To me, Judaism is more than just a religion. It's an everchanging culture, and along with that comes some amazing traditional foods. Here is my definitive ranking of the BEST Jewish foods.

1. Bagels 

bagel, sandwich, cheese, cream cheese
Julia Wigdor

There is something so fulfilling about eating a really good bagel. New York bagels are hands down the best—crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside—just perfect. Traditional toppings include lox, "schmear" (cream cheese), tomatoes, onions, capers, and dill (none of which I like because #pickyeater, so I just eat them plain). Bagels originated in the 17th century Ashkenazi Jewish community of Poland (those are my people), and come in a seemingly never-ending variety of flavors, both sweet and savory. My favorites are salt, chocolate chip, and asiago cheese

2. Challah


grongar on Flickr

Coming in at a close second to bagels, we have challah, a.k.a the best kind of bread. Challah is a braided bread traditionally eaten on major Jewish holidays, such as Rosh Hashana, Hanukkah, Sukkot, and Shabbat . Although it is rooted in ancient Judaism, challah has taken on a more mainstream role in society, sold in most large supermarket chains, and turned into french toast at many diners. The best challah, though, comes from Jewish bakeries. It is moist and chewy on the inside with a light and crisp crust. I consider myself a 'tunneler', which means I like to dig out the center of the challah without eating the outside.

Challah can be made with all sorts of different toppings and fillings, the most common being raisins or sesame seeds. However, more modern twists I have seen include chocolate chip, Nutella, and even scallion pancake challah.

3. Matzah Ball Soup

Bowl of Jewish matzoh balls soup on white wooden table

kurmanstaff on Flickr

Coming in at #3, a Passover (and literally any other time) favorite: matzah ball soup. The best meal, especially when you're sick, is a nice warm bowl of matzah ball soup. Matzah balls are soup dumplings made with matzah meal, eggs, water, and oil. They are traditionally served in chicken stock with carrots, celery, onions, and chicken.

During Passover, it is customary to avoid leavened bread (bread that rises due to yeast), so matzah is used as a replacement for all things bread-related. Matzah balls come in two (very polarizing) varieties: sinkers and floaters. Sinkers are denser (hence the name) and sink to the bottom of the soup, whereas floaters are lighter and filled with air pockets, so they sit at the top of the soup. Personally, I'm team floater, but I've heard valid arguments on both sides.

4. Brisket

20111009 Brisket 03

jspatchwork on Flickr

There is absolutely nothing like a juicy brisket on a Jewish holiday, whether it'd be Passover, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, or anything in between. Brisket, a slow-roasted braised beef dish, is a staple in Jewish cuisine, but is also prominent throughout many other cultures. Texas-style and Kansas City-style BBQ are just some of the many regional takes on this delicious cut of meat. Jewish brisket is typically made with tomatoes, carrots, celery, and onions, but can be with things as crazy as Coca-Cola. The best brisket melts in your mouth and is filled with moisture and flavor.

5. Rugelach

excellent rugelachs

watashiwani on Flickr

Of all the Jewish desserts, rugelach is definitely the best. Rugelach is made from a triangle-shaped piece of dough rolled around a filling into a crescent shape. They are typically filled with jam, chocolate, cinnamon, raisins, or walnuts. My favorite are the raspberry filled ones, especially when they have coarse sugar sprinkled on top. The sugar adds the perfect crunch and sweetness to the treat. This dessert, which also originated in Poland, is commonly found in bakeries and cafes throughout Israel.

6. Babka

Chocolate Babka

joyosity on Flickr

Another amazing dessert: babka. Babka is a sweet braided bread, most commonly filled with chocolate, but also can be filled with fruit, cinnamon, or even cheese. Like challah, babka has become part of mainstream society and has taken on completely non-Jewish fillings such as Nutella. Babka actually means grandmother in Polish. Originally, babka was made with leftover challah dough. Similar to much of Jewish cuisine, babka has become very trendy, with grocery stores like Trader Joes carrying their own product—straight out of Brooklyn. Babka can also be topped with a sweet streusel similar to one on a coffee cake.

7. Hamantashen 

#poppyseed and #apricot #hamantaschen #hamantashen #sizzle

marctasman on Flickr

Next up: a classic dessert for Purim, Hamantashen. Named after Haman, the villain in the story of Purim, and shaped like his tri-cornered hat, this dessert is a staple in every Purim celebration. Hamantashen are made with a shortbread dough and filled with a variety of jams, chocolate, or the traditional poppy seeds. In recent years, savory fillings have also emerged, including everything from pizza to spinach and feta. While hamantashen can sometimes be dry and flavorless, a really well-prepared one is definitely a delicious dessert. 

8. Latkes


Sarah and Jason on Flickr

At #8, we have a classic Hanukkah snack, the potato latke, or potato pancake. This is a totally unpopular opinion, but latkes are extremely overrated. Unless they are super crispy and the potatoes are thinly shredded, they are not for me. Latkes are made in a variety of different ways, sometimes just with shredded potato and egg, and other times they can be bound with matzah meal or flour, making a more cake-like texture. Usually, latkes are topped with applesauce and/or sour cream (neither of those are my fav either, prob why latkes aren't really my thing). While latkes are the highlight of a Hanukkah celebration for most, I tend to prefer some other traditional foods.

9. Kugel 

the kugel emerges

KLGreenNYC on Flickr

Another very popular meal, but one I personally cannot stand: noodle kugel. A sweet noodle casserole, often served on the High Holidays, is something many look forward to each fall. For me, however, I cannot say I will ever enjoy eating a kugel. Made with egg noodles, apples, cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, eggs, butter, cinnamon, and raisins, all baked to a crisp, kugel is honestly one of my "worst-nightmare" foods. I am not a fan of most soft foods, and this dish literally combines many of my least favorites into one mushy dish. While many, if not most, look forward to this dish on holidays, I simply do not get the hype.

10. Gefilte Fish

Passover Seder 5771 - Gefilte Fish

Edsel L on Flickr

I swear, there is not enough money in the WORLD that would get me to try this far too common food: gefilte fish. More popular with the older generations, gefilte fish is a poached whitefish. It can be served either in a light vegetable broth or seasoned, either savory with salt and pepper or sweet with sugar. To be honest, I have no idea why anyone would find this appetizing, but that's exactly the reason why it's last on my list. 

While I could go on and on about my opinions on Jewish foods, these 10 are the most common that I thought should be highlighted. I definitely have some unpopular opinions, but I think anyone, Jewish or not, can agree that bagels will always be one of the best foods around.