Review: The Bialy Eaters – The Story of a Bread and a Lost World, by Mimi Sheraton

I grew up with bialys in New York City. Places that sold bagels sold bialys. When you got bored of bagels, you had a bialy. But fast forward several decades, and I can barely remember them. They were never popular outside of New York, and though a quintessentially Jewish food, they were nowhere to be found in Israel. Eventually, I started making my own. And when I read about Mimi Sheraton’s book — knowing that she was the New York Times’ food writer, my expectations were high. But I was disappointed. This book is less about the bialys than it is about Mimi Sheraton’s “journey”. Though the book was researched and written at a time when the Internet was taking off, it is very Old School about research. She finds out someone’s name and tries to phone them and then someone answers in a foreign language, and of course she doesn’t speak any of the languages essential for this book (Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew, etc). She describes in some detail getting the address of someone who might know something, and knocking on the door and finding out that it is not the right address. This was starting to feel like a book that desperately wanted to be a magazine article. The book ends with a bialy recipe that goes on for pages and pages. The one I use is a couple of paragraphs long. Oh, and Mimi Sheraton learned from some Esperanto speakers in Israel (because Bialystok is the birthplace of both the bialy and the international language Esperanto) what the word for bialy is in that language. “Kuko”, she was told. And even that was wrong — kuko is Esperanto for “cake”, any cake at all.