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The flavour of matzoh is of scorched earth. The ingredients are simple: flour and water. The dough is made quickly. Thin slabs are pin pricked in long furrows so that the bread won’t puff when it bakes. The heat of the oven sears the top of each brittle piece with hundreds of charred scars. There is no yeast or fermented sourdough to soften the burnt flavour, no salt to sensualize the taste, no sugar to caramelize. Here is the most basic of breads: pure and unblemished. Even a small bite leaves my mouth parched.

More than a food, matzoh is a symbol. It is eaten first at the Passover Seder, a communal supper to which even strangers are traditionally invited. It is broken, as all good bread is, at the beginning of the meal and shared. There is ritual and joy. Companion, after all, means “with bread.”

“Matzohs . . . ” says a friend whose religion does not command her to eat them for eight days straight at this time of year, “ . . . oh yeah, Jewish diet crackers! I love ‘em.”

I do not. This is flat bread but there are lots of great flat breads on the world’s tables. You can buy matzohs made with salt and egg or onion but these are just feeble attempts to make the bible’s “bread of affliction” less afflictive. Matzoh no more belongs to the family of tortillas, na’ans and pitas than an ascetic does at a buffet.

Matzoh’s virtue is its simplicity. Merely eating it makes one feels pious. As a bread, it is best juxtaposed with other, more flamboyant flavours such as the sharp sting of horseradish at the traditional Passover meal or as a foil for good strawberry jam the next morning. Best of all is matzoh-brei: soak several matzohs in egg and milk, fry them in plenty of sizzling butter and serve with maple syrup. Matzoh’s essential naked purity means that, when eaten with just about anything else, the surrounding taste is almost sinful in comparison

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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