The Tradition Behind Traditional Jewish Food
By Amber Jonas Submitted On August 22, 2006
Over the years, traditional Jewish foods have found their way into contemporary American eating habits. Perhaps you’ve run to a deli or a grocery and ordered a quick lunch of corned beef on rye with a kosher dill on the side, or maybe you stopped for a quick bite of a bagel rushing to work in the morning, or maybe a sweet blintz is more to your liking. Even a run through most store bakeries show you stacks of challah bread.
Most Americans don’t give what they eat a second thought, and dismiss traditional Jewish food as just another form of fast food. Eaten on the run, there is little thought behind the food and it’s traditional place in Jewish culture and cuisine. This only clarifies how well assimilated food traditions are in America.
Perhaps the quintessential traditional Jewish food is the bagel. The traditional aspect of the bagel is found in dubious historical fact. The bagel is said to have originated in Vienna. Created by a Jewish baker to honor the Polish King, Jan Sobieski III, for heading the Polish cavalry in a charge that saved Vienna from invasion by the Turks in 1683, the shape of the bagel is supposed to mimic the stirrup (called a beugal) of King Jan’s saddle. The facts are, there was a Polish King Jan III, he did lead a cavalry charge to defend Vienna from invading Turks, and there were Jewish bakers in Vienna at the time. However, there is reference to a food named “beygls” as early as 1610, found in paperwork from Krakow, Poland. In addition, “bugel” was a Yiddish word which was used to describe a round loaf of bread. That aside, the bagel has been eaten by most eastern European Jews since the 1600’s. It came to America with the Ashkenazi in the late 1800’s, and is considered by that community to be traditional Jewish food.
Though not sold in all delis across America, the moniker “Jewish Penicillin” is given to down home chicken soup. It is hard to consider such a universally eaten soup as Jewish, yet, many Jewish families made it through many centuries of hard times all over the globe on chicken soup. The traditional Jewish food is a clear, or pale yellow broth, eaten with bits of chicken floating in it, most often with broad egg noodles. At one point in time, in most middle class American Jewish homes, chicken soup was a once a week staple. Most people will agree that they eat chicken soup when they have a cold, and there is actual laboratory evidence that homemade chicken soup can actually make the length of a cold shorter by days.
If people took the time to stop and think about their food choices, they would agree they eat some type of food on a weekly basis that they would consider traditional Jewish food. They might not know the history behind the tradition, but they would see the food as a Jewish staple.
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