Saturday, August 05, 2006

Can I hold up my pants with a Borscht Belt?

Maybe, if you top it with some sour cream.

O.K., wisenheimers, it's time for an explanation. The Borscht Belt is not what you wear when you can't find your Borscht Suspenders. Nestled in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the Borscht Belt is a resort town where Jews from the 1940's forward schlepped to escape sweltering summer heat and enjoy comedy schtick, camaraderie, and yes, the Russian soup known as "borscht." Hence the name.

Borscht is a soup made from beets and spices, often served cold and topped with a dollop of sour cream. In fact, the only thing better than a bowl of borscht is the herring that's served alongside it. Fish and dairy meals were popular mealtime fare in the Borscht Belt, where comedians such as Henny Youngman, Jack Benny, Milton Berle and others plied their schtick.

A thousand miles from Iowa

Here in the Borscht Belt, you'll find more corn than in the Midwestern grain fields. This corn grows onstage in the form of corny jokes. "Take my wife. Please!" was the famous refrain of Borscht Belt regular Henny Youngman. Or this gem, "Honey, this food is fit for a king. Here, King! Here, King!" Typically, the jokes centered on the wife's (or the mother's) cooking, which, if not for a plate of schmaltz Herring served up at Grossinger's, the patrons would be probably kvetching over instead.

Like the stench from leftover fish, Borscht Belt comedy stays with us today. For proof of this, look no further than the TV show "Seinfeld and the quartet of characters who, while individually annoying, throw up some serious schtick--more often than not, when congregated over food.

Skinny-as-a-bird Jerry stocks his shelves with myriad cereal boxes to sate Kramer, who barges in to schnorr a snack whenever the mood strikes. "Just make yourself at home, Kramer!" Jerry sneers at Kramer, who needs no invitation. And then there's the prototypical nebbish George Costanza, who craves food so much that he gets the mid-coitus munchies and reaches for a pastrami sandwich while shtupping his girlfriend. "Oh, George! Oh, George!" his girlfriend wails while Georgie Boy peers out from the sheets in search of his rye bread fix.

I'm sure the Borscht Belt comedy was just as ribald, if not more so--Schmaltz Monger will have to chime in on this subject, as he used to wait tables in the Borscht Belt's heyday. He's got some real megillahs to tell us.

This Soup Isn't Funny

Nu, so you want a taste now? O.K., here we go...

Mr. Finkelman goes into his favorite Lower East Side restaurant and sits down at the counter. A waiter comes over and sets down a bowl of soup in front of Finkelman.

Finkelman peers disapprovingly at the soup and beckons to the waiter. "Waiter! Taste this soup."

"Sir, is there a problem?" the waiter asks.

"Taste the soup." Finkelman insists.

"But what's the problem?"

"Taste the soup!!" Finkelman repeats.

"But Mr. Finkelman, " the waiter wails. "You've been eating here for thirty years! Has there ever been a problem with the soup?"

"TASTE THE SOUP!!!" Finkelman blurts.

"O.K., all right already," the waiter says. "Where's the spoon?"

Finkelman shoults triumphantly "Ah-ha!!!"

Oh, I forgot to tell you--they served a lot of schmaltz there too.


  • At 8:40 AM, Blogger schmaltz monger said…

    Thank you Steve! What a brilliant introduction to this blog! We are very excited to start this adventure and bring all of you out there a "taste" of the Catskills. Anyone who ever went up there will know what we are talking about and surely have something to add. It's no holds barred forum and we want to know! Especially from you all in Queens! I know someone from Queens has gone up to the mountains just once! You ate, you enjoyed, you laughed and you danced! Remember Mambo Nights? Monday was Mambo night at the Raleigh and people came from all over the mountains to get up there and dance to the Latin sounds of great groups like Eddie Palmeri. They had great dance contests and does anyone remember Fay, the dance instructor at the Raleigh?

    So let us know you're out there! See you at the pool for a game of mahjong!


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