Monica and Eva tell stories through their food.
Monica grew up in a Syrian-Jewish family in Mexico. Eva was born in Australia into a Jewish family with Irish and Polish background. Together they are the heart and soul of Toldot Barcelona, an institution that promotes Jewish heritage through food.
Through Toldot, Monica and Eva offer food experiences in small groups in an ancient palace in El Call, the old Jewish quarter and center of Barcelona. Here’s their story and what to expect if you join one of their food experiences.
The Toldot Experience
Arriving in the old Gothic palace in the middle of El Call already feels magical. After climbing the winding stairs of the breathtaking Casa Adret, Monica and Eva welcome you with a smile, a hug and a glass of organic vermouth. They invite you up to the rooftop terrace to get to know the other guests and enjoy the views over the Cathedral of Barcelona.
Then the feast starts. They bring out one dish after another in what seems like a neverending meal. Everyone is seated around one big table and the food is enjoyed from sharing platters, family style. The first course consists of dishes like Monica’s sour spiced eggplants and Eva’s simple but perfect challah that will remain on your tongue’s memory for a long time.
Then they bring out the stars of the evening: slow-cooked lamb and chickpea stew. One is a typical Syrian Passover speciality; the other, a vegetarian version of a Moroccan spicy fish stew, called chraime.
A bit of history
Walking through El Call and eating in this historic building, you can feel the sad history of the neighborhood, shaped by the infamous Spanish Inquisition. The beautifully renovated medieval Casa Adret is home to the Mozaika cultural organization, which tries to bring some of the lost Jewish heritage back to Barcelona in many different ways. The money brought in by Toldot dinners helps run both the house and other cultural projects they offer.
The persecution of Jews and their widespread migration throughout history and around the world is what makes it so difficult to define a singular Jewish cuisine. Jewish food writer Claudia Roden says that the main element of the identity of Jewish food is migration, and Eva and Monica agree.
“Jewish cuisine is always the cuisine of the place the Jews are living in combined with religion,” Eva said.
Monica added, “Our food moves around, adapts to the countries we live in, but never loses its soul.”
Dishes with memory
As most of us can surely understand, Monica and Eva’s most profound memories all revolve around food. The beautiful thing about it is that they take those memories and present them to us through their amazing dishes that change every single evening.
When asked about one dish that is connected to an important childhood memory, they both looked at me with a sparkle in their eyes.
“I have one,” said Monica quickly. It is kibbeh, an all-time favorite in Syrian-Jewish cuisine, of which there are so many different variations.
“It is basically minced meat filled with another type of minced meat and then fried,” Monica explained. Her grandmother used to make mountains of it and seeing the meat stacked up in the fridge made her heart beat faster as a child. But her favorite version is made with raw meat—kipe neye—which she serves using her great-grandmother’s secret recipe at Toldot dinners.
Eva had a hard time deciding. She finally decided on cholent, a meat stew that is brought to boil on a Friday night and then slow-cooked overnight so it can be eaten at Shabbat. “It reminds me of arriving at my auntie’s house on a winter night. It all smelled like it!”
Just like Monica and Eva, I think every one of us could think of a dish that brings us back to precious childhood memories. Here at Devour, we want you to get to know these memories through the food of our favorite tour partners and chefs, who are the heart and soul of our cities and our tours.
As you can see, the Gothic Quarter teems with stories around every corner. Discover some of them for yourself when you join us on our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour.
For Hannah, every delicious food tastes even better if she knows its history. So for her thesis she analyzed a medieval Catalan cookbook, which hooked her on Catalonia’s cuisine—so much that she moved to Barcelona shortly after. She loves the product variety in Spain and can tell you historical fun facts about many different ingredients. Find some here: @cuisinehistory.