Being a Jew is a complicated thing. Even eating right is not easy. Such a simple thing as eating has been elected into higher levels, into morality.
The background of Ashkenazi cuisine
As we promised in our article, we start our journey back in time to discover the roots of Jewish cuisine in Europe. This is our first article.
In medieval Europe Jews were congregated in small villages, or in separate quarters of cities. This gave them protection and also the chance to practice religion in everyday situations. In such quarters all kind of services – to use such a modern expression- were available. A shohet (slaughterer) for meat, baths, common ovens to cook, cemeteries, etc. Even special guesthouses for poor travelers, who could stay free of charge up till three days – paid by the community.
All kinds of food products made by gentiles were unacceptable, as they did not qualify for the requirements of kashrut. Because of this Jews started buying lands, mills, production facilities to cover their own demands. This led to Jewish winery, owning mills for flour production, small bakeries to make pastries, etc. Jews were regular sellers even on gentile markets on Sundays.
Parallel to such a flourishing and growing supply of food there was another thought of school, an ascetic one. Especially in Germany rabbis warned the flock to avoid overeating as this will turn attention and dedication away from God and the learning of the Talmud. They were highly critical of other Jews in France or Spain where wine and strong meals were regular.
As the Jews were a trading nation with connections all over Europe, North Africa and the East, trading with non local food was relevant and had great influence on cooking style. They brought noodle from Italy, pasta from Sicily (originally introduced by Arabs), sugar, exotic spices, dried fruits from the Mediterranean and the East. This, naturally, enriched the Jewish Ashkenazi cooking.