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Favorite Jewish Foods

How did some of our favorite “Jewish” foods come to be? Today we’re going to find out

Potato Kugel

Country of origin: Europe

Who doesn’t like potato kugel? But where did this beloved food come from? Who started eating it? When?

As you’re well aware, it’s assur to cook on Shabbos. So how did people have hot food on Shabbos morning in the days before Crock-Pots and hot plates? You might have heard how the bakery ovens were sealed up with everyone’s cholent pots inside until Shabbos morning. Cholent was pretty similar to how it is today: a stew of barley, beans, and a bit of meat or chicken bones. I guess they wanted to add a side dish, however, and the kugel was born.

At first, the kugel was very simple: some bread batter with eggs. This batter was placed directly in the cholent pot, as the moist, steamy environment protected the kugel from burning. It must have been a delightful addition to their Shabbos seudos of cholent and challah.

Then kugel started getting a little fancier, as things tend to do. Balabustas started adding fried onions to the batter, and when sugar became popular in Europe in the 1600s, well, l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, why not have a sweet side dish with your cholent?

The basic starch, egg, and oil mixture that makes a kugel is very adaptable. Nowadays you can find so many variations: veggie kugel, broccoli kugel, salt and pepper kugel, sweet noodle kugel (with raisins and cinnamon, yum!), fruit kugel, corn kugel, sweet potato kugel… and of course, potato kugel.

During the 1800s, potatoes became popular in Europe. They were a very cheap, filling food, easy to grow and store. I don’t know what gave that very first Yiddishe mamma the idea to grate potatoes and add it to her kugel, but potato kugel took off, and we’ve never looked back.


Schnitzel

Country of origin: Italy or Austria

Ah, the smell of schnitzel frying on the stove. Biting into a perfect piece of schnitzel, delish!

If you ask your parents where schnitzel comes from, they’ll probably tell you Germany or Austria. But written records show that it was probably first invented in Rome, Italy. Either way, sometime during the 12th century, the idea of taking meat or chicken, pounding it into a thin, boneless cutlet, coating it in breading and frying it, was born.

“Breading” was a dough or batter made of flour and water. Nowadays, bread crumbs and egg are often used to coat the chicken cutlets, resulting in delicious fried schnitzel.

Sometime in the mid-1800s, German immigrants coming into the United States brought all their culinary traditions with them, including, of course, schnitzel.

Schnitzel remains an ever-popular food for supper as well as other occasions. Different forms of breaded and fried chicken or meat have devoted followings across the world, from the US to the Middle East and even Japan.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 788)

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