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May 28, 2014 09:21 AM

Jewish Cuisine

It's a bummer this is all treif. Come on, guys. Jewish food ain't Jewish if it ain't kosher!

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  1. Bummer, yes. Ain't Jewish if it ain't kosher? Um, no.

    32 Replies
    1. re: rockycat

      I would have loved to have heard my grandmother's response to "Jewish food ain't Jewish if it ain't kosher". She would have disagreed, but it's fun for me to think of the colorful Yiddish that would have come with it.

      1. re: rockycat

        Jewish cuisine should be accessible to all Jews, not just a subset.

        In other words, let's not be exclusive here.

        1. re: tamarw

          While making Jewish cuisine accessible is great - it also does not reflect the stories or histories of many Jews not just today but also historically. From the time my mother's family immigrated to the US, the stopped keeping kosher. For them it did not represent positive aspects of their lives and their faith. To presume that kosher is inclusive to all Jews may work in the context of serving food now, but not in the context of Jewish lives and history.

          1. re: cresyd

            Then they were not living as Jews, and their food was not jewish. That is all.

            1. re: zsero

              This is an unfortunate and divisive attitude that I find to be very insulting and unfortunate.

              1. re: cresyd

                It's a fact. What's unfortunate is that so many Jews feel free to disobey Jewish law, and yet claim to still be living as Jews. You can't have it both ways. Living as a Jew means obeying Jewish law.

                Not eating treif is no more optional than not robbing banks.

                1. re: zsero

                  It's a fact to you and the life that you choose to lead. It's also a fact that it's a divisive attitude as it serves to draw smaller and smaller circles around who is or is not.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    It's just as much a fact as that American law forbids dealing speed, or speeding. Drug dealers may not like that, but it doesn't change anything.

                    1. re: zsero

                      American law also has laws that deem unauthorized downloading of digital movies/music to be illegal. Other countries do not have that law. The growing, possession, and consumption of pot does not have uniform legislation across the US. Such an act is illegal within one context and legal in another.

                      Should my Judaism not be deemed as sufficient to be married within Jewish context A that is not equivalent to saying my Judaism is insufficient to be married in Jewish contexts B,C, D, etc. If Jewish context A says 'we are the only Jewish context that exists and we discard all other contexts' - so be it. That is an attitude that I find to be divisive and unfortunate. And perhaps answers a lot of questions about why nonobservant Jews kind the rules of kashrut to be intimidating.

                  2. re: zsero

                    This discussion is getting dangerously close to having this type of post removed by the moderators.

                    That said: Jewish Law is not uniform. The majority of Jews in America are not orthodox. Jewish Law as promulgated by JTS and HUC and RRCA is far different, but still is Jewish Law to many Jews.

                    I am a lawyer. We have one Federal Law in the US and 50 sets of state laws. They can and do differ, but they are all American Law. In fact when a US Circuit Court of Appeals makes a ruling on an appeal/law it is not binding in the other circuits.

                    Federal Law says Marijuana is illegal. Many state laws decriminalize it or even make it legal. Jewish Law has evolved over time. Before R' Gershon I could have had 4 wives......<VBG>.

                    A few years ago the OU said I couldn't have Quinoa for Pesach, now I can.

                    Again this is not the place to discuss obedience to Jewish Law. Individuals in America have the freedom to choose which Jewish Law to follow. Our government does not foist a Chief Rabbi upon the Jewish populace.

                    and BTW>>>>>we are all Jews regardless of level of observance, ask any survivor of the Shoah,

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      No need to refer to whether Hitler would have counted those who break Halacha as Jewish; Jewish law itself recognizes even those who don't live according to Halacha as Jews. If not, here would be no rabbinic discussions of whether those who don't keep Shabbos can count toward a minyan, etc.

            2. re: tamarw

              A Reuben Sandwich is generally considered part of "Jewish Deli" cuisine, even if it's non-kosher. We could probably find others too.

              Personally I'm with EvanM, I'd rather focus on getting higher quality kosher products than complaining about non-religious Jews creating high quality food for customers that they know will appreciate it.

              1. re: avitrek

                Are you suggesting that Kosher-observing Jews won't? What are we, chopped liver? :)

                @cresyd - fair point. It's unfortunate though, as so many of these eateries (with a few milk+meat exceptions) could become Kosher without making substantial sacrifices, save for hiring a mashgiach.

                1. re: tamarw

                  I'm willing to listen to arguments that I'm wrong - but I do think that the sacrifices you mention about becoming kosher are not unsubstantial.

                  First there is the issue of being closed on Friday night/Saturday and what that means in terms of revenue loss and second the price of sourcing all kosher products is not marginal. There's a podcast called the Tel Aviv Table, and when they discuss why food costs dramatically more in Israel compared to European countries - there is always mention of having a system in place for kosher food is a factor.

                  Finally, in regards to an ethos of seeking local, sustainable, and seasonable products - I don't know how that would be impacted (in terms of feasibility and cost). I also believe that for some Jews who do not have considerable experience with kashrut, it can appear daunting and inaccessible.

                  1. re: tamarw

                    This is a kosher CH Board and most who frequent it cook/eat kosher.
                    That said most Jews in the US don't cook/eat kosher.
                    As someone who has been in both the kosher and non-kosher (but not aimed at Jews) food business I can tell you that you are way off base in suggesting that a non-kosher business becoming kosher does not involve substantial sacrifices, save for hiring a mashgiach.

                    Start with the fact that Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest nights of the week for restaurant dining. Immediately you lose Friday nights all year, and Saturday nights for 4 months per year. Not every customer is interested in dining starting at 10 or 11 PM in the summer.
                    Kosher meat, inspected vegetables and cheeses cost more than non-kosher and the average non-kosher keeping customer will not pay more for these items if given a choice.
                    Add to this all the Yomin Tovin that the business must close and the profit picture grows bleaker and bleaker.

                    Shall we talk about the many wine and liqour items that could not be sold in the now kosher establishment. Alcohol sales often are what keeps restaurants in the black.

                    The list of SUBSTANTIAL sacrifices goes on and on. There is a finite number of kosher eating consumers who will dine in these restaurants and that number cannot support many more restaurants than already exist.

                    I am a generation older than you (at least) and remember when it was common for my parents' generation to consider themselves 'traditional Jews' who kept nominally kosher homes (Not post 1956 Black hat standards) and frequented kosher restaurants and the kosher hotels in the Catskills and Miami Beach. BUT as the Civil Rights act of 1964 took hold and the No Jews Allowed signs came down these not really orthodox 'traditional' Jews and now their children, and grandchildren don't find the need to support the kosher dining industry as they have assimilated into America.

                    I'm unusual, I'm 5th generation American in a family that now stretches to 9 generations here. Many of us in the family do keep kosher, and many do not. When our family foundation has its quarterly meetings they are held in kosher restaurants or catered by kosher establishments, but honestly most don't care if the chopped liver is made with kosher calves and chicken liver, only that it taste like grandma made it.

                    BTW>>>I'm just talking about the Paternal side of my family. My maternal side came here from Germany in the 1870s and we always referred to them as 'High German Reform'..they had abandoned kashrut in Germany long before coming to America.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      You address me as if I must have been living under a rock and am completely clueless about the kashrut standards or lack thereof among my Jewish friends.

                      In all honesty, my initial comment was facetious. However, everyone to date has taken it out of context, so I decided to have fun and defend it. Truth be told, I've always had this personal goal in my mind to see that more things become Kosher in my lifetime. Prior to this article, I was thinking more generic eats, like IHOP and random food products you pick up at your local grocery chain that, for whatever reason, don't have a hechsher. With this article, there was the twinge of disappointment that we're further from that reality (fantasy) than we'll ever be, because Jewish style doesn't mean Kosher, which means those of us who crave this kind of artisanal fare and who observe laws of Kashrut will never be able to appreciate it in the name of things @cresyd mentioned and you echoed 6 hours later, as if I wasn't aware of it at all and it bears repeating.

                      Trust me, I understand the obstacles facing Kosher establishments. My sentiment is simply that of frustration over being so far from delicious fare that is associated with "our kind" for lack of better phrase. It's not realistic to demand these places go Kosher, and I get it. It would be nice to see, though, that's it.

                      Also, re: Friday and Saturday, I know some kosher adhering Jewish folks who will eat even if the owner derives hana'ah from it financially if the ingredients are fully kosher. Take Second Avenue Deli, for example. They are certified Kosher, just not by the more machmir of certification agencies. Would Rabbi Steinberg certify any of the article's entities? Probably not, because the ingredients aren't kosher. But in all seriousness, and setting the mashgiach cost aside, would the meat-only or dairy-only restaurants in question have less quality food if their ingredients and preparation were done with strict Kashrut standards? I don't know. Do you?

                      1. re: tamarw

                        "would the meat-only or dairy-only restaurants in question have less quality food if their ingredients and preparation were done with strict Kashrut standards?"

                        some dishes would suffer with the substitution of kosher ingredients............

                        There is a dearth of fine kosher cheeses available in any sort of quantity/quality in the USA. This woud affect many dairy recipes.

                        Soaking and salting of meats would affect some meat dishes. So, would the absence of some cuts of meat from the hindquarters. I'm sorry, but while a kosher rib steak may be as good as a non-kosher ribsteak, a chuck steak and a NY strip are not on the same level. And even in simple things such as a hamburger: Remember the chain called Ground Round? It was called that for a reason...many non-kosher cooks consider ground round the best ground beef for a hamburger. Some who watch fat content like ground sirloin, again not available kosher in the US and since all ground beef must be soaked and salted before cooking it will not taste the same as treif. The taste, texture and result of using kosher beef/calves or chicken livers as opposed to treif is remarkable. One has to broil the liver to make it kosher. Deep fried chicken livers would be off the menu, and the finest texture chopped liver I've ever seen is made by boiling the livers before grinding, not broiling.

                        A great treif steak as served by Peter Luger's, The Palm, etc. Is dry aged for a very long period of time before being cut from the aging primal and cooked/served. With kosher laws requiring soaking and salting within hours of slaughter such aging of unadulterated meat is not possible. This affects taste and quality. When the kosher meat processing industry centralized to the midwest and shipments to the coasts required more time than say from Ellenville to Brooklyn it became necessary to start kashering at the processing plant, not the butcher. Growing up, mom bought freshly slaughtered kosher meat from the local butcher and soaked and salted it herself, BUT if a rib steak was going on the grill, it was not soaked and salted, it was kashered by broiling on a grid reserved for those unsoaked and unsalted meats. Yes, it required a special grill and to be rinsed before eating, but the taste and texture was quite different. This preparation would not be allowed under today's strict kashrut standards.

                        I wrote about the post 1956 kashrut standards, and this was not just a jab at those who came to the US after the Hungarian revolution. Orthodoxy in America has shifted to the far right in the past 50+ years. The black hat standard is far different from what those of us over 55 grew up with. 45 years ago Glatt was virtually unheard of outside of the Chassidic and Yeshivish community, now it is mainstream and a requirement for supervision by most reputable kosher supervision agencies.

                        For decades in America kosher consumers relied on the rulings of R' Moshe that permitted cholav stam, now a kosher cheese maker not using cholov Yisrael is in the minority. Remember the Passover threads discussing how terrible the frum brand yogurts are?

                        The list goes on and on, and nothing I mention takes in meats that are inherently not kosher such as pork.

                        There are non-Jewish owned dairy restaurants that are under kosher supervision, such as Claire's in New Haven. Her baking and soups are wonderful, but cooked dishes involving cheese are limited in quality. I know the owner well for more than 30 years and have been to cooking demonstrations she gives outside the restaurant. The cheese included dishes in those demos are far superior to what she can put out in the restaurant.

                        So, Tamar, it might be nice to dream, but the harsh realities are that what may be feasible to make in a kosher manner in your home (or a kosher caterer's) kitchen is not feasibe for a general consumption restaurant.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          So interestingly enough, I've been reading about kosher cheeses and limited quality, and for now (since places like The Cheese Guy and similar are focusing on making Kosher cheese better and there's a promising article about the future of Kosher cheese in The Jewish Week to that effect), it's a fair assessment.

                          Still, I wonder if the quality would be that far from "good" quality if the food went kosher. I don't know. I don't think we Kosher observing people are eating low quality steaks and dishes.

                          Maybe the quality would be *slightly* lower. Maybe not. Maybe these guys could pull a Chef Moshe at Pardes and make food taste good ;) (and use the finest ingredients, even though I realize that carries an extra cost). To me, if there's a will, there's a way. It's unfortunate that there isn't a will. Again, I totally acknowledge the hurdles they'd have to face, meat and dairy alike. It's just too bad, though, that this fare is not accessible by everyone.

                          And... don't reply to this as we'll be doing this all day, :) but maybe we should figure out why kosher standards have become so darn rigid in the last couple of decades. ha. How annoying. :)

                          1. re: tamarw

                            Tamar....I won't reply to your final comment for good reason. I'll address your second paragraph instead:

                            "I don't think we Kosher observing people are eating low quality steaks and dishes."

                            Tongue in cheek, and I love both tongue and cheeks <VBG>...the CH reader/participant is far from the typical kosher consumer. Read any study of orthodox Jewry in America and we see how families are expanding and incomes are generally low. This means many (if not most) of those eating kosher in America can not afford the quality "we kosher observing people are eating." Many of those low income, large family people NEVER see a steak. Walk through a kollel meat market in Brooklyn and you will be shocked by the packaged just marked 'steak' or 'ground beef' with no reference to the actual cut of meat in the package.
                            Unfortunately this large majority of kosher keeping American Jews cannot afford to eat out in the restaurants we read about in the link, even if they magically became kosher.
                            The reality of economics is harsh. Mrs. B and I can go out for a steak dinner at a good NYC kosher restaurant, and that dinner bill amount might feed a family such as I mention for 10 days to 2 weeks.

                            And for those who can afford better, it is not a matter of eating low quality, but perhaps a different quality.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              I wasn't speaking about "we Kosher observing people" as everyone, given exactly what you said. I meant more among the CH reader and those who aren't learning in kollels on small salaries all day to support their 15+ children. That wouldn't be the ideal clientele for any restaurant (for financial reasons), let alone a fine kosher establishment.

                              If these restaurateurs have made the decision not to go kosher because they're honing in on the yeshivish or chasidish of the Jewish community since those individuals would not have the financial means to enjoy the food, that's the wrong idea. There are plenty of Kosher-adhering Jews who care about food and who would be interested. It's sad that that's as far as it goes.

                              There is an in-between.

                              1. re: tamarw

                                Let's make this more practical. Most of the restaurants mentioned are mixing milk/meat or serving non-kosher ingredients, so it's not as simple as mashgiach + certified versions of foods.

                                For example:
                                Mile End: Milk and Meat all over the place, including reubens and poutine.
                                Shelsky's: Sturgeon, Chopped Liver, and Cream Cheese
                                Kutscher's: Milk and Meat everywhere
                                Russ & Daughters: Sturgeon, Chopped Liver, Chicken Soup, and tons of dairy.

                                The only options for easy certification would be the bakeries. But then you get into parve vs dairy issues and if there is much value in paying for kosher certified dairy desserts. Plus their catering becomes much more complicated.

                                1. re: avitrek

                                  I called attention to the milk+meat issue already, avitrek.

                                2. re: tamarw

                                  Though I do not observe kashrut, I did live in Jerusalem where the choice of kosher vs. nonkosher purchase played a far more prevalent choice in my life. Ultimately all of my choices came down to 'value for money'. Either in terms of what's the cheapest or what's the best value in x price range. And regarding meat and cheese....sure, if you need cheap/available then the kosher options were easiest to access. But never my first choice. And in terms of a sit-down restaurant, I learned to avoid kosher meat restaurants. For price/value non-kosher options were always better and less expensive.

                                  Also to echo what bagelman mentioned above - I think it's also becoming far less common for observant and nonobservant Jews to interact regularly. As such for those who don't keep kosher, the rules of kashrut have become more foreign. So while someone may have a family history and memory of smoked fish or pastrami that they want to embrace - bringing kosher into that equation just isn't on the radar.

                          2. re: tamarw

                            I have been told that the kosher Dunkin Donuts just do not have the meat sandwiches

                            1. re: phantomdoc

                              The kosher Dunkin Donuts in Chicago does server the meat sandwiches but utilized soy based sausage and bacon products I believe from morning star

                              1. re: weinstein5

                                I need to remember this is I'm ever in Chicago. I love those style sandwiches, even though they're not at all foodie or healthful.

                                1. re: CloggieGirl

                                  good is still good - does not need it to be foodie

                  2. re: rockycat

                    Um, yes. If it's not kosher then by definition it's not Jewish. Kashrus is a *law*, not a suggestion.

                    1. re: zsero

                      There's a very large percentage of the American Jewish community who would disagree heartily with you.

                      1. re: rockycat

                        They are Jewish only by birth. They are not living as Jews. They could become Catholic and still be Jews, but they wouldn't be living as Jews. Eating treif is exactly the same.

                        You might as well say that someone can rob banks or deal drugs and yet live as an American.

                        1. re: zsero

                          Thank you for letting me know that I am not Jewish. I will have to inform my yeshivah that they need to revoke my 12 year degree and the Brookiyn Orthodox rabbi who officiated at my wedding that he really didn't know me or my family for over 50 years. I apparently need to let my current congregation know that I am an imposter and shouldn't be allowed membership and that my child should be tossed out of Hebrew school, too. All because someone I don't know and who doesn't know me believes he can negate my birthright.

                          Oh, and btw, you can commit felonies and still live as an American. At least as of yet, we don't revoke citizenship for drug possession.

                    2. re: rockycat

                      This part of the discussion, about whether you can be Jewish without keeping Kosher is the kind of thing we've always asked that people avoid here, because it gets very personal and unfriendly pretty quickly as is happening here, as well. We hope that people will let this particular aspect of the discussion go.

                    3. Gefilteria (mentioned in this feature) is kosher: but as far as I know, that's the only one! What a shame. I really, really wish Breads Bakery was kosher.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: DevorahL

                        as a current (and hopefully temporary) hillbilly I've been wondering if I can make catfish gefilte. I know I can make something close, but would it be considered as such? I sorta doubt it.

                        1. re: hill food

                          You can prepare any fish in the style of gefilte fish. The word "gefilte" only means "stuffed." Catfish, however, is inherently not kosher. But if you'd like to sub catfish for another fish in a gefilte fish recipe, you can. It's your recipe.

                          1. re: rockycat

                            that was my hunch, as it's a bottom feeder with more of a skin than scales.

                            1. re: hill food

                              Being a bottom feeder is not an issue; carp is one too, and it's perhaps the iconic fish for gefilte-ing. It's the lack of peelable scales that makes catfish treif.

                              1. re: zsero

                                I had a feeling it was the 'fish-hide' quality that was the real deal-breaker.

                      2. All these things would be available in kosher if consumers just told kosher stores that we want more artisanal stuff, rather than just fancy-looking. Every kosher bakery would use quality ingredients if they were appreciated, but lots of comments here show a preoccupation with price and appearance. Do you think a non-kosher gourmet board would have showninterest in string cheese and other mass-market items?

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: EvanM

                          "Do you think a non-kosher gourmet board would have shown interest in string cheese and other mass-market items?"

                          No, but this kosher board is NOT a gourmet board. If you read the blurb at the top of the board it is dedicated to tips on kosher dining, eating and food shopping. This is quite different from my local regional board (Southern New England) where it states that it is a place to "discuss the BEST restaurants and food in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island..."

                          This CH has set forth quite a different mission statement for this board compared to the regional boards which is why string cheese discussions are appropriate here.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            And why is that mission statement different, do you think?

                            1. re: davidg1

                              I think that question might be better addressed to CH management or posted as a question on the Site Talk board.

                              This is not to slough you off, but the mission statement was there before I joined CH years ago. I didn't set the rules, but the CH moderators allow amny things on this board because of that statement that would be bounced from other boards.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                And you don't think it's because if discussion of string cheese etc were not included there wouldn't be enough discussion to sustain an adequately active board?

                                1. re: davidg1

                                  I honestly don't know, BUT if you remove all the posts asking where can I get kosher food in XXXX? the size and scope of this board will shrink dramatically. This board also serves a purpose as a kosher food locator for those of us who travel on leisure and business and require that food. It is far more up to date than print sources and the always out of date Shamash (to whom I have reported the closing of a local Bakery for 2 years and they still won't remove it).

                            2. re: bagelman01

                              That wasn't an intentional difference in mission statement. The Kosher board isn't a geographic board, so its description doesn't follow the same format as those boards precisely, but on every board, Chowhound is about finding and discussing the most delicious options available.

                              Of course, there's a lot of latitude in that, both here on Kosher and on geographic boards. In any given region, what's available for a certain type of food may never rise above the level of minimally acceptable, whether you're searching for Kosher caterers in Albuquerque or someone on the Great Plains board is searching for spaghetti carbonara in Sioux Falls.[*] It's still fine to discuss those options, because they may be the best available options, even if they might not objectively be all that great.

                              [*] Both examples totally made up, there may be great Kosher caterers all across New Mexico and a nonna turning out incredible carbonara in South Dakota.

                              1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                Nice to know that it wasn't an INTENTIONAL difference in Mission statement. So, now that you are aware of it are you going to change the mission statement of this board....or do we continue as before?

                            3. re: EvanM

                              Kosher "artisanal" does exist, but is nowhere near mainstream. People want the comfort of familiarity, so a "heimische" restaurant/bakery/etc. will have broader appeal than something that's more cutting edge. But while cutting edge in the population at large may appeal to hundreds of thousands of people nationally, cutting edge Kosher appeals to a subset of an already small subset. So if there are 4MM+ Jews in the US, there are about half a million who keep Kosher and of those, maybe 5% would have an interest in "artisanal" food products - and only a small percentage of those would pay for it regularly. 25,000 nationally is not a huge market and it's realistically closer to 5,000-10,000.

                              1. re: ferret

                                Note, however, that the line beween "heimishe" and "artisanal" isn't always clear. In a small enough community, they may add up to the same thing.

                                (Of course "artisanal" doesn't necessarily mean "good". You can have artisans who are terrible at their craft! In a small enough market they may even survive, becuase there's nobody else willing to do what they do but better.)

                            4. gefilteria is kosher and is yummy!

                              1. The same section had another article about Ben's Cheese Planet- at least this is kosher: