Saved by Cholent
After the dish rescued my family from a robbery, I traveled the world searching for new ways to cook it
While Sephardic cuisine offers the most obvious differences from the cholent I grew up with, Hungary also has a special version all its own, called shalet. It’s similar to Eastern European cholents, but the additions of goose, and sometimes stuffed goosenecks, and of course, Hungarian paprika, make it unique. In fact, shalet is so delicious and special that it has become something of a national dish in Hungary, now widely available at many restaurants, although often not kosher. As Haim Shapiro wrote about shalet in the Jerusalem Post, “It was during a recent visit to Hungary that I found at least one country where Jewish cooking has very clearly influenced the local cuisine.”
In Budapest, the non-kosher restaurant Fülemüle has been serving Jewish classics for years, offering up six varieties of cholent, including one with foie gras and fried onions and another with goose leg, stuffed gooseneck, and the hickory-smoked meats former owner Andras Singer learned to make in Montreal. Singer passed away in July, and since then his son Viktor has taken the reins, making sure Hungarians continue to get their favorite dishes: “Our family [has] run the restaurant since 2000; my father [Andras], the founder, decided to serve my grandma’s cholent. Since then it became very popular. I would say the cholent is the flagship of Fülemüle.”
Although cholent is best when it’s homemade, in the last decade it’s become available in certain restaurants. In Manhattan, you can find traditional cholent at the 2nd Avenue Deli. Dovid’s Kosher, a little stand inside the lobby of 27 William Street/40 Exchange Place, sells Ashkenazi cholent on Fridays for lunch to the Wall Street crowd. In Brooklyn, many kosher restaurants in Orthodox neighborhoods sell traditional Ashkenazi cholent on Thursdays and Fridays, such as Gottlieb’s in South Williamsburg, Kold Kuts in Flatbush, and Deli 52 in Boro Park, which is often packed on Thursday nights. Westchester catering company Got Cholent/Gemstone Catering offers several varieties, including Polish, Moroccan, and Hungarian versions, as well as newer innovations like Texas Cholent, which has brisket, pastrami, assorted sausages, flanken, and kishka; and Mexican Encholente with chile con carne, Spanish rice, and poblano peppers in a tomatillo and chipotle sauce.
In Jerusalem, restaurants serving traditional Ashkenazi cholent abound in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah She’arim—just follow the yeshiva bokhurs on Thursday night. You can also find cholent on Thursday nights at Heimeshe Essen in Rechavia. Even Tel Aviv has its share of restaurants offering traditional cholent, including Keton and Café Batia, both on Dizengoff Street.
Many people have special associations with cholent. For me, cholent will always remind me of my family. And while I love learning about and tasting the many varieties of cholent, I know I will always go back to my mother’s simple version of barley, wheat berries, potatoes, onions, meat, and salt and pepper (we went bean-free several years ago). After it’s cooked for 18 hours, it still manages to be one of the tastiest combinations in the world.
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