If you’ve ever wanted a glimpse into the world of 1950s New York through the eyes of a young Jewish-American mother and comedian, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is your show. While it’s a fascinating peek into the world during those formative years, it’s also an homage to the power of community, family and ultimately, food. Through the plot twists and turns, Midge Maisel’s family and friends are seen laughing, talking, fighting and making up over classic NYC Jewish delicacies. Food and cooking are at the center of the show, and the important part of the Maisels family gatherings. At every step of the way throughout their lives, for all the important decisions and discussions, food is what brings them together.
Take Midge’s wedding, for example, which incites rage in the attending rabbi who didn’t know there was shrimp in the egg rolls. For Jewish communities, seafood is strictly off-limits so her decision to include them in the crispy fried rolls is a daring one that sets up her character as the sprightly, self-possessed and non-traditional figure we see her become.
Later on, when Midge and Joel’s marriage dissolves after infidelity, we see the two families try to reconcile their differences over a shared meal that includes deviled eggs and martinis — a departure from the comfort of chicken stock and matzah ball soup that the Maisels prefer. As expected, the meal does not go particularly well. One that does is a shared pot of macaroni and cheese when the two decide to co-parent — it’s a distinctly modern American favorite and an interesting choice as these two depart from the sanctity of marriage and embark on a modern American journey.
When Midge’s career looks as though it’s actually going somewhere, she meets with friend Imogene at The Stage Deli, a formidable presence in and of itself, where she orders for the woman who is unfamiliar with Jewish deli traditions. What does she order? Only the classics, namely: hot pastrami Reuben on rye, chicken in a pot, potato knish, matzah ball soup, cheese Danish, a lime rickey and a couple of black and white cookies. While this seems like a veritable feast, it’s a culinary homage to the cultural cuisine of the day. Pastrami on rye has remained a mainstay at traditional Jewish delis (think Katz’s), and chicken in a pot simply refers to a vat of chicken soup. Potato knish is a delicious pastry-wrapped starch treat and matzah ball soup is pretty much a given with any Jewish meal. The cheese Danish, however, is an anomaly but all is forgiven with the black and white cookies, which are iconic to the sect and the city.
Family dinners involve traditional Jewish fare and rifts on 50’s and early 60’s favorites, including fried walnuts and butter cookies, and toast and grapefruit in the mornings. All in all, the butcher shops, like Lutzi’s, diners like the City Spoon, and all of the greasy spoons Midge and Susie encounter after late-night shows encompass the vibrancy and feeling of New York’s food scene in the 50s and 60s and call to mind a character straddling faith and city, tradition and modernity, independence and family in the greatest city on earth — with the greatest food on earth.
Hungry for more?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel returns for its third season on December 6th, 2019 on Amazon Prime