Jewish cuisine

Chicken soup with kreplach
Chopped liver

Jewish cuisine refers to the cooking traditions of the Jewish people worldwide. It has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), Jewish festival and Shabbat (Sabbath) traditions. Jewish cuisine is influenced by the economics, agriculture and culinary traditions of the many countries where Jewish communities have settled and varies widely throughout the whole world.

The distinctive styles in Jewish cuisine are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Persian, Yemenite, Indian and Latin-American. There are also dishes from Jewish communities from Ethiopia to Central Asia.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and particularly since the late 1970s, a nascent Israeli "fusion cuisine" has developed. Jewish Israeli cuisine has especially adapted a multitude of elements, overlapping techniques and ingredients from many diaspora Jewish culinary traditions.

Using agricultural products from dishes of one Jewish culinary tradition in the elaboration of dishes of other Jewish culinary traditions, as well as incorporating and adapting various other Middle Eastern dishes from the local non-Jewish population of the Land of Israel (which had not already been introduced via the culinary traditions of Jews which arrived to Israel from the various other Arab countries), Israeli Jewish cuisine is both authentically Jewish (and most often kosher) and distinctively local "Israeli", yet thoroughly hybridised from its multicultural diasporas Jewish origins.

Influences on Jewish cuisine

Kashrut—Jewish dietary laws

Coarse salt for koshering meat

The laws of keeping kosher (kashrut) have influenced Jewish cooking by prescribing what foods are permitted and how food must be prepared. The word kosher is usually translated as "proper".

Certain foods, notably pork and shellfish, are forbidden; meat and dairy may not be combined and meat must be ritually slaughtered and salted to remove all traces of blood.

Observant Jews will eat only meat or poultry that is certified kosher. The meat must have been slaughtered by a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in accordance with Jewish law and is entirely drained of blood. Before it is cooked, it is soaked in water for half an hour, then placed on a perforated board, sprinkled with coarse salt (which draws out the blood) and left to sit for one hour. At the end of this time, the salt is washed off and the meat is ready for cooking. Today, kosher meats purchased from a butcher or supermarket are usually already koshered as described above and no additional soaking or salting is required.

According to kashrut, meat and poultry may not be combined with dairy products, nor may they touch plates or utensils that have been touched by dairy products. Therefore, Jews who strictly observe kashrut divide their kitchens into different sections for meat and for dairy, with separate ovens, plates and utensils (or as much as is reasonable, given financial and space constraints; there are procedures to kasher utensils that have touched dairy to allow their use for meat).[1][2]

As a result, butter, milk and cream are not used in preparing dishes made with meat or intended to be served together with meat. Oil, pareve margarine, rendered chicken fat (often called schmaltz in the Ashkenazi tradition), or non-dairy cream substitutes are used instead.

Despite religious prohibitions, some foods not generally considered kosher have made their way into traditional Jewish cuisine; sturgeon, which was consumed by European Jews at least as far back as the 19th century, is one example.[3]

Geographical dispersion

Pescaíto frito, originating from the 16th century Andalusian Jews of Spain and Portugal

The hearty cuisine of Ashkenazi Jews was based on centuries of living in the cold climate of Central and Eastern Europe, whereas the lighter, "sunnier" cuisine of Sephardi Jews was affected by life in the Mediterranean region.

Each Jewish community has its traditional dishes, often revolving around specialties from their home country. In Spain and Portugal, olives are a common ingredient and many foods are fried in oil. The idea of frying fish in the stereotypically British fish and chips, for example, was introduced to Britain by Sephardic Jewish immigrants.[4] In Germany, stews were popular. The Jews of Netherlands specialized in pickles, herring, butter cakes and bolas (jamrolls). In Poland, Jews made various kinds of stuffed and stewed fish along with matza ball soup or lokshen noodles. In North Africa, Jews eat couscous and tagine.

Thus, a traditional Shabbat meal for Ashkenazi Jews might include stuffed vine leaves, roast beef, pot roast, or chicken, carrots tzimmes and potatoes. A traditional Shabbat meal for Sephardi Jews would focus more on salads, couscous and other Middle Eastern specialties.