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Jewish Foodies Are Turning Increasingly To Mexican Food — Despite The Politics

Over the past ten years, Jews have flirted with Mexican-Jewish food, creating unexpected fusion recipes (poblano matzo balls, anyone?), kosher taquerias, and Jewish-Mexican bakeries. With Izzy Eidelman, the creator of Izzy’s Kosher Steakhouse, now setting his sights on a taqueria in the beta-testing kosher area of Crown Heights (after all, if you can open a kosher restaurant in Crown Heights, you can open one anywhere), it’s clear that the Jewish community has turned to Mexican food for new cuisine inspiration.

Susan Schmidt runs Challah-peno, a blog dedicated to kosher Mexican food that started after her father requested a matzo ball with his pozole soup. After her family emigrated from Europe to Mexico in the late 1920s, Schmidt was born and raised in Mexico City, and her blog is an acknowledgment of that, with recipes like Spicy Latkes with jalapeno peppers, Manischevitz sangria and chicken tortilla kugel. “Cilantro is essential,” says Schmidt. “Serrano chile peppers. Kosher ceviche. When me and my husband traveled, we used to take our own chile peppers with us!”

Schmidt’s favorite dish is a slow-cooked barbacoa complete with cactus leaves. With Challah-peno, Schmidt’s carved out her corner of the Internet, and 500 people have followed her there. But it’s not all Manischewitz sangria for Schmidt.

“It’s a hard time to be Mexican,” says Schmidt. “It’s a hard time to be Jewish. Sometimes you think ‘do you really want to announce that you’re Mexican-Jewish?’” Schmidt quotes late night TV host Trevor Noah: “Hate immigrants all you want, but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food.” Schmidt’s Jewish friends tend to come to her house and eat her pico de gallo with gusto. “To see Jews loving Mexican food, cooking Mexican food, it warms my heart,” says Schmidt.

Emily Sacharin’s been experimenting with Jewish-Mexican fusion foods for a while. From Mexican black and white cookies, created using Mexican hot chocolate to things like horchata kugel and guava babka, Sacharin is pleased to see so many people eating Mexican food. “Even if it’s not a direct political action, it is embracing multiculturalism and the ways Mexico makes America great,” says Sacharin, who is not Mexican, although the maternal side of her family ended up in Mexico City.

The Mexican-Jewish food journey began when Sacharin’s Mexican friend Brigitte Santana gave her a tour of California neighborhood Boyle Heights, once a flourishing mixed Jewish-Mexican neighborhood that is now rapidly gentrifying. “There was a wild mosaic planter box we walked by, with the a Torah and rabbi and a mariachi on it, and that sparked a conversation. What if we opened a Mexican Jewish bakery to celebrate our collective heritages?”

When it comes to Jewish Mexican restaurants, there are brick-and-mortar spots like Mexikosher NYC, Carlos and Gabby’s, and Texas’ Mexican bakery Rustika. There are places like Masa Madre, an online bakery with Mexican-Jewish inspired goods, and Emily Sacharin’s Panaderia (Spanish for bakery), which Sacharin hopes will be a brick-and-mortar community bakery in Boyle Heights one day. She sees the rise of Mexican-Jewish restaurants as a form of political defiance. “With Trump people absolutely have to think about what their values are. It’s a way of putting your values on the table.”

Masa Madre is a Mexican-Jewish made-to-order bakery located in Chicago, the product of a Jew and a Mexican, Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres. They believe that “Mexican culture can be understood by its cuisine. It is very comforting, flavorful and colorful.” For these Mexico City natives, Masa Madre “is a great opportunity for Americans to discover Mexico far beyond the wall.”

Masa Madre’s been getting attention for its babka, which photographs like a 90s supermodel. In fact, most of their photographs they post are well attended by a supportive and starving community, who offer comments like “Buenísimas!!!” and “This is the best thing I have ever eaten you two are amazing.” The owners say this support, from all their customers, is what keeps them baking.

“We’re both from Mexico City, and come from families that put a lot of heart into a home-cooked meal,” they wrote in an email. “We believe that food has the power of bringing people together. We wish to see this kindness and unity keep spreading in our Chicago community.”

Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at [email protected] and @shirafeder

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