WELCOME to my food blog straight from Vienna’s Island of Shattered Glass (“Glasscherbeninsel” a.k.a. “Mazzesinsel”, Matzo Island). Post-Second World War Vienna is marked by the destruction and murder of its Jewish inhabitants and its intellectual, cultural and social life. The Viennese are still struggling to fully grasp the void created by this rupture of civilization.1
Cooking soothes my anxieties. It is an easy, fun, inexpensive way to add meditation, health, and social connection to my daily routine. Cooking serves as therapy for my own lurking depression. Plus, eating good food benefits everyone, family and guests included!
I’ve always been in charge of everyday cooking in my family and with my friends. I cooked as a child. I cooked a lot as a student. While writing my Ph.D. dissertation on Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, I even worked, lived and loved in a Parisian restaurant.
Not only is cooking my therapy, I’m deeply fascinated by the cultural – especially sociological and anthropological – aspects of food, particularly Vienna’s melting-pot cuisine’s Jewish, Italian, Hungarian, Bohemian etc. influences.
Of course, cooking cannot replace proper psychotherapy.
But, first of all, the simple process of washing and cutting up vegetables can be a rewarding meditative ritual and practice. And, the practice of nurturing others helps you feel better about yourself. Ultimately, good food will make you happy!
What and how you eat shows how you define yourself. To become aware of one’s cuisine, of ingredients and preparations, repeating, elaborating, and thereby amplifying one’s interpretations – a culinary equivalent to the psychotherapeutic working through – is hopefully at the heart of the posts on this blog.
Ever since your mother’s milk, all eating must surely be an oral fixation.
Sigmund Freud’s ideas have shaped the West. They themselves have literally been nourished by Viennese cuisine, which in its modern form emerged around the same time as psychoanalysis. The founder of psychoanalysis always had very particular tastes and preferences regarding food. He offered at least one cookbook to his wife, Martha Bernays, and later, another cookbook to their cook. And then there’s Freud’s own (apocryphal) cookbook. These pages try to investigate, albeit light-heartedly, the relations between food and thought, particularly of psychoanalytical ideas and Viennese food.
My rather simple strategy is to let go and act upon my food-related impulses, cooking, eating, watching and reading. I combine them with my passion for knowledge, the need to understand, and the desire to be entertaining and funny. This slowly transforms the destructive egotistic elements into personally and socially valuable assets, if you will, because I must actually produce eatable and readable results. Why do I have to? Because of a little trap, a honey pot I set up for my Narcissus: I don’t want to disappoint the waiting guests at the table, nor the readers of this blog.
My cosmopolitan kitchen
While to some extent my culinary interests have a Southern Central-European and Austro-Hungarian focus, my kitchen is global, or at least European. Due to my periods of life in Vienna, Budapest, Paris, Tel-Aviv, as well as my frequently prolonged stays throughout life in Venice and New York, my cooking combines many countries and cultures.
With increased travel and the exchange of information via the internet, cuisine is globalizing. New ways of cooking mean telling new stories. What I hope to evoke with my blog are highlights from the stories we tell ourselves through our food.
The Hebrew letter shin of my logo is an abbreviation for the word “shibboleth,” the password and cultural marker. This blog is my shibboleth, the homolog from the Book of Judges, whose pronunciation distinguished the Ephraimites from the Gileadites. What I offer is a welcoming shibboleth: cultural passageways, passwords. Humor is often part of the mix.
The letter shin also marks the entrance to many traditional and religious Jewish homes. Shin stands for שדי, Shaddai, meaning the Almighty. It is written on a small casing called mezuzah, literally meaning “doorpost,” because that’s where it is affixed. The casing itself contains the very verses from which the obligation to affix a mezuzah to the doorpost is derived. But my logo has no such religious application. Rather it marks the head of every page on this website, the way logos usually do. It designates a cultural rather than a religious realm. No discussion of verses, but that of recipes.
Together with my stones,
heavy with weeping
behind the bars,
they dragged me
to the middle of the market,
where the flag unfurls to which
I did not swear an oath.
double-flute of the night:
think back to the dark
in Vienna and Madrid.
Set your flag at half-mast,
today and for-ever.
here too reveal yourself,
here in the midst of the market.
Call the shibboleth, call it out
into the foreignness of your homeland:
February. No pasarán.
you know of the stones,
you know of the waters,
I shall lead you away
to the voices
I hope these pages will inspire you to start your own culinary journey. You don’t have to start at the beginning, nor with the basics. No preliminaries necessary. Start where your heart is. Right now! And repeat tomorrow. Make it a habit to cook at least one meal every day.
More about me:
- Born in the early 1970s on the way from Paris to Vienna.
- The 1970s were the era of Bruno Kreisky4 as social democratic chancellor of Austria. During that decade, the famous assimilated and agnostic Jew publicly quarreled with Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal of poor Eastern European descent, over the way to deal with former Nazis, supporting Israel and Jewish identity in general.5
- I grew up speaking almost exclusively Hungarian in Vienna. I had to learn proper Austrian German at the age of 6, upon entering school in Vienna.
- My mother doesn’t like to cook. (She is a terrible cook indeed – sorry Mami.) My father, however, does not cook at all, except, evidently, barbecuing. (Instead, he likes to row real Venetian Gondolas, whether in Venice or Vienna.)
- Why does my name sound so Italian? Well, because it is. It is my father’s and was his father’s, although he was born next to Sziget in Romania, not in Italy.
- I was a teenager in 1986, the year the Waldheim affair shook the country, when a former intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht, member of the NSDAP6 and the SA7 became president of Austria.
- On April 26th, 1986, the day of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, we were told we shouldn’t go out in the rain anymore, nor chew on grass. No more foraging for mushrooms in the Vienna Woods, as Sigmund Freud loved to do with his family.
- The famous Vincennes University, the University of Paris VIII – of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou, Jean Narboni and many others – was where I studied History of Art, Philosophy, and Film for more than a decade!
- On 9/11 at 9 o’clock, I was eating French toast when I saw the smoking towers from a rooftop in Crown Heights.
- Later, I lived in Israel for seven years with my family in a suburb of Tel-Aviv, where we ran a photo studio.
- Right now, we are living and working in Vienna, relying heavily on the city’s many wonderful coffeehouses. As they say about Viennese coffeehouses: There’s one you’d use as your office, another one as your living room and still another that serves as your salon. And then there’s the one you’d never go to.
- “Why Vienna?” asked me the magazine WINA for its 2017 June edition. Have a look at my short answer, not the least to see the excellent picture Ronnie Niedermeyer took of me at Café Korb.
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- So, why do I live in Vienna? The magazine WINA asked me this question for its 2017 June edition. Have a look at my short answer, not the least to see the excellent picture Ronnie Niedermeyer took of me at Café Korb.
- Paul Celan (Wikipedia) and his collected works
- I made this attempt in translating Paul Celan’s poem heavily relying on the excellent translation by Edward Mackinnon in Paul Celan’s Political Touchstone, but also Michael Humberger and Christopher Middleton’s translation published in Paul Celan – selected poems (Penguin Modern European Poets, 1972).
- Austria’s most notable post-World-War-II politician. The social democrat leader established the small country on the world stage. See Wikipedia on Bruno Kreisky for more.
- Kreisky–Peter–Wiesenthal affair (Wikipedia)
- Germany’s Nazi Party (1920-1945)
- The SA (German for Sturmabteilung, literally “Storm Detachment”) was the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP).