Jewish Cuisine

photo: Rebecca Siegel

Jewish cuisine is special in that it has been constantly shaped and influenced by other cultures, but at the same time remains uniquely Jewish and very rigid in many ways.

Since the Jewish people for most of their history had no nation to call their own and were forced to reside in foreign nations, their cooking adapted to the climate, ingredients, and techniques they learned living among other cultures. There are two major styles of Jewish cuisine: Sephardic cuisine and Ashkenazic cuisine. Sephardic Jewish cuisine originates from the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and India. The hotter climate in these regions caused Jewish cuisine in these regions to be lighter and the prosperity that they experienced in these countries are also reflected in the quality of their dishes as well. Ashkenazic Jewish cuisine hails from Central/Eastern Europe and Russia where they tended to be poor and the harsh climate caused their cuisine to be heartier and more utilitarian.

photo: Government Press Office

The Jewish dietary laws of kashrut dictate how certain foods must be prepared and what foods where permissible to eat. Foods such as pork and shellfish are strictly prohibited and other meats are ritually slaughtered and cannot be combined with dairy. The weekly day of rest, Shabbat, as well as holidays like Rosh Hashana, Chanukah, and Passover each have their own specific foods that should be consumed or restrictions that unify and unite Jewish cuisine.

In recent history, now that many Jews have returned from scattered lands to their homeland in Israel, they have brought their unique forms and methods of Jewish cooking to create a melting pot of cuisines, each vastly different in its own way, but also similar and honoring to its customs and history.

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