A Lesson In The Passover Pancake

Matzo ready to be pancaked. Photo by  Paurian/Flickr.

Matzo ready to be pancaked. Photo by Paurian/Flickr.

Differences of opinion are fundamental to Judaism: we can’t even agree on the spellings of key words. (Is it matzo, matzoh, or matzah?) At the Passover seder it’s no surprise that, except for the seder plate, there are 1,001 differences in the way Jews celebrate the holiday. Some eat brisket, some eat chicken, some eat both. The waters are divided over whether the matzo balls should be fluffy or dense (mine=fluffy). Kugel can be sweet or savory.

Yet there’s little disagreement when it comes to using up leftover matzo: you make matzo brei. Everyone knows this—except me. I grew up eating matzo pancakes.

There is, it could be argued, little difference between the two. Matzo brei is an unappetizing mess of scrambled egg and crumbled matzo; matzo pancakes are basically matzo brei, but given shape and purpose in the form of a pancake. There’s a lot of butter in the pan so the edges fry up golden brown, the pancakes sizzle gratifyingly as they cook.

My grandmother cooked her matzo pancakes in an electric griddle, the same place she fried up endless slices of thick challah french toast. I can no longer ask her when our tradition began, but knowing Grandma Syl, trendsetting fashionista, she probably started it when first arriving in Los Angeles from her hometown in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

And yet, the second I mention my preference for crisp, butter-fried leftover matzo-and-eggs to any Jew, they look at me askance, as if I’m holding a slice of bacon. I reached out to friends and family around the country to take their temperature on this.

My stepfather decried the name alone as goyisha, as not Jewish. My friend Michal Ettinger, encouraged me to consider trying matzo brei with shredded cheese added at the end, which is how her mom made it. My friend Meesha remembers matzo brei as being one of the few dishes her father cooked well: he’d season it with cinnamon and maple syrup. Another friend Robin has a signature plate-on-pan flip of the matzo brie to make sure it browned evenly on both sides. Vermonter Melissa said it was all about the texture—soft and creamy eggs with tooth-resistant pieces of matzo.

But just as they have their traditions, I have mine: I make the pancakes once a year when I go home to visit my parents in the Bay Area. Actually, I don’t make them, Mom does, continuing the tradition of her mom making them for her, the air redolent of browning butter, the pan filled with my beloved pancakes. It’s not a Passover breakfast without it.

Written for Lucky Peach. See the fancy illustration they had made for it.