Traditional Jewish foods

Jewish traditional food is wonderfully varied and it offers so much in terms of history and the journey of the Jewish people over the centuries. Many of the foods may be unfamiliar to some but they play a big part in Jewish holidays, festivals, and the day-to-day culinary culture.

The cuisine is a significant part of daily life with its kosher traditions but influences can be found from right around the world. We can often taste the delights of modern Israeli fusion foods, typically in city restaurants and food outlets worldwide.

Matzah Ball Soup – A Jewish Classic

One family favourite for many Jewish households is the classic Matzah ball soup. This Central European dish is centred upon dumplings made from Matzah, unleavened flatbread, which has ancient origins. Matzah is dry and crisp, much like a cracker, and it can be found in most good delicatessens. The dumplings are usually cooked in a chicken broth and often with carrots to add to the balance of flavours. Like many great foods of the world, it is actually a leftover from the crumbs of the matzo baking process.

Blintz – The Eastern European Influence

Another classic Jewish bite is the Blintz, which of course, is similar to the Russian Blini. The Blintz is a rolled pancake which can be filled with sweet cottage cheese and often topped with a blackberry sauce. This was originated by Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. This is a beautiful mix of sweet and savoury flavours that really deserves to be tasted! Yes, the idea of sweet cottage cheese sounds odd, but it is a real delight on the taste buds.

Cream Cheese and Lox Bagels – A New York Staple

A New York experience wouldn’t be quite the same without a cream cheese Bagel with lox! This tremendous street food is a great part of American Jewish cuisine and is a classic in most good New York delis. The bagel came from the Polish community of Jews and is a yeasted wheat dough, baked and with the very distinctive ring shape. The modern classic bagel is hundreds of years old, and the hole in the middle made it easier for street vendors to hang up on a string, enabled easier transport, and made very decorative displays. What makes the bagel so fantastic is that, just like tapas in Spain, it can take any topping sweet or savoury.

Latkes – Fried Potato Delights

The Latke is another Jewish snack food that takes its name from the Slavic ‘oladka’, meaning small fried pancake. These little potato pancakes can also be made from onion, cheese and aubergine. It is traditionally served to the community during Hannukah, celebrating the miracle of finding the oil in the temple. They are usually served fresh with a generous dollop of sour cream and most commonly found in Central and Eastern European countries.

Shakshuka – The North African Influence

Shakshuka is a brilliant combination of tomatoes, harissa, eggs and olive oil. It was originally a Sephardic Jewish dish brought to Israel from Libya and Tunisia in the 1950s. It became a part of popular cooking culture because of the great Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and disseminated through his wonderful cookbooks.

Salt Beef Sandwiches – Another American Classic

One more slice, pardon the pun, of New York eating is the Pastrami sandwich. It seems an integral part of our pop culture and has been referenced by so many filmmakers, particularly with New York cops on a break! Pastrami is salted beef, partially dried and seasoned with herbs and spices. This is originally from Romania, known as ‘pastrama’ but has ancient eastern roots. The thing you often hear customers asking for is Pastrami on rye, which is simply referring to a very popular rye bread served in New York delicatessens. This is best served with pickles and a hot brown mustard. When you’re next in the Big Apple, why not check out the world famous Katz’s Deli for the best in town!

Babka – Cake from Poland

On a sweet note, Babka should be noted as a great Jewish braided cake. It is made with yeast-leavened dough filled with either chocolate, cinnamon or fruit. Babka is thought to have come from the Jewish populations of Poland and Ukraine in the 19th Century. For the authentic Israeli style, it is made richer with butter, and rolled and folded until it has many distinct layers. The chocolate and poppy seed paste filling is very popular. It actually resembles a loaf of bread and is a delight to cut into!

Enjoy these wonderful Jewish dishes, whether you are brave enough to try cooking them yourselves or make it a good excuse to travel!