We've been tasting lots of matzoh lately at SEHQ, and after trying ten different matzos of all kinds, including a box of $27 Gluten-Free "Matzoh" made with oat flour, I find myself contemplating the following question: Is the bread of affliction (as matzo is called at Passover because it was the bread the Jews were forced to eat because they didn't have time to let any bread rise when they fled the evil pharoah in Egypt) supposed to taste good? And even if it's not supposed to, does it?
Some would say that a bread of affliction shouldn't taste good, that its inherent lack of serious deliciousness is a purposeful reminder of the struggle the Jews endured in Egypt.
I've had a history of eating matzoh in many forms: in matzoh brei, the pancake-style (at least in my grandmother's case) savory matzo omelet she made often when she visited our house on weekends; in the salty, onion-flavored Moon Strips I also had as a kid, slathered with butter or cream cheese; peanut butter and jam on matzoh for many a late-night craving; and of course at the Passover Seder, topped with charoset. I've even enjoyed pastrami and other smoked or cured meats on matzoh with mustard when I've visited kosher homes during Passover.
Though there are symbolic aspects to any or all of the above, I used to think that matzoh was at the very least tasty... but maybe that's because charoset or pastrami or scrambled eggs would taste good on top of anything. But can matzo taste good on its own, and is it even supposed to?
In trying to answer these questions, I've noticed many things. Of course, there's a lack of salt in Passover matzos because Passover matzoh can only be made with flour and water. Why is this so? I have no idea. If we're looking for Passover symbolism here, the Jews shed many salty tears under Pharoah's rule, so shouldn't that translate into putting salt in Passover matzoh? Whatever the reason, it does explain why every matzoh I've ever tasted on its own is bland and almost flavorless.
Turns out that not all Kosher for Passover matzos are created equal. I brought a box of $27 for three oversized pieces of Gluten-Free Oat Matzoh (which contained only three matzo sheets) at Fairway to the office. How did it taste? God-awful (pun intended) in a way that neither bacon nor prosciutto nor smoked salmon and cream cheese could salvage it. A box of $22 conventional Kosher for Passover Shmura Matzoh ("shmura" means "watched" in Hebrew, so this matzo is made under strict rabbinical supervision) was better, but still not worth the outrageous price. It still needed something with real flavor to top it.
Salt-free matzoh can only taste so good, so save your money, buy the cheapest Passover matzo you can find, and suffer in silence, because that's what you're supposed to do. The bread of affliction ends up inflicting a great deal of pain to those who choose to eat it plain.