Why Jewish cuisine in Belarus?
Belarusian cuisine has long been intertwined with the cuisine of Jews living in our country. Traditionally, the vast majority of the tenants of the urban and village inns were Jews. And it was through them that many new food ingredients penetrated into Belarus. Same as new cooking methods, such as the technology for cooking grated potato dishes in the middle of the 19th century. But this was not “one-way traffic” at all. Similarly, Jews borrowed a lot from the cuisine of the local people – Belarusians, Lithuanians, Poles. Some of these borrowed dishes, such as knishes or kishke, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries have become very popular over the ocean. And not only among Jewish immigrants, but also among all Americans.
Belarusian or Jewish?
One can’t say unambiguously about some dishes from our menu – whether they are Belarusian or Jewish. You can try e.g. a sandwich with a herring forshmak (grated herring snack). Trading in herring has been concentrated for centuries in the hands of Jews, and they cooked it best of all. “Krupnik” soup, which for many centuries was the main soup of the menu of both Belarusians and Jews. We cook it with beef, but at the request of a specific guest we can make a vegetarian option. And even the seemingly banal draniki (grated potato fritters) – can be regarded famous Jewish “Bulba latkes”. This name of the dish, was borrowed into Yiddish from Belarusian language. Some people also claim that the secret of the famous American “cheese cake” was taken by our local Jews to the USA some 130-140 years ago.
And we gladly pay the tribute
In Kuhmistr restaurant, we are trying to pay tribute to this centuries-old peaceful cultural interaction. From which both sides have benefited. We intclude some of these dishes into our menu. Sometimes, on major Jewish holidays, we organize mini-festivals of such Belarusian-Jewish dishes. And our favorite and often-played musical instrument — cymbals (also called dulcimer) — was also brought to Belarus by Jewish musicians – klezmers. In the romantic poem by Adam Mickiewicz, “Pan Tadeusz,” one of the main characters, Yankel, plays cymbals masterfully. It seems to us that our wonderful cymbalists have learned to play no worse.
Unfortunately, there are no truly Jewish restaurants in Minsk. In fact, not at all. Being a Belarusian restaurant, we cannot properly replace them. But we are always ready to smile and say “Shalom!” to our Jewish guests. And to introduce them to our kitchen, which is difficult to imagine without Jewish influence. Smachna estsi – Bon appetit – Be Teyavon!