I love all types of food from different cultures: Greek, Italian, Indian, Mexican, you name it, I probably eat it. But, if there’s one culture’s food that I love the most, it’s that of the Chosen People. Full disclosure, I may be a little biased.
The idea of eating some traditional Jewish foods (gefilte fish, cough cough) may seem a bit strange or unappealing to a non-Jew. Honestly, if someone other than my grandparents tried to feed me chopped liver or gefilte fish, I’d probably be a little freaked out too. However, I truly believe that Jewish food is delicious and can be equally enjoyed by Jews and Goyim alike.
If you’re a newcomer to Jewish food, use this ranking of traditionally Jewish dishes to help you get your feet wet in the cuisine of our culture. If you’re Jewish, feel free to disagree with the order and discuss it at length with your mom when you call her on the phone for the fifth time today (which, let’s face it, you know you will).
You may be asking yourself, why are there only 18 different foods on this list? In Judaism, the number 18 is special. When added together, the Hebrew letters that spell the word for “life”, “chai” (not the latte), equals 18. If ya didn’t know, now you know.
The only thing worse than eating this stale cardboard? Being forced to eat it. Every year during Passover, Jews are deprived of any leavened bread products to commemorate the exodus of the Jews from ancient Egypt.
This annual event is torture for anyone who loves carbs, which is literally everyone. Even though it can be jazzed up with a schmear of cream cheese or turned into “matzo-pizza”, nothing about plain Matzo is appealing. And it’ll make you constipated, which is basically the 11th plague.
17. Chopped Liver
First things first, everyone knows this looks like actual poop. But if you can get over its unbecoming appearance, you may actually enjoy it. It’s for sure one of the most polarizing Jewish foods: you either love it or you hate it.
In all honesty, it’s not that much different from pâté that you would get at a fancy french restaurant. However, for most people, the only chopped liver they would ever consider eating is that which was made lovingly by their own bubbe. If you’re not Jewish, ya better tell your non-Jewish grandma to get to work.
16. Gefilte Fish
Just like chopped liver, this is one Jewish food that takes a little while to warm up to. It’s pretty rare to find anyone who likes gefilte fish before their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. But once you come around to it, gefilte fish is great.It’s surprisingly sweet, and pairs well with horseradish.
NON-JEWS BEWARE: DO NOT EAT GEFILTE FISH OUT OF A JAR. They sell the jarred variety in most supermarkets that carry specialty Jewish foods, but it’s “heck”-a (Jews don’t technically believe in hell) gross.
15. Kasha Varnishkes
Jewish meets Italian food? Who woulda thunk. This dish consists of two main ingredients: kasha (aka buckwheat groats) and Varnishkes (pronounced var-nish-kiss), which is the Yiddish word for bow-tie pasta. Even though it’s pretty unlikely that any Jew would say that this is their favorite Jewish food, it’s not like anyone would have strong negative feelings towards it.
On the surface, Hamentashen seem to have all of the qualities of a good cookie with their golden-brown crust and delicious fillings. The one thing these cookies lack? BUTTER. In order to keep them dairy-free (which is important for people who keep Kosher), many Hamentashen cookies use margarine instead.
Have you ever tasted a shortbread cookie baked without butter? It’s not great. My advice would be to stick to the thumbprint cookies you get from the Italian bakery.
13. Coconut Macaroons
These balls of gooey coconut goodness are the reward for sitting through an entire Passover seder. Unlike most other unleavened baked goods, you can eat these cookies without feeling like your mouth has been wandering through the desert for 40 years. If you don’t like coconut but you keep Passover, you’re pretty much SOL. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll train your taste buds to like coconut by the time Passover rolls around next year.
12. Matzo Brei
Matzo Brei is the observant Jew’s answer to french toast during Passover. However, unlike french toast, Matzo Brei can be prepared either sweet or savory. I personally prefer the sweet variety. Dipped in egg, layered and fried on the stove, this dish is almost good enough to make you forget that you can’t eat bread for a week.
This traditional Jewish dish consists of noodles or potato baked into a casserole. Unlike the kasha, liver, and gefilte fish, Kugel is made up of basic ingredients that everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, has encountered before.
Therefore, if you are not Jewish but find yourself at a Shabbat or High Holiday dinner, your first course of action should be to head straight for the Kugel. Be forewarned, though, Kugel can be the gateway drug to a lifetime addiction to Jewish food. Also, don’t ask the host for her Kugel recipe. She probably keeps is guarded under more security than the U.S. government keeps the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.
10. Manishewitz Wine
Looks like grape juice. Tastes like grape juice. Gets you messed up like wine. If you ask any Jew when the first time they got drunk was (besides their bris), they’ll probably tell you that it was at some Jewish holiday when they drank a little too much Maneshewitz when no one was paying attention. For me, it was Passover of 10th grade.
For those who don’t know, Passover seders are low-key turnt. Over the course of one dinner, each person is supposed to down four full glasses of wine. That’s a full bottle of wine per person. Bet they didn’t mention that in the Rugrats Passover episode.
Before the cronut, there was Babka. In its purest form, Babka is made of a buttery and moist yeasted dough that somewhere between challah and coffee cake. The dough is then swirled with chocolate or cinnamon, topped with crumbly streusel, and baked. If you didn’t already know babka is trendy af right now.
All over the country, this traditional Jewish treat is being soaked in egg and used for bread pudding or french toast, reimagined as a donut, used as the base for ice cream sandwiches, and more.
Mexicans have the burrito, Italians have the cannoli, the Jews have blintzes. Essentially, a blintz is a Jewish crepe with roots in Eastern Europe. Unlike their French counterpart, these super-thin pancakes are not topped with Nutella or sugar and lemon. Instead, they are filled with different jams or a sweet cheese mixture.
You can find good blintzes at most Jewish delis or at literally any synagogue on Saturday mornings, as they are the practically the official food Bar Mitzvah kiddush receptions. Ya know, the one right after the service with where drank 43 million of the little grape juice shots?
Nope, it’s not a hot pocket. But it sure as heck seems like it. These pastries may be baked, grilled, or fried and can be stuffed with pretty much anything you want, although they are most often filled with vegetables or potato. Carbs on carbs? Yes, please.
First things first, there are many many different spelling/pronunciations for this food. But whether you know it as rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, rogelach, rugalah, rugulah, it’s really all the same.
This Jewish treat is kinda similar to a croissant and is traditionally rolled up with a chocolate or cinnamon filling. But let’s be real, there’s really nothing that wouldn’t go well with this flaky, buttery dough. Perfectly bite-sized and oh-so-good, it’s impossible to eat just one.
Confession time: last Fall, my mom sent me a loaf of her homemade Challah and in less than two days, I had finished the entire thing completely on my own. Although I’m slightly embarrassed, I have absolutely no regrets. That challah was so damn delicious and it got me through midterms. I will admit that sometimes, Challah can be a too dry, but a good slice of this braided bread is like nothing else in the world.
4. Matzo Ball Soup
If there’s one thing that every Jew can agree on, it’s that Matzo ball soup has healing powers greater than anything you can buy over the counter. Something that remains in question? Whether they should float or sink in the soup. I am personally #teamsinker, but, much like french fries, I’ve never met a Matzo Ball that I didn’t like.
If you’ve ever had a french fry, a tater tot, or a hash brown, you know that there’s really no way to mess up fried potatoes. But somehow, the classic latke transcends its other fried-spud counterparts as one of the best Jewish foods of all time. Maybe it’s the hard work that goes into shredding each potato by hand (using a food processor is cheating).
Maybe it’s the fact that ketchup is replaced by applesauce or sour cream as the condiment of choice. Whatever it is, these artery-clogging potato pancakes are pure bliss.
2. Jewish Deli
Yes, I know I’m lumping together a whole bunch of different foods that are good enough to stand on their own. However, it’s not just the meat and the bread that make the Jewish deli experience one of the finest displays of excellence in Jewish cuisine.It’s also the juicy,
It’s also the juicy, crunchy pickle that cuts through the richness of your pastrami sandwich and the can of Dr. Brown’s soda to wash it all down. All of these elements work together to form a culinary experience that no other culture can top.
1. Bagels and Lox
Behold. The number-one most amazing Jewish food. From birth, young Jews are taught to appreciate a good NEW YORK bagel, slathered in cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon, and perhaps a few capers and some sliced red onion or tomato.
The love that most Jewish people have for bagels and lox is truly indescribable. Why else would it be the food that we break a 24-hour fast with? We literally spend an entire day without any food or water, and we choose bagels and lox to be the first thing we eat after the fast is broken. Bagels and Lox, you go together better than peanut butter and jelly, milk and Oreos, or any other food combo known to man.