Illuminating Sephardic Jewish Food Traditions

By Nicole Fogarty

Jessica Underwood Varma, left, and Sarah Lohman at “Hidden Immigration Histories of the Lower East Side: Sephardic Jewish Food Traditions” on June 4, 2018.

Hidden histories were revealed at Henry Street Settlement on June 4, 2018, when over 75 curious individuals gathered in the Settlement’s historic dining room for the public history program Hidden Immigration Histories of the Lower East Side: Sephardic Jewish Food Traditions.

The evening opened with remarks from David Garza, Executive Director of Henry Street, who noted that through these events, the Settlement is “trying to unearth some of the hidden histories on the Lower East Side—the untold stories.” This, he said, is especially important as Henry Street celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2018.

Garza introduced the event’s speakers: Sarah Lohman and Jessica Underwood Varma. Lohman, who spoke at the first Hidden Immigration Histories event in May, is a culinary historian and the author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, and Varma is an Education Associate for Costumed Interpretation at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Lohman and Varma took the audience through Sephardic Jewish history in Europe, the Middle East and its arrival in America. The lively discussion wove historical facts with stories, cultural traditions, and the evolution of different recipes through the centuries.

Audience members shared their family stories of Sephardic Jewish immigration, recalling fond memories of cooking some of the foods discussed.

The event concluded with food, and lots of it! After learning the history of dishes like bumuelos, burekas and halva, guests were treated to samples. The audience mingled, bought books (thanks to a pop-up from Bluestockings Bookstore, Activist Center and Fair Trade Café), and even enjoyed their snacks in the Settlement’s garden—the site of one of the nation’s first playgrounds!

The event was co-sponsored by the Museum at Eldridge Street. Check out more about their upcoming events here.

Miss out on this edition of Hidden Immigration Histories? Click here to view video of the event.

Hidden Immigrantion Histories of the Lower East Side is a free public program to celebrate the Settlement’s 125th birthday in 2018. It is funded, in part, by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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