clearly callin' itself Cholent.

I was always really irritated by folks who claimed that Cholent "by definition requires meat, and if your's doesn't have meat you can't call it Cholent folks". Because (1) why do you need to deride someone else's cusine when it's made with care and love simply because no animals were killed in the process? And (2) they are idiots (or perhaps simply ignorant) - after all Cholent is simply whatever arises through stewing whatever you've got available for as long as advisable (perhaps a good deal longer) - my Cholent definitely fits that definition ;-)

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