When once offered a matzo ball in her soup, actress Marilyn Monroe famously asked, “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?” While the actress worried about ingesting a matzo ball, our people have consumed all sizes and weights of the ball floating in rich chicken soup for centuries. Few foods are as satisfying, especially when temperatures begin dropping during the winter.
According to famous Jewish chef, Joan Nathan, matzo balls originated in the 19th century. Matzo became mass-produced, and people could buy leftover crumbs that were turned into a form of dumpling that was popular in Germany. In the U.S., Manischewitz sold them under the name “Alsatian feathery balls”, in the 1930s. Soon after, they simply became “matzo balls”, and came to dominate the appetizer category of every high-quality Jewish deli. In my home, I am most excited when my mom decides to cook her chicken soup, a recipe handed down to her by her mother and grandmother, and my dad supplements the soup with his matzo balls – a recipe he found after a Google search. No matter the origins of the recipes, I’m always excited when my parents say that’s for dinner. There is just something so comforting about taking that first sip of chicken soup filled with a matzo ball (or two!), chicken, carrots, and egg noodles. It always makes me happy.
I see three main reasons why matzo ball soup is the best food; it’s enjoyable all-year-round, it fits everyone’s soup preference, and it always reminds me of the holidays and my family. I know what you’re thinking, “Audrey, soup in the summer? It’s too hot.” However, a number of studies have found that ingesting liquids hotter than your internal temperature actually allows the body to store less heat – it essentially has a cooling effect on the body. Don’t argue with me. Take it up with Ollie Jay’s Thermal Ergonomics Lab!
So, warm soup in the fall and winter is a must. In the spring, matzo ball soup is basically the 11th commandment and should dominate any Passover seder. Matzo ball soup also has all the components of a balanced diet; protein (chicken), fat (broth), carbs (matzo), fiber (vegetables), vitamins and minerals (vegetables), and water. It simply offers a complete dining experience. Also, with matzo ball soup you can customize your servings to match your culinary preferences.
Whenever my family has matzo ball soup, it’s served in many different ways. My dad doesn’t like too much broth, so he loads it up with matzoh balls, chicken, and vegetables. My mom loves broth and veggies, and half of a matzo ball. I get a little of everything in the pot, including parsnips, my personal favorite part of the soup. Even with all of these changes, my family can still sit down and enjoy a meal without complaints. Everyone gets what they want. Take that carrot soup!
Finally, the reason matzo ball soup is the best food is because it reminds me of the Jewish holidays and my family gathering together to share tender moments that soon erupt into arguments. Perfect! Ever since I was a little kid, matzo ball soup was a Feld family staple. It has never disappointed. One year during Passover my family was in New York City, and the food options were very limited. But, we found a Jewish deli and satisfied our hunger with a bowl of matzo ball soup—just like the slaves when they left Egypt! (Let me embellish). During the past few months, while in lockdown and social distancing, I sometimes wished matzo makers like Manischewitz, Streit’s, and Yehuda had teamed together to fund a study on the positive impact of matzo ball soup on fighting COVID-19. As my grandmother says, “It may not help, but it couldn’t hurt.”
Audrey Feld is a BBG from Northern Region East: Northern Virgina who has seen 51 of the top 100 movies of all time.
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