Kosher Travel

 

A Taste of Israel – Changing For The Better

 

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I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Israel on a trip with the organization Aish Hatorah. Any time I had been to Israel before, it was a toss up between pizza, falafel, shwarma, or a salad from Sambooki. On this trip, however, I consumed fewer than three dairy meals, and my meat (fleishig) meals could only be described as “abundant.” We ate in a meat restaurant in Metula in the north, where waiters served us endless tabletop grills with chicken, beef kabobs, grilled vegetables, and steak. At the Dan Panorama, where we stayed for most nights, we were treated to buffets loaded with a variety of meat, chicken, and fish dishes, as well as a stocked salad bar (a la Israel), carving station, and a variety of soups and side dishes. And of course, our shnitzel lunches were always hot and crispy, topped with sesame seeds and served alongside hummus and what Israelis call “ketchup.”

On that note, here are some of my observations about the current state of food in Israel.


 

Traditional British Recipe – Bubble and...

 

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Bubble and squeak is a traditional English recipe made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The main ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, and other vegetables are often added. The dish got its name from the bubbling and squeaking sounds during the cooking process.  Cold chopped vegetables mixed with meat and mashed potatoes are all fried together in a pan and it is often made with leftover meat and veggies, served alongside and pickles or brown sauce, another infamous British condiment.  This is one of those meals that take me back to the smells and tastes of childhood.

For many, rain is depressing, lonesome and brings down the mood – but when I think of Bubble and Sqeak, my memories are cast back to a happy childhood, and the comfort food we would enjoy when the rain came down.  You see, the heavens would open in all seasons when I was growing up, and rather than rain stopping play, we’d take our fun indoors and continue to enjoy the day.  Sometimes guests stayed longer to wait out the weather, other times our visits were extended so not to walk back in the rain.  It’s all about perspective – as is this dish.


 

London 2012 Kosher Food Guide

 

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If I say “British Food” you’re either thinking bland pub food with room-temperature Newcastle Brown, or your mouth is watering at the thought of melt-in-the-mouth fish and chips enjoyed with the smell of salt sea air.  If you’re going to London for the 2012 Olympics and keep a kosher diet, I can all but promise you that neither of these images will come alive for you.  London has always had plenty of fine dining options, from the classics that I remember as a child, to the near culinary delights to hit the scene and I intend to help you make sure you have a taste of the best when you get to Her Majesty’s land.

Central London has fewer kosher options than Golders Green, Edgeware and Boreham Wood, but for the best salt beef (corned beef to those of us in the US) on rye with Coleman’ss mustard and latkes large enough to share, I beg you to visit the West End and stop at Reubens (79 Baker Street, W1U 6RG).  The smells and sounds of this Zagat-rated deli make it so much more than just a place to eat.  Reuben’s is a place to dine, to people watch, and to experience part of Jewish London that hasn’t changed since 1973.  One similar culinary adventure that brings a smile to my face is Blooms, unfortunately they closed their doors in the summer of 2010.  If you’ve heard of Blooms from friends or family, the experience you will enjoy at Reuben’s will stay with you forever.


 

A Taste of Argentina – Eating Your Way Through...

 

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If you are a foodie, the best part of travelling is the food.  It doesn’t matter whether you take a plane or a train, you can be a food explorer right in your own backyard.   Jamie spends most of her vacations in New York City where she can enjoy the many great kosher restaurants and tourist sites that residents often take for granted.  I usually need to leave the continent to feel like I am on vacation.  I have adventure in my soul and I love to travel — even with the kids.

When my first child was about 18 months old we were looking to a take a winter vacation.  Since it’s cold in Europe and we didn’t want to go too far, we decided on South America.  When we learned that Buenos Aires, Argentina was not only a great place to stretch the dollar, but overflowing with kosher restaurants we were sold.


 

A Taste of Arthur Avenue – Bronx’s...

 

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A couple of months ago after my trip to Italy I met up with friend and kosher Italian food blogger Alessandra Rovati for a tour of Arthur Avenue.  Arthur Avenue is known as the “real” Little Italy in New York.  Since it is only ten minutes from home, I had to see what all the fuss was about. Alessandra was happy to be my tour guide and since we can’t eat at the restaurants, the main focus of our trip was the Arthur Avenue Retail market.   The market is filled with Italian meats, cheeses, dry goods and produce.  If you’re kosher, the produce and dried goods are worth the trip (at least if you live as close as I do).


 

Hummus: Israel’s Hidden Treasure?

 

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Before I moved to Israel five years ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what was considered to be the “national food” of Israel.  Even though I grew up in the United States, far from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, I remember my mother telling me that falafel was sold on almost every street corner in Israel. She described it as being similar to the hot dog vendors I would see on every corner in New York City, or the soft pretzel vendors you would see on the streets of Philadelphia.

What my mother didn’t tell me was that Israeli falafel was NOTHING without its “partner in crime”, hummus. Even in the fanciest of restaurants or the most unusual events here in Israel, hummus somehow becomes part of the menu.   From hummus served with meat, at the Basarim restaurant in Tiberias; to hummus with mushrooms at Marvad Kasamim (The Magic Carpet) in Jerusalem; to the local hummusiyah (hummus vendor/restaurant), the flavor of hummus is ubiquitous in Israel.


 

Mardi Gras and Jewish New Orleans

 

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New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) is a city steeped in history and influenced by Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and beyond.  It is known for gumbo, late night Jazz, historic neighborhoods and amazing festivals throughout the year.  Mardi Gras is one of the most well known celebrations in New Orleans that will be celebrated on February 21 this year.  It is just a few weeks before the Jewish holiday of Purim, often referred to as the Jewish Mardi Gras, and can be a great theme for your Purim seudah.

Jewish life in New Orleans is complicated.  Legend has it that an unknown Jewish peddler came to New Orleans many years ago.  While there, his horse died, so he decided to stay and that was the beginning of Jewish New Orleans.   History tells us that there were three waves of Jewish immigration to Louisiana.  The first Jews came in the 1700s and were Spanish and Portuguese traders.  The next wave came in mid-19th century mostly from Germany and Alsace-Lorraine.  The final wave came in the late 19th and early 20th century consisting of mostly Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews.  Still, the Jewish community remains small and by 2005, there were 10,000 Jews in New Orleans, the smallest Jewish population of any major city.


 

An Inspiring Trip to Thailand

 

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About 8 years ago, before I started a family, I traveled to Thailand with my husband.  It is a trip I will never forget and if I have a chance to go everywhere else on my bucket list I would definitely go back.  For those interested, there is an active Chabad network all around Thailand where you can find a warm meal for Shabbat and Shabbat services.

One of the highlights of my trip were staying in a really fancy five-star hotel for less money than a 2 star hotel in the US.  Another was accidentally taking a non air conditioned train on a two hour trip to see the Bridge on the River Kwai.  It was one of those crazy fun experiences, which required multiple showers upon returning to the hotel to get the soot out of my hair and off my face, but the experience of bonding with the locals who didn’t speak a word of English and couldn’t understand why we would be traveling on a second class train (neither did I, to be honest) but they were so kind and sweet to us.  Maybe it was pity?


 

Food of Istanbul for Tu B’Shevat

 

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The smells and tastes of the fresh spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits in the Turkish market linger in my nose, on my tongue and in my mind. How better to retain these memories my recent travel to Istanbul than by recreating them in my own kitchen. Starting with this inspiration, I then realized that Tu B’Shevat begins on the eve of February 7, 2012. Tu B’Shevat celebrates a New Year for the Trees-specifically the fruit of the tree and the vine. It’s a celebration of renewal and ecological awareness.  I picked up a non kosher cookbook I had bought before my trip about the food and customs of Turkey; and there, in the beginning pages, is a column referencing the publisher’s Ethical Trading Policy. They acknowledge that they use a lot of wood pulp to create the paper for printing their books. To balance that, they have a program to plant new trees to replace the ones they are using in order to assure that forests are maintained in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way. I decided to work with this book and a Sephardic Kosher cookbook I bought in the Zulfaris Museum gift shop, in Istanbul, to bring you recipes that are delicious, can be made in kosher kitchens and that also reflect the characteristics of Tu B’shevat.

Tu B’Shevat is all about the seven species (Shivat Haminim) that are plentiful in Israel and are mentioned in the Bible. They are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. To mark the holiday in the simplest way, many people make a point of eating from this group of fruits and school children plant trees. Another custom, observed by many, is to prepare a Tu B’Shevat Seder modeled after the Passover Seder and which includes four cups of wine: both red and white. This custom began in the 17th century with the Kabbalists from Safed and spread from Safed to Sephardic communities from Turkey, Italy and Greece to Europe, Asia and North Africa.


 

A Trip to Istanbul

 

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I don’t know why I had always wanted to go to Turkey, but my husband agreed to go for our 40th anniversary. It was incredible!


 

Jewish Italian Cooking

 

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I hope you enjoyed traveling with me, with a taste of Jewish Rome, Jewish Florence and Jewish Venice.  I want to share with you a wonderful experience I had cooking in Rome with Lisa.

Lisa is an amazing woman who knows her way around the kitchen — even if that kitchen is no bigger than my bathroom, with a tiny oven and no microwave!   I guess I can’t complain anymore about my “small” kitchen.  Lisa does everything with a small paring knife in her hand, refusing the cutting board below.  Talk about knife skills!


 

A Taste of Jewish Venice

 

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Venice is a magical city.  It seems to float on water.  Boats pass through the Grand Canal.  Small tributaries navigated by colorful gondoliers flow between medieval stone buildings awash in faded pastel.  Hidden bridges lead you to narrow cobblestone streets filled with tourists and eager merchants selling masks, decorative glass and, of course, pizza.

Venice is also home to a remarkable Jewish community that can trace its history over five centuries.  On March 29, 1516, a growing population of Jews, including many refugees from Spain, were required to live in a relatively sparsely populated section of Venice used primarily for manufacturing.  By law, Jews were restricted from most occupations, except medicine and money lending — inspiring Shakespeare’s Shylock.  Jewish men were forced to wear a yellow hat as a form of identification and Jews were not permitted to leave the locked square after dark.  Thus, Venice became the first ghetto.


 

A Taste of Jewish Florence

 

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The renaissance is still very much alive in Florence.  A medieval city preserving its unique place between the Uffizi and the iPhone.   From the Ponte Vecchio to the doors of Ghiberti, the awe inspiring David and the Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore, I walk through the cobblestone streets and wonder if life would have turned out differently if I paid a little more attention during arts and crafts in kindergarten.

Beginning in the 15th century, the nascent Florentine Jewish community began to assert itself in banking and lending at the invitation of Lorenzo the Magnificent.  Conditions worsened during the following century and Jews were confined to a ghetto and restricted from most trades.  In 1848, the walls of the ghetto were opened and Jews were free to live wherever they pleased.


 

A Taste of Jewish Rome

 

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In the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica, against the backdrop of the Coliseum, it may seem crazy to think of Rome as a Jewish city.  However,   after four days here, I could not help but think about how much Jews are inextricably bound up in the history of ancient Rome, how Jews were central characters in the drama that would capture the imagination and faith of millions from the halls of the Vatican and how Jews emerged from the ghetto to become a vibrant minority in modern Rome.

To come to this understanding, it helped that I was in the hands of an expert storyteller and historian, Roy Doliner and his equally gifted associate David Walden.  Their cultural association, Rome for Jews, has been guiding Jewish visitors on tours of the great sights of the eternal city for 15 years.  Together, David and Roy led me on a two-thousand year old journey from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, depicted in the famous Arch of Titus standing amid the ruins of the Roman Forum near the Palatine Hill, through the halls of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel where numerous Jewish references are found on the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the dramatic busts of Roman emperors discussed in our very own Talmud.  Talk about history coming alive!


 

A Culinary Trip to Panama City

 

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When two single Jewish women travel in Panama City for a much needed vacation, they can expect to be wined and dined every single evening. And when there are enough good kosher restaurants, over a half dozen, you can bet that these two single girls were happy to oblige. Our friend’s parents alerted the neighborhood of our arrival and every night, there would be a knock at the door and gentleman would sweep us away to a different restaurant. Unfortunately, none of these gentlemen was memorable enough.

But the food was.