No bread this week
Passover for Dummies: Explaining culinary rules to the uninformed
Editor's note: After we posted a column this week about the joys of eating bread without remembering it was Passover, we called in contributor Marci Gilbert for some sensitivity training.
This week is Passover, one of the most important holidays of the Jewish calendar, symbolizing the exodus of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. During this time, we have seders with family and friends filled with many traditions and eat special foods and eliminate others.
One of the most notable parts of celebrating Passover is the absence of some everyday foods for the duration of the holiday (seven or eight days, depending on the level of observance). I’m sure you are familiar with a Jewish friend saying no to pizzas, breads and desserts during this holiday.
But what about peanut butter?
Here are a few things to know about the culinary rules of Passover:
Their kitchen has been cleaned out
For Passover, observant Jews remove all non-kosher items from their homes, including crackers, cereals, breads, and the like. These foods are called “chametz” and are literally taken out of homes for the holiday. It’s a good excuse for spring cleaning. Remember that lesson from my previous column?
Some people store food in a box to bring back, and some get rid of the items completely. Some people also have Passover dinnerware and store their regular set.
By Day 6, don’t tempt your friend with a bagel from the office break room
Eating matzo by this day is just bland. My stomach hurts and I crave things I used to not think twice about. Bread is so tempting. Breakfast is a tough meal when muffins, bagels and cereal are off limits. Matzo with jam only lasts so long.
Don’t tempt your friends with soda, either
Corn syrup is a no-no because it’s part of the corn family, which is not kosher for Passover, either. Other big grains are banned, too: Wheat, barley, rye, oat and spelt.
Other banned foods that are not as straightforward: String beans and peanut butter, both derived from the legume family. However, almond butter and other vegetables are OK.
Rice is also included in the list for some Jews but not all (long story), leaving sushi out of commission this week for many.
Don’t offer them a beer
Many alcoholic beverages include a syrup or are derived from barley or a fermented grain. Wine is acceptable, beer is not.
Don’t bring them a box of matzo
Matzo is actually sold year round, but many boxes sold outside of Passover are not kosher for Passover. I don’t understand it either. Make sure the box says “Kosher for Passover and all year round.” I make this mistake every year.
Let them choose the restaurant if dining out together
As you can see, eating is a bit of a pickle this week. Some Jews won’t eat outside the home at all, or will bring food along. But some will eat “Passover style” and decline the bread basket, instead choosing a meal of mostly fruit, vegetables and meat or fish.
If you’re wondering what observant Jews do eat, there are still plenty of options. Manischevitz, the major Jewish food producer, offers lots of altered foods using matzo meal instead of flour to make Passover cakes and even breakfast cereals. There are also egg noodles, macaroons, and many chocolate desserts.
Other cleaner foods include fruits and vegetables, eggs, cheese and kosher meats. Matzo ball soup is an obvious staple as well.
The extent to which people observe Passover is an individual decision, ranging from not observing the culinary laws at all, to just eliminating bread, to following the rules very strictly. This is obviously a humorous look at Passover, but the holiday is a serious and meaningful one where food choices are just part of the celebration.