Important preliminary explanation: CHOLENT – A greasy stew made up of any or all variety of beans, barley, pulses, spuds, carrots and lumps of unidentifiable meat (or without for the vegetarian version) etc which is slow cooked overnight from before the start of Sabbath on Friday evening and generally eaten by Jewish people for Saturday lunch. Origins in eastern European Jewish communities from a long time ago to provide warmth through the bitter winters. Etymological root said to be the French “chaud lent” – slow heat. (For other unfamiliar terms, please refer to the “Glossary for the uninitiated” at the bottom of this post)
Question: Surely cholent – that stodgy, heavy, greasy stew that many of us Ashkenazi Yidden are partial to, the one that makes you need to collapse heaving, rendered immobile, on the sofa for many an hour on a Shabbos afternoon, should only and ever be eaten for Shabbos lunch (usually after a long and arduous stint in shul in the morning), and never at any other time in the week?
Answer: YES if you live anywhere in the whole world except for Monsey. NO if you live in Monsey.
For you see, I have just returned from a most pleasant and insightful weekend spent at my sister-in-law and brother-law and family who live in the most pleasant locale of Monsey, a smallish, mediumish, largeish town in upstate New York. And in Monsey you will discover, cholent has taken on an omnipresent, omniscient, all-singing all-dancing presence.
For Monsey is not what it first seems – a typically small-town American small town. It is in fact a modern-day shtetl set in modern-day USA where thousands of Hassidic and other types of Jews have made their home. Here you can find Mordechai the Jewish locksmith, Benyomin the Jewish hauler, Mr Glatt the kosher butcher, and so on and so on.
And this is where the cholent story comes in. For in Monsey, you can now buy cholent ANYWHERE! ANYTIME! No longer sold on Friday afternoons before Shabbos, the cholent scourge is creeping earlier and earlier back in the week. You now have to cringe at that unmistakeably overpowering cholenty smell when you pop down to your local bagel shop for breakfast of a Thursday morning.
And much much crazier than that, you can now go down to your local Jewish-owned Shell garage, and while you fill up your massive American automobile, you can nip into the garage shop and buy a bowl of STEAMING HOT FRESH CHOLENT bubbling on a giant-sized hotplate!!!
According to a well-informed local source, the Shell garage is only one of a number of local “cholent hang-outs” where the chow is now on sale most nights of the week, and where some young Hassidic men and women go to surreptitiously eye each other up over a bowl of the unctuous stuff. In fact, my source claims it is only a matter of time until the said-cholent-guzzlers are, shock horror, chatting each other up à la “So how’s your kishka?” Surely not! Horror of horrors! A slippery slope! Where will this end!
And if that were not bad enough, these Jews – generally so punctilious about eating only strictly kosher food stamped with a hundred or so proofs of its “kosherness” by a whole gamut of rabbis – are apparently eating cholent WITHOUT A HECHSHER ON IT! Stop! Say no more!
(OK, so I’m exaggerating a little bit – it’s not really as bad as it sounds, for the cholent is made by none other than the extremely frum garage owner’s extremely frum wife. But even so, they should know better.)
Indeed, there have been sightings of said Shell garage owner scurrying back and forth between his garage and his nearby home weighed down by huge steaming pots of the stuff. Unconfirmed reports state that his cholent revenues now vastly exceed his petrol revenues.
Next visit to Monsey, make no mistake about it, I’m making a pilgrimage to this cholent heaven to sample for myself. Pictures to follow.
Glossary for the uninitiated:
ASHKENAZI: Jews originating from central and eastern Europe, who tend to be pale of skin and whose ancestors probably spoke Yiddish at some point or another.
YIDDEN: “Jews” in Yiddish.
SHABBOS: The Jewish Sabbath, or day of rest, beginning Friday sundown and ending Saturday sundown. Also pronounced “Shabbat”.
SHTETL: A close-knit Jewish community, where everyone knows each other’s business. The term was first used to refer to such communities in eastern Europe in previous centuries.
HECHSHER: A certificate proving that restaurants, packaged food etc are kosher.
FRUM: A Yiddish term to denote Orthodox or practising Jews.
This post is dedicated to Family Kind