Jewish Cuisine

Laws of kashrut, sacrifices, Shabbat and holy days provide the foundational elements in Jewish cuisine, while geographic dispersion has led to a diversity of their application.

Jewish food is Jewish because it adheres to the dietary laws that were laid down in the Hebrew Bible. These laws include prohibitions, as well as strict requirements for the slaughter of animals and the preparation of food. For Jews, food that has been prepared in accordance with these laws is considered kosher (fit for consumption).

The basic principles of Jewish dietary laws are as follows:

  • All fruit and vegetables are permitted
  • All animals that 'chew the cud' (herbivores) with cloven hooves are permitted (all others, including pig, rabbit, horse and beasts of prey, are considered unclean)
  • All fish that have scales and fins are permitted; shark, eel, shellfish and crustaceans are forbidden
  • Reptiles, turtles, snails, frogs and insects are also considered unclean
  • Animals must be ritually slaughtered and completely free of blood. Any animal that has died in any other way is not fit for consumption
  • Milk products must be kept separate from meat products, and cannot be consumed together
  • Jewish law prohibits any work on the Sabbath, and this includes cooking

Observant Jews will eat only meat or poultry that is certified kosher: The meat must be slaughtered by a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in accordance with Jewish law and is entirely drained of blood. Today, kosher meats purchased from a butcher or supermarket are usually already kashered and no additional soaking or salting is required.

Meat and poultry may not be combined with dairy products. This necessitates the use of two sets of utensils. Therefore, Orthodox Jews divide their kitchens into two sections, one for meat and one for dairy. 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, parve margarine, rendered chicken fat or non-dairy cream substitutes are used instead.

Each Jewish community has its traditional dishes, often revolving around specialties from their home country. In Spain and Portugal, olives were a common ingredient and many foods were fried in oil. In Germany, stews were popular. In Poland, Jews made lokshen (noodle) or knaidel (matzoh ball) soup and various kinds of stuffed and stewed fish.

Jewish cooking is broadly divided into two main traditions: the Ashkenazi, which originates from communities in Europe, predominately East Europe, Russia and the Sephardi which includes Balkan Peninsula, Turkey, Spain, the Middle East, North Africa.

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