Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some….cholent

17 Nov

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.

SHUL: Synagogue

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


9 Responses to “Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some….cholent”

  1. Eli Hillman November 18, 2009 at 09:36 #

    Rebecca you’ve done it again, maybe even funnier than the last. I like the use of “unctuous”. I also like the juxtaposition of fuel sales and shtetl food. Eli

  2. Laoise November 18, 2009 at 10:07 #

    Lovin the stories Rebecca. Very visual humour – could see this as a video blog… Who knew that there was so much creativity in going to the supermarket and the garage??? Big hugs, Laoise

  3. Abigail November 18, 2009 at 11:19 #

    The eat all the time, when you want cholent phenomenon has been going on prob a lot longer in Israel- in a unassuming little place in Meer Shearim in Jeruslem, there exists a 24/7 365 days of the year (well, excluding Shabbat and the fasts!) CHOLENT shop! This is THE hang out of all the bachurim so rumours have it, who crave the holy taste of Shabbat cholent any day of the week!

    Lrts just say, I wouldn’t want to be too near those bean laden bachurim- tee hee!!!

  4. Valerie Tesler November 18, 2009 at 16:06 #

    Unbelievable! who knew..? have passed on to my friend from Monsey… I am a cholent fan tho just for Shabb – takes 5 mins and takes up no space in fridge or hotplate… x

  5. Yasmina November 18, 2009 at 16:37 #

    Hi Rebecca,
    I love the way your write …so smooth and simple that you are stuck to the end!!!

    I want more !

  6. Michelle Berkley-Choukroun November 18, 2009 at 17:28 #

    unctuous unctuous – ha ha
    hilair hilair – beats “la daff” any day of the week x

  7. Gaëlle L. November 21, 2009 at 17:07 #

    I am loving Rebecca in NYC!! xxx

  8. Laszlo February 26, 2010 at 03:37 #

    my cholent is not my mother cholent. No word about it, cause I am vegetarian. But who from you has some recipe to good and juicy vegetarian cholent? Send me some, bevakasha.
    Toda, L.


  1. A spiritual activist takes on the tznius (modesty) police « rebeccainspace - October 11, 2012

    […] Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some cholent […]

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