A Russian Jew Cooks in Peru
When Deborah Trapunsky’s family moved to Lima in 1998, they were among a small group of wealthy Jewish immigrants. But they struggled to find their place within a community that often felt hermetic.
With Oh-jala, she aims to change that by forging a new kind of Jewish identity through food. This appealing cookbook introduces a world of recipes that bend and blend culinary traditions.
A lovely hand lettered and illustrated book with recipes from the Russian Jewish community that settled in Peru in the 20s and 30s. It chronicles the unique cuisine that grew out of that community while illustrating their firm hold on Jewish tradition (cooking) despite their assimilation into Peruvian culture.
The cookbook opens with a disclaimer that any similarity to kosher cookery is purely coincidental, priming us for the cornucopia of recipes willfully blending and bending culinary traditions. From the first page, there are several examples of this fluidity; bunuelos (written here as boumwelos), which combines matzah frying with a Greek pastry technique, and a recipe for fried chicken with onions that blends Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Persian cooking.
Deborah Trapunsky’s parents were among the many Russian born Jews to immigrate to Lima in the early 1970s. With Oh-jala, Trapunsky seeks to combat negative stereotypes about Jews and to encourage the integration of Lima’s small Jewish community into Peruvian society. She wants her restaurant to become a meeting point for Jews and non-Jews, as well as a place where people can learn about Judaism. Towards that end, she has created the cookbook A Russian Jew Cooks in Peru, which focuses on traditional Jewish food from Russia and the Ukraine.
The book chronicles the unique cuisine that arose out of Jewish immigrant communities in Peru. Recipes like Matzo meal Bocaditos and Pecante de cuy (prepared with Rabit) are both delicious and interesting. It is a great addition to any culinary collection.
Trapunsky has discovered that many non-Jewish Peruvians know little to nothing about Jewish holidays, traditions and food, which contributes to negative stereotypes. She sees her work at Oh-jala as more than a business; it is her attempt to combat these stereotypes, foster interaction between Jews and non-Jews in Lima and show Peruvians that Judaism is part of their own heritage.
A popular revolution brings a liberal Provisional Government to power. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost encourages people to express their religious and cultural identities and leads to the demise of state restrictions on the life of Jews, including the Pale and prohibitions against educating Jewish children in public schools (RFE/RL 21 May 1990b, 27). Popular anti-Semitism, however, rises to the surface during times of economic crisis and political instability (Lowe 1993, 6). A series of pogroms erupt across Russia. Approximately 100,000 people are killed, and another 300,000 are sent into exile to Siberia, Ukraine, Belarus and other Soviet republics (Lowe 1993, 67). The massacre of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen is particularly brutal.
This book chronicles the unique cuisine that arose out of the Russian Jewish immigrant communities in Peru in the 20s and 30s. It focuses on vegetarian cooking and the combination of foods that arose out of combining Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Persian and Georgian recipes with the indigenous dishes of Peru. It also shows the hold that Jewish tradition has on cooking despite an overwhelming assimilation into their new homelands.
A Russian Jew Cooks in Peru is a wonderful, albeit flawed, cookbook that provides insight into the impact of immigration on local cuisine. It provides a glimpse into a part of Jewish history that isn’t very well known and it’s an excellent resource for anyone who wants to explore the way in which cultures influence each other through food.
Phaidon generally publishes two types of cookbooks: big, glossy chef cookbooks and encyclopaedic cookbooks that focus on the foods of a specific country (Thailand, Mexico, India, The Foods of Lebanon). This book falls into the latter category and it is a comprehensive look at Peruvian cuisine authored by the country’s most famous chef. The book is organized by dish rather than by region and most recipes have very short headnotes. The cookbook would have been improved by a chapter on the food culture of Peru and by a few more pictures of key ingredients and finished dishes.