Jewish Food: What’s The Next Big Thing?

December 19, 2013
BY Eli W. Schlossberg
A look into the history of cholent

Ethnic foods are enjoyed by Americans, Europeans, Asians and other well-traveled societies. Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines have joined the ranks of French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Greek Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Hungarian culinary delights and haute cuisine. As experienced worldwide travelers visit exotic places and taste a wide variety of authentic culinary cuisines, they seek out these delicious foods once they return home.

Worldwide delicacies can now be purchased in major supermarkets and restaurants, and they represent all major food groups, even those that have gotten a challenging rap in recent years.

The Start of a ‘Jewish Food’ Industry
Even with carbohydrates being attacked by those who warn of high gluten and others who think the calories will affect their hip size, crusty French breads, baguettes, Italian breads, British scones, Jewish rye bread, grissini, bagels and even matzo fill American breadbaskets.

There was a time Americans would eat only plain, soft white bread. In the South, they often cut away the crust. Then came the bagel. Bagels began rolling out of New York in the 1930s to other parts of America when Lender’s bagels made the ethnic Jewish item an American supermarket mainstay.

Thousands of bagel shops have now opened up all over the country, most serving 15 or more varieties of the crusty treat — even in areas not populated by Jews. Even Dunkin’ Donuts now places a hefty marketing budget into promoting its bagels and croissants.

(Justin Tsucalas)

(Justin Tsucalas)

In Baltimore, Goldberg’s Bagels is highly rated and has won many taste tests. An average bagel (not just at Goldberg’s, but any bagel) is about 300 calories; scooped, it is about 260.

Over the years, there have been many other examples of kosher or Jewish foods taking on a significant role in secular American life.

One of the strongest examples is when Levy’s New York rye bread and Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs underwent a Madison Avenue public relations remake, which drove home the point that kosher all-beef hot dogs and Jewish rye bread were not just for Jewish people anymore. Today, some industry sources estimate that the majority of Hebrew National hot dogs are purchased by non-Jewish Americans.

New York delis that serve oversized hot pastrami-stuffed sandwiches with mustard and a pickle became part of the culinary culture of American taste, no longer just for New Yorkers.

The sandwiches and hot dogs were joined by the kosher pickle that soon sat not only on top of deli counters but also in jars on the shelves of
grocery stores. Knishes, filled now with all sorts of flavors and not just potatoes, have become a hit too.

Chicken noodle soup and matzo ball soup are proven alternatives to medicinal remedies for the common cold. Pigs in a blanket, those tasty mini hot dogs wrapped in crusty dough, are a smashing hors d’ oeuvre.

Rugelach is now popular even at non-kosher Italian stores. For example, Zabar’s, one of America’s premier gourmet shops located in Manhattan, sells chocolate babka under its own Zabar private label. It’s one of the biggest sellers in its bakery department … but it is manufactured by a Chassidic bakery in Brooklyn. Who makes the babka is a trade secret, but its name is a color (and it’s not red, yellow, silver, purple, orange or gold). It’s green. And that same babka is sold at both Seven Mile Market and Shopper’s in Baltimore.

Similarly, Middle Eastern cuisine — both Arabic and Israeli — has grown in popularity. Sabra hummus attracted the corporate eye of PepsiCo, Inc. that now manufactures and sells tubs of the creamy chick pea paste to supermarkets throughout America. A new local company, The Wild Pea, has six flavored varieties of hummus, many of which can be found at Seven Mile Market, Wegmans and Whole Foods.

122013_Cholent1Cholent
What’s the next Jewish culinary dish or treat to follow the success of the bagel, hummus and kosher hot dog?

Cholent!

This Jewish dish is still a culinary secret, a dish enjoyed by mostly
Orthodox Jews who do not cook on the Sabbath.

But what is cholent?

It is similar to chili, a one-pot meal that slow-cooks for 24 hours. This is helpful for observant Jews, as cooking raw foods and igniting a flame are among Shabbat prohibitions. Being that cholent is pre-cooked and ready before the Sabbath begins on Friday evening, keeping it hot over the Sabbath is not cooking and is therefore permissible.

Where did we get it?

According to “The Book of Jew-ish Food” by Claudia Roden, “In medieval times in France, the French made cassoulet, a dish of meats, including goose and sausage, with beans slowly cooked in plenty of goose fat. There were Jews living in Languedoc, where cassoulet originated. Many lived off the land; Toulouse, Narbonne, Nimes, Lunel, Beziers and especially Montpellier were centers of Talmudic study.”

When Jews fled France and went to Germany, cholent was enhanced as a one-pot Sabbath meal so additives such as kishke and potato kugel were often added to the pot.

How the name cholent was given to this tasty dish is debatable. The derivation of the world cholent may come from the medieval French words chault, which means hot, and lent, which means slow.

Another idea: In Europe, on Fridays before the Sabbath, families sent their sealed cholent pots to Jewish bakeries and to communal kitchens and would fetch the hot steaming pots after synagogue on Sabbath morning. There is a theory that since the Yiddish word for synagogue is shul, it is possible cholent came from a combination of the words shul and end, which referred to a dish that was picked up at the end of a synagogue service.

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