I went to a public school in NYC. I went to a school with children whose families came from all corners of the world. Yet throughout my educational experiences and settings, I noticed that certain groups clearly made up the majority in my world. In my childhood, I went through waves of wishing I could be more like “them.” I secretly wanted to be Jewish.
There were a small number of Filipino families in my local neighborhood. And when one is Filipino, it typically means that you might be Roman Catholic too. I had a number of Jewish classmates, and as a result I learned plenty about their culture. The New York City Board of Education also observed a few of the Jewish holidays. I remember how great it was to begin school just after Labor Day, and about a week later, we got two days off for Rosh Hashanah. My parents, who knew little about the Jewish customs and holidays before moving to NY from Manila, and I, were quickly educated by my elementary classmates and their parents.
I also learned about Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. During my years in middle school, I attended many lavish bar/bat mitzvahs. My Catholic confirmation wasn’t as eventful as the catered affairs of my peers. I met this rite of passage along with 11 other boys and girls. Collectively, we recited our parts and then filed one after the other with our sponsors, to accept this sacrament. My Jewish friends, as I witnessed, celebrated individually, holding the stage completely on their own. As a result of attending so many, I ended up with a great collection of personalized party favors. Unlike the friends I grew up with, I didn’t have any Filipino National holidays, that were publicly acknowledged by the U.S., to brag about. Even Christmas didn’t seem as spectacular when my friends and I would compare this one-day event to their 7 day Hanukkah feast.
Besides learning so much about Jewish culture and religion, I was also introduced to plenty of Jewish food. Looking back, I am very thankful for the exposure and experience. As a student in college, these dishes concluded the evenings of our “girls nite out,” as we regularly ended up at one of the many diners opened 24/7. In fact, some of these foods sit on the top of my personal list of “Favorite Comfort Foods.” Hamentashen cookies, bagels, challah french toast style and blintzes come to mind. Even my mother developed a sore spot for matzo. I can easily picture my mom breaking this unleavened cracker in two, then spreading peanut butter and grape jelly on one. Then she would take the other piece and stick it on top and have her thin PB & J sandwich with a cup of coffee. My ultimate favorite is Matzo Ball Soup. When the weather is grim and it’s bitter cold outside, nothing soothes my chills better than a bowl of matzo ball soup.
I no longer carry the desire to be Jewish. I am not even much of a Catholic. Instead, I have turned into a worshiper of earthly delights. I am a devout foodie.
Chicken Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup (as adapted by a Filipino girl from Queens, NY)
Chicken Vegetable Broth
2-3 Tablespoons oil
1lb Chicken parts
1 onion peeled and diced
2 carrots peeled and sliced
2 celery peeled and sliced
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons salt (season according to your taste)
Pepper to taste
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
6 cups water
When hot, add onions and fry until soft.
Add carrots and celery and cook for another 5 minutes, stir to prevent vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add chicken(including bones), salt and herbs.
Boil for half hour.
When chicken is cooked, remove and strip away the meat from the bones.
Discard the bones and add the meat back to the pot.
Continue to let the broth boil and add the matzoh ball dumplings.
Matzoh Ball (should be prepared before the broth, needs to be refrigerated for a half hour)
1 cup of Matzo meal
4 large eggs
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
In a bowl:
Add oil, water, salt and pepper.
Then add matzo meal.
Refrigerate for up to 1/2 to an hour.
When ready to add to the soup, moisten hands and begin forming the meal into balls about 1″ in diameter.
Then drop balls into the broth and allow it to simmer for another 20-30 minutes.