Residence: Memphis, TN
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/19
Primary Language: English
Context: I invited the informant to my dorm room at USC to work on the project collaboratively. He sat down next to me, and we began having a conversation about the passover holiday. He told me that Passover snacks were somewhat strange, but ultimately delicious. I inquired further, since I was unaware of the specific snacks that accompanied the holiday. I began recording, and asked the informant to tell me about his favorite Passover snack.
EG: Oh man, it would have to be matzah pizza.
WD: Matzah pizza? What’s that?
EG: So, Passover is the celebration or annual remembrance of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. In the biblical story, one aspect of it is, when they were preparing to leave and escape from the Egyptians, they started baking bread. But, they had to leave, like rush to leave, so there was no time for the bread to rise in the oven. So, it’s all this flat stuff…
WD: Yeah, like, the unleavened bread, right?
EG: Yeah exactly. Anyways, so now we eat this thing called matzah, it’s like, unleavened bread or kind of like a cracker.
WD: But what’s matzah pizza? I’ve never heard of that before.
EG: So, the diet restricts you… or, people who strictly adhere to the diet of passover don’t eat anything that has any, like, bread related products or anything, except for the matzah, since it’s so symbolic. So, it’s hard to think of any good snacks to eat, but one thing that’s easy is to take a piece of matzah, put some tomato sauce on it, put some cheese on it, maybe a little garlic…
WD: Oh, I see where this is going…
EG: Yeah, maybe some basil even… you put that baby in the oven and it’s a great snack.
WD: So it’s almost, like, a comfort food, huh?
EG: It is a comfort food. And it’s turned into one of those things where… where I really like matzah pizza now, and I’ll look forward to it. You know, Passover’s not, like, usually the most fun holiday, so it gives me something to look forward to.
WD: Oh, so you know that whenever Passover comes around, the matzah pizza’s comin’ too?
EG: Yeah, exactly. It’s not really something I eat normally, just around the Passover season.
Informant:The informant is a 19 year old student at the University of Southern California. He is from Memphis, Tennessee, and is Jewish-American. The informant attended high school at Memphis University School in Tennessee, a unisex private catholic school. The informant’s parents and family have been making the snack since as long as he can remember, and he’s grown a strange affinity for the particular food.
Analysis: This food is highly symbolic for the Jewish peoples, but it also integrates Italian culture into the dish. Since, around the Passover season, strict practitioners of the Jewish faith are prevented from eating raised bread, they have created alternatives to their favorite foods. Matzah pizza is no exception, as it adds new flavors to the traditional matzah cracker. Contemporarily, the dish has become a staple of the religious holiday, and Jewish peoples look forward to making and eating the dish. Although it doesn’t necessarily match the flavor quality of pizza, it has a distinct flavor that Jewish children learn to love at a young age. Not only does it provide a direct tie to the religious faith of the Jewish peoples, but it has also evolved into a type of comfort food during the Passover season.
For another recipe for matzah pizza and other Passover snacks, see Randi Sherman, April 10, 2009, “Matzah Love Year-Round” in The New York Jewish Week, pg. 3.