Chicken soup, please: foodies discover a taste for Jewish fare

When Marilyn Monroe first visited Arthur Miller's parents for Friday night supper, her ignorance of Jewish food was all too apparent. "Gee, Arthur, these matzo balls [dumplings] are pretty nice," Monroe declared. "But isn't there any other part of the matzo you can eat?"

Times have changed, and today even Monroe would know that the matzo does not bite. Jewish food, long derided as stodgy fare from Eastern Europe, has suddenly become fashionable. While chicken soup and salt beef were once confined to traditional eateries such as Blooms and Reubens, now one of London's leading new restaurants is serving them.

The Wolseley, in Piccadilly - the sister restaurant to the Ivy, favoured by celebrities - is booked out on a diet that includes chopped liver, chicken soup and salt beef alongside clearly non-Jewish cuisine such as oysters and spit-roast suckling pig. London even boasts the first "fusion" kosher restaurant, which is also the first kosher restaurant in the world to make it into the Michelin guide.

There are two types of Jewish cooking. One is the chopped liver, chopped herring and borscht variety from Eastern Europe favoured by Ashkenazi Jews - most British people's idea of "typical" Jewish food. The other is the cuisine of Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East, which is often regarded as more fashionable. Sephardi food includes an exotic array of tastes, is spicier and more likely to be grilled. The high priestess of this cuisine is the cookery writer Claudia Roden.

But as Jews sit down to their Passover meal tomorrow, which is followed by eight days of eating matzo - the giant "cracker" that represents the unleavened bread eaten by Jews on their biblical flight out of Egypt - there will be some mirth that gentiles are doing the same all year round. For in supermarkets, matzo sells to more non-Jews than Jews andis eaten by four times as many gentiles, according to its manufacturers.

"The number of non-Jewish people who have been converted to matzo has grown over the past 20 years," said Donald MacFarlane, managing director of Rakusen.

Clarissa Hyman, the author of The Jewish Kitchen, said the matzo has crossed over to the mainstream. "Bagels have paved the way and matzos followed," she said. "They've got no fat and no salt. And no taste. Jewish people are always amazed when non-Jewish people say they like matzo - it's like flat cardboard."

Howard Jacobson, the Jewish author and Independent columnist, said: "Jewish food is mystical and magical but it's always a disappointment. Jewish food is designed to promote dissatisfaction and argument. And we like to argue. But there is also an element of mirth in Jewish food that we all like."

Some kosher restaurateurs have welcomed the increase in non-Jewish people experiencing Jewish food. Jay Sinclair, the director of the "kosher fusion" restaurant Six-13 in London, said: "We were the first kosher restaurant in Britain to embrace the non-Jewish market. It used to be very 'ghettofied', just eaten in north London. Everything was family run.

"In a multicultural society people's choice of food has increased, but why hasn't kosher food played a part in that? The more people know about Jewish culture the better things will be."


Simon Round, food writer for The Jewish Chronicle, assesses the crossover appeal of some of the more common Jewish food


What is it? Round roll with a hole. Like bread, but nicer.

Where can you get it? Everywhere. Chains such as Bagel Factory and Ixxy's are ubiquitous at train stations. They even sell bacon bagels. Go figure.

Crossover appeal: "It's the influence of New York. Most people don't realise bagels are Jewish in origin. It's a universal thing now. We've lost ownership of that one."


What is it? A thin crispy cracker made from wheatflour and water.

Where can you get it?Alongside all other crackers.

Crossover appeal: "They're low fat,and they've been sold as low fat. Why else would anyone buy them?"

Chicken soup

What is it? Chicken stock with onions and carrots, and usually with dumplings.

Where can you get it?

If you're Jewish, at home. Your mother makes it, and makes it better than anyone.

Crossover appeal:

"It's popularright around the world. Chinese chicken noodle soup is similar, basic ingredients are same. Most cultures have a version of it - they just don't realise it's Jewish chicken soup."

Chopped liver

What is it?

Chicken livers chopped and blended with onion, garlic and salt.

Where can you get it?

Home-made, like the soup.

Crossover appeal:

"Similar to chicken liver pâté. Authentic chopped liver has boiled egg on top. It's more stodgy than chicken liver pâté, but still very flavoursome."

Gefilte fish

What is it?

Chopped fish made into balls with some egg, and boiled in stock.

Where can you get it?

From Jewish supermarkets, in bottles. Otherwise, guess what? It's home made.

Crossover appeal:

"Never going to catch on. After cooking it at home, you have to evacuate the premises for at least seven days. It's not sexy. Adding chrain (horseradish) doesn't help either."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable