By Ofer Aderet | May 26, 2015
Veggie burgers in 1930s Vilna – a Jewish chef ahead of her time
Decades before vegetarianism became trendy, Fania Lewando cooked up a non-meat storm in her restaurant, attracting such diners as Marc Chagall. The Yiddish cookbook she wrote nearly vanished. Now it can be read in English.
Several years ago, the director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York offered something to members of a reading group – an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“She took us into the rare book room to show us some treasures,” related group member Barbara Mazur of Brooklyn recently.
There were quite a number of interesting manuscripts there, but Mazur said she was captivated by an old cookbook, drawn to it by the stunning illustrations. She rushed to call Wendy Waxman, the daughter of a good friend of hers. “You have got to come see this book,” she told her. When Waxman arrived she, too, was enchanted. “I saw this amazing book there. I couldn’t believe it.”
The book that thrilled the two women was a vegetarian cookbook written in Yiddish and published in 1938 in Vilna, which was part of Poland at the time and is now the capital of Lithuania. In the book, the author, Fania Lewando, collected 400 recipes from the vegetarian kitchen of the unique – and successful – vegetarian restaurant she ran in the city.
What was a 75-year-old vegetarian cookbook that originated in Vilna doing at the YIVO Institute in New York? In its day, the book was sold in Eastern Europe, England and the United States, but during World War II it was condemned, like may other Jewish books, to extinction.
Then, 20 years ago, in 1995, a couple got their hands on a copy of it at a second-hand book fair in England. They understood its historical value, bought it and donated it to YIVO, where it has been preserved on the shelves ever since.
To continue reading this article, please click on this link: