Y’all, this is an urgent, emergency post.
As you may know from prior posts, I’m Jewish. My religious background gives me (and every other Jewish person in the world) the right to talk with complete authority about Jewish food.
One of the only, only things that I dislike about Birmingham is its lack of acceptable Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish food. Like the kind of food you would find at a real New York kosher-style deli. And the most important of all of the beloved deli foods is chicken soup, and more specifically, matzoh ball soup.
If you’ve never had matzoh ball soup before-oy gavalt, I don’t know what to tell you. You are missing out on one of the finest culinary experiences around. Matzoh is the unleavened bread eaten at Passover to represent bread eaten by Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt. According to this NPR piece, matzoh balls probably originated from Jews in the early part of the 20th century using matzoh crumbs from local bakeries to make dumplings.
All that history aside, to me, matzoh balls and matzoh ball soup (always in a rich, homemade chicken broth) are the food most strongly associated with my childhood. Recently, someone was telling me that her bubbe (grandmother) made the best matzoh balls. I countered that mine did the best job heating them up from the local deli. Either way, bubbes everywhere passed this important cultural symbol down to my generation.
Tonite, we ventured down 280 for some Trader Joe’s shopping and dinner at one of my favorite places, Eli’s Jerusalem Grill, a fantastic Isreali restaurant that serves my favorite hummus, kabobs, and shwarma (not to mention carrot and beet salad…. homemade pita…the list goes on….). We ordered our usual, paid, and were about to step away when……I saw it at the top of the menu:
MATZOH BALL SOUP.
How on earth had I missed this before? Foodies of Birmingham, why had none of you pointed out my glaring oversight? I have readers who write in when I misplace a comma but this…. how could you let me go on my merry way not knowing?
Obviously, we ordered it. The 10 minutes waiting was agony. I’ve been waiting for the last 4.5 years, but the home stretch is always the worst.
When it arrived, it looked beautiful. The ball was sizable but not so large as to be unwieldy (which happens sometimes).
I also noticed the consistency right away. There is an ages old debate between whether a matzoh ball ought to be a “floater” or a “sinker.” Serious Eats even did an incredible article on the topic complete with recipes. My favorite balls are somewhere in the middle: light and fluffy on the outside, a little meatier and more matzoh-y on the inside.
This ball was, as Serious Eats calls them, a “floater with substance.” Exactly the way I like them. The airiness of the ball allows it to take on the flavor of the broth, which was – I’m getting a little ferklempt just thinking about it – the best broth I have ever had. No exaggeration. Eli told us they cook the whole bird overnite to make the stock-and that is exactly what it tastes like. Perfectly salted, with some round carrots and chicken pieces in the mix, the stock plus the ball was my childhood in a bowl.
Here is the beautiful photographic evidence:
At an angle:
Top-down view-check out those carrots!
The couple next to us saw the fuss we were making and had to have a bowl too. We soon learned that this was their first matzoh ball ever. I felt privileged to be present at such a moment, especially with such an excellent specimen of a matzoh ball.
What an unexpected turn of events for an otherwise ordinary weeknight trip down 280.