Tag Archives: tradition

The Oldest Restaurant in Kabul: Where Tradition Trumps Rockets

Illustration by Joe Gough.

Maija Liuhto | Longreads | September 2017 | 10 minutes (2875 words)


In the Old City of Kabul, there is an area known as Ka Forushi, the bird market. Visiting this old, roofed bazaar with its tiny lanes, spice sellers, and dancing boys is like walking into a scene out of “One Thousand and One Nights.”

It is here, among the clucking chickens, crowing roosters, and cooing doves, that Kabul’s oldest restaurant, Bacha Broot, has been serving delicious chainaki — traditional lamb stew — for over 70 years. Bacha Broot, named after the original owner who had peculiar facial hair, is from the Dari, meaning “boy with a mustache.”

While wars have raged on the restaurant’s doorstep, very little has changed inside. The claustrophobic stairs, the sparse interior, the tiny door easily missed in the maze-like bazaar; all in their original state. While modern fast food joints lure Afghanistan’s younger generations with pizza and burgers, Bacha Broot stays loyal to its recipe for success. The famous chainaki — lamb on the bone, split peas, and onions cooked for four hours in tiny teapots — has drawn customers for decades, during war and peace, good times and bad.

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On Mastery: Learning Kyudo — One of Japan’s Oldest and Most Respected Martial Arts

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leigh Ann Henion was drawn to archery by her grandfather’s passion for it. She travels to Japan to improve her archery skills by learning Kyudo — a form of archery that is one of Japan’s oldest martial arts. In her short yet intense course, sensei Kazuhisa Miyasaka helps her realize that achievement with the bow and arrow comes only after mastering one’s mind.

We have not talked about the fact that, when our grandfathers were alive, our nations and families were adversaries. Or that when I asked him to introduce kyudo in just a handful of days, I was making an impossible request. But we both knew.

Miyasaka touches my arm, tightening my actions like the precise folds of origami. My projectiles hit sand, nearer and nearer the target. Until. Twack. I pierce paper. The target is so far away I’d need binoculars to see exactly where my arrow rests.

I’ve achieved an obvious goal. But my release felt no more important than my stance, this arrow no more special than the one sent before it. I arrived in Japan hoping to understand why hitting a target isn’t the most important part of this tradition. Now, I know the closest I’ll come is the realization that it doesn’t matter to me whether I hit.

When I hear the target rip again, from a second arrow, I realize that I had not been listening for it.

Miyasaka has been recording my final day with a video camera. He turns my attention to a flat-screen television, which seems out of place in front of the chalkboard where he sketches feather patterns. When he pushes play, I see a woman I do not recognize. She moves through the stages of kyudo form with deceptive ease. At one point, she closes her eyes.

When I see the pale cocoons of my eyelids, I think to myself: Seriously? I remember none of it.

Miyasaka looks out at the target and says, “You did that yourself. You have real skill now.”

But the sound of my target-slaying was not one of accomplishment.

It was a signal that, as long as I’m alive, I will not be done.

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Industrialization and the History of the Matzo Machine

The Streit's matzo factory on Suffolk and Rivington. Photo by Leo London, Flickr

For centuries matzo was a handmade specialty, carefully rolled into a thin, cratered moon shape and pricked with a fork. Today, many Orthodox communities still make this version — called shmurah — which is supervised by a rabbi from start to finish. But industrialization in the mid–nineteenth century forever changed the matzo industry.

Historians trace the first matzo machine back to a French Jew named Isaac Singer (no relation to the American inventor of the sewing machine), who, in 1838, invented a contraption that automated rolling the dough, rather than kneading it, which cut prep time. The new contraption greatly increased the supply of matzo, which also made it cheaper. Countries around Europe soon began using the machine, a great boon for the growing Jewish population across the world. In 1888, Behr Manischewitz, a Russian rabbi, brought a version of Singer’s machine to America, settling in Cincinnati and establishing the country’s first matzo company. By 1915, when Aron Streit emigrated to New York from Austria and founded his matzo business, Manischewitz had upgraded to three rolling machines and was by far the largest producer of matzo, cranking out 1.25 million crackers a day. So, essentially, other American producers, like Streit’s, have been playing catch-up from the beginning.

Britta Lokting writing in the Village Voice about murky future of Streit’s, America’s last family-owned matzo factory. After 90 years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Streit’s sold their Rivington Street factory in January without having yet secured a new location. The company is hoping to relocate upstate to a facility in Rockland: they are “frantically working out last-minute logistics” for a September move-in, but the deal has not yet been officially announced.

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