Jewish cuisine is distinct from Israeli cuisine in that it has been shaped by the local cultures where people have settled. As the Jewish diaspora spread across the globe they brought their culinary traditions and adapted them to the local ingredients and cultures.
In the United States this cultural fusion is most clearly displayed in the New York deli. Jewish immigrants set up shop all across New York City and brought traditional foods and Kosher preparations to millions of hungry New Yorkers. These venerable institutions are now being farmed for food trends spreading across menus and they are bringing traditional comfort food to the masses.
Everything Bagel Seasoning
We in America have Jewish immigrants to thank for the introduction and now ubiquity of morning bagels. Brought to Manhattan as a cheap, filling snack, the bagels were topped with onion, garlic, salt, poppy, and sesame seeds, or all of the above. In recent years this everything seasoning has found its way to everything else, including croissants, pretzels, French fries, and that staple of the Millennial diet – avocado toast.
Baked Goods Galore
Many pastries with Jewish origins would give even skilled bakers pause; the New York Times recipe for chocolate babka has fourteen steps and claims to take all day to make. But anyone who has tried these sweet treats knows that the results are worth the effort.
Challah and babka are traditional braided loaves. Challah can be sweet or savory with a brioche-like structure. Babka is all sweet and all delicious, often filled with chocolate, apples, or just sugar. Rugelach are a slightly less fussy rolled pastry, somewhat reminiscent of a croissant. The good news for people who want to enjoy these treats without spending days in the kitchen is that pastry chefs and bakers around the country are waking up to these delicacies – and doing the hard work for us.
The rise of Keto and Paleo diets seem to indicate that the war on fat is over. Once regarded as the enemy of dieters, fat (especially animal fats) were to be avoided at all costs. People are now looking at macronutrients with more subtlety and realizing that balance is key. And in the realm of animal fats – a little goes on long way in delivering satisfying flavor.
Enter schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. Kosher cooking rules forbid the mixing of milk and meat, so without the old standbys of butter and cream, Jewish cooks reached for the next best thing: chicken fat. Schmaltz is being tapped to finish mashed potatoes or accompany a bread basket. It can even be used in baking biscuits or pie crust to add an umami chicken flavor throughout a product.
Drawing from a tight-knit community and coming up through working-class delis, Jewish food is simply unfussy. There is nothing avant-garde about matzo ball soup or a messy bagel schmeared with a thick layer of cream cheese. There is no refined way to eat a towering pastrami sandwich; that is all OK. Sometimes food just needs to be comforting and no cuisine quite nails that comfort factor quite like Jewish cuisine.