On the Jewish food scene: The Great Matzah Ball Debate

by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

For the first time ever, I bought a matzah ball soup mix. Although I used to help my mom make them, I’ve never done it on my own before. Plus, because of health restrictions, I usually avoid mixes like these because they can be filled with additives and preservatives. But, since the soup will be for Passover, I decided to overlook the not-so-perfect parts and have a holiday treat to enjoy.

That begs the question of what type of matzah ball I want to make. If you don’t know what I mean, let me introduce “The Great Matzah Ball Debate.” The question is: do you like matzah balls that are floaters or sinkers? Floaters are light, airy, fluffy balls that almost dissolve in your mouth. Sinkers are denser, heavy and chewier balls that serve as a satisfying contrast to the soup. 

Some people take this very personally because the real reason for the debate can be found in the statement that follows: “These matzah balls are exactly like the ones my mom or grandmother or [fill in the blank with the name of another beloved relative or friend] used to make.” Please note that it doesn’t matter if those matzah balls were floaters or sinkers. What people are searching for is that undefinable experience known as a taste of home.
Of course, some people are amazed when they taste the other kind of matzah ball. “Wow, I never knew you wouldn’t need a knife to cut a matzah ball” says the person surprised that they can be so light and airy. Or, “Wow, these denser ones are so satisfying to chew and have so much flavor,” says the other.

Imagine the problems that occur when a sinker lover marries a floater lover. Should they take turns – one year floaters and the next year sinkers – or try to make both kinds each year? If there are children in the family, will each parent look for support for their matzah ball, hoping the children will favor the one they prefer. If we take this to an extreme, might they need a marriage counselor to help them find a solution before their relationship is irrevocably damaged? Would unreconcilable differences include that the people involved can’t agree on what type of matzah ball should be served at holiday dinners?

OK, enough silliness. What careful readers may have noticed, though, is that I haven’t taken sides in the debate. That’s because I like both kinds of matzah balls. Yep, I find both satisfying and fun to eat. So, I’m not worried if my matzah balls will be floaters or sinkers. I’m more concerned about the soup being bland, but that’s why I’ll have garlic powder and onion powder on hand to jazz it up a bit if it needs it. While food is not what makes Passover meaningful to me religiously, the right kind of food does connect me to past generations – to family gatherings that were once part of my holiday celebrations. Whether floaters or sinkers appear in my bowl, I’ll be thinking of those who are no longer with us and the new members of the family (the grandchildren born this year) whom I hope will continue this debate in years to come.