Who are we?
“Nino” Shaye Weiss
Born in 1971 on the road from Paris to Budapest as his parents were trying to return to Hungary, his mother’s homeland. Once Nino graduated from high school in Vienna, he moved to Paris for twelve years where he studied art history and philosophy. While studying for his doctorate Nino worked as a cook, waiter, and bartender in a restaurant in Paris. His search for his Austro-Hungarian and Italian roots, took him on a seven-year detour to Bnei Brak, the ultra-orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, where he studied in a Yeshivah and Kollel. There, together with his wife and children, he was able to get to know and put into practice the Jewish laws and customs surrounding Kashrut. Upon their return to Vienna, Nino founded and now manages JewishVienneseFood.com, a website/blog featuring recipes and stories about Vienna’s Jewish cuisine.
Michi was born and raised in Vienna. She graduated from ‘Die Angewandte’, the city’s University of Applied Arts and, after a couple of years as an independent artist and art teacher, she now works at a public school. Michi is also a passionate Feldenkrais practitioner. In the Weiss family’s kitchen, Michi is mainly responsible for baking cakes and the many famous Viennese sweets. During the family’s stay in Bnei Brak Michi was the family’s main contact to the local kitchens and their balaboostas.
Shloimi, 15½ years old, is active in the ‘HaShomer Hatzair’ and attends Vienna’s Jewish High School ‘Zwi Perez Chajes’. He’s always asked to taste test the family’s cooking endeavors as he has developed a very discerning palate. His own ventures into cooking are mostly limited to smoothies and excellent sunny-side-up eggs.
Nechami, 12 years old, is the sabra of the family. She too attends ZPC, Vienna’s Jewish school. Nechami has recently also taken to the kitchen and now cooks all kinds of dishes by herself, ‘No help needed here’! For her Bat Mitzvah, Nechami prepared a video of herself baking a wonderful challah.
Where was the photo taken?
The Weiss family lives on Taborstrasse in Vienna’s city center, right on the border of the traditional Jewish neighborhood in the 2nd district also known as “Mazzesinsel” (matzo island), so named as a tribute to the large community of Jews who used to live here. Post-World War II, Vienna is still scarred by the annihilation of most of its Jewish community and the loss of its corresponding vibrant intellectual, cultural and social life. To this day the Viennese are struggling to fully grasp the void created by this rupture. However, today there is once again a vibrant, albeit small, Jewish community in Vienna.
The Weiss kitchen is just big enough to fit all the photo equipment necessary to produce the pictures and videos for JewishVienneseFood.com with a lot of professional cooking equipment dangling from the walls.
Every Friday, on Erev Shabbat, the Weiss family kitchen is buzzing with activity for what has turned into a secular tradition and continuing much of Vienna’s past Jewish culinary traditions: Shabbos food for the culinarily inclined Jew. Due to popular demand, Nino now offers cooking and baking classes, as well as gourmet tours through the city of Vienna.
Our Family Kitchen
Nino and Michi like to cook the recipes they collected from old books, interviews, and research they conducted while living in Bnei Brak. Most of these can be traced back to the Austro-Hungarian empire, which is closely tied to their family history.
Both Michi and Nino have learned to cook from their mothers and grandmothers, however, classic homemade poached gefilte fish patties were never on their menu. The proverbial ‘carp in the bathtub’ did exist, but was served differently: in Vienna the gefilte fish mixture was prepared as fried patties. This type of recipe can even be found in the cookbook Sigmund Freud offered his wife Martha in 1894. Freud no doubt enjoyed sweet poached gefilte fish patties at his mother’s traditional home, but if the founder of psychoanalysis ever had gefilte fish in his own home, it was probably in the assimilated Viennese and Paraguian fried style.
The House Recipe: Gefilte Fish
When the Weiss lived in Israel in the early aughts, the family was invited to many homes and often tasted traditional gefilte fish. During a visit to the Bleiberg family’s home in Bnei Brak, Michi asked for the wonderful recipe originating from Galicia in southeastern Poland, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Since their time in Bnei Brak, the Weiss family has made a habit of preparing fresh homemade gefilte fish and of course it features on their table for Rosh Hashana. “We also eat the fish head to symbolize the desire ‘for heads, not tails’ in the coming new year and we are especially fond of the cheeks that are delectable.”
Before that, they admit, it was usually gefilte fish out of a jar which simply cannot be compared to the real thing. “Whereas homemade gefilte fish is light and flavorful, the commercial variety, even if it is labeled ‘Old Vienna’, is heavy and bland,” says Michi.
“Its presentation leaves much to be desired as well: grayish in color and suspended in jelly, it is like a horrible reminder of a dark shtetl past,” Nino adds.