My memory of Brighton Beach of the time that’s captured here is faint at this point. I vaguely can conjure up images of my mother’s friends who lived in Brighton, and my trips across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there. Though I was often adverse to foods at this stage, it’s not at all odd to me now that what I remember most from my visits to Brooklyn is the food.
I recall my mother’s passion for the delicacies from her motherland and her quest to find them; Little Odessa was often the place to oblige her palate. Hot golden-colored pirozhki pop in my mind. We enjoyed these treats with either savory or sweet fillings. Made from a yeast dough, the buns would be shallow-fried and turn out golden in color, a bit oily to the touch and taste, it would be stuffed with chopped meat and mixed with sautéed onions. Mashed potatoes stuffed inside was another option and sometimes I’d be surprised to find sautéed mushrooms hiding within as well. A sweet option that was never truly sweet but memorable would be pirozhki stuffed with sour cherries. The cherries I remember would make me pucker. A few pirozhki, usually the meat-filled ones, would be wrapped up in parchment paper and placed in a brown paper bag for the ride home. Bialys fresh from a bakery, likely nearby, would also find themselves stuffed into a paper bag, while one would always make its way into my hand instead. Today I would grab these rolls if I could get them. Bialys are a bit like a pizza crust-like bread with a deep center filled with diced onions, and usually poppy seeds would be sprinkled inside as well. Other delicacies to discover would be pickles, and most certainly pickled herring, along with a smorgasbord of other fish such as smoked sturgeon, lox, trout – and only the finest quality would do. It sounded to me often like arguing but my mother would fervently speak to the shopkeepers or folks behind the counter in Russian or Yiddish, I would pick up bits here or there of the conversation as she searched for the finest tidbits to taste.
Eventually settling in for meal at a friend’s home we’d find a plate of varenykis, dumplings, sometimes also called pierogi. These too would be stuffed with a variety of combinations, spinach and cheese, potatoes and onions, or a meat filling similar to the pirozhki. Finely chopped and sautéed onions would be served on top if filed with meat, a large dollop of sour cream if it was potato pierogi. Sour cream seemed to find it’s way atop what seemed most dishes, including my favorite, blinztes, very similar to a crêpe and filled with farmers cheese or pot cheese. Likely from my memories I would decline to eat anything more at this point, and with the conversation in dedicated Russian, I often could escape from the table without protest and seek comfort in a book, a friend who usually was in tote wherever I would travel. Books continue to be my faithful friends today, though I could never have imagined engaging in such an affair with food.
The pictures were taken by photographer Carol Kitman in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and shared with permission.