What Do You Eat on Passover? Matzo is Just a Start!

by Judy Stone-Goldman on April 25, 2011

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Passover – food! These words go together. It’s impossible to think about Passover without thinking about what you do and don’t eat.

On Passover, you don’t eat chametz (cHAH-metz), which refers to any food that has leavening, including breads, cakes, cookies, beer, and many other less obvious foods. In its place is matzo (MAH-tsah), a flat cracker that is often compared in taste to dust and other dry delicacies. The matzo is both food and symbol: as the story goes, the Hebrews left Egypt in such haste, their bread did not have time to rise. For the eight days of Passover, we eat matzo to commemorate the exodus.

Matzo in a specially shaped container

But while matzo is the centerpiece of Passover food, it is hardly the only specialty food. Matzo balls, made from matzo meal and served in chicken soup, make their appearance at the Seder meal and roll around many a plate during the holiday week. They are not without controversy, however, as cooks and diners debate the crucial question: heavy or light, which is better? I always liked the cannonball variety, but many argue passionately for the light and airy.

A standard Passover food is gefilte fish, a fish patty made from different types of ground up fish.

Gefilte fish, creatively prepared in a mold

Though it’s not my all-time favorite food, its taste and texture have a strong place in my gustatory memory. Say “gefilte fish” and I think Passover! (In fact, you can eat it any time.)

You might think dessert would be a dreary time on Passover, but creative cooks meet the leavening-free challenge easily. You can cook or buy many Kosher-for-Pesach (acceptable for Passover) treats–cakes, candies, chocolate-covered matzos, and macaroons (dense little coconut cookies shaped like a mini-dome). (All packaged foods eaten on Passover should show the rabbinical seal approving the food for Passover.)

Passover brownies

Our family standard was sponge cake. It gained its height from egg whites, beaten into stiff peaks with an old-fashioned hand beater. Blending the egg whites into the matzo-meal-and-egg batter was a tricky task tinged with drama—would the egg whites stay firm enough? I have vivid memories of watching my mother wield a rubber spatula as she gently folded in the egg whites and then eased the mixture into an angel food cake pan (a Passover-only pan by default, as my mother never baked cakes otherwise).  I don’t remember any seriously collapsed cakes, and I certainly don’t remember any one ever complaining that the cake was too flat.

Carrot cake (flat! like many Passover foods)

Finally, I arrive at Passover’s breakfast delight: matzo brie. Matzo brie is made by soaking a board of matzo in water (which creates a soggy and rather yucky mess) and then breaking the wet matzo into pieces that are cooked into egg, which ends up like a frittata or chunky scrambled eggs, depending on how you cook it. I always thought matzo brie was as fundamental to Passover as matzo balls, but after I waxed ecstatic about it, my husband said he did not even know what it was.

Curious about Passover food? Don’t be afraid–you can find a wide variety of Passover foods at most grocery stores. And if you are feeling brave, try eating a board of plain matzo. It’s dry and crunchy and carries the taste of Passover!

Questions for Reflection: What traditions—religious or otherwise—do you practice that have strong food associations? How do different foods become part of the experience? How does food become part of memory?

Writing Prompts: “Our family had a tradition of eating ______” (then keep writing); “When I remember foods from my family, I find myself ______” (then keep writing); “As I read about Passover, I start to think of ______” (then keep writing).


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi Alberti and Atticus
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

So interesting! To me, matzo tastes like host wafers (going back to my Catholic upbringing). Maybe another tradition the Christians took from the Jews??

I’m not a big cake person, but I adore macaroons!! Although my family ancestry is Italian/Portuguese (all Catholic), I think I must have some Hebrew in me… I’m just too fascinated by Jewish heritage! & I think I could totally groove on the food :)

Thanks for taking us through the holiday with you, Judy.

Heidi & Atticus
http://www.atticusuncensored.com
“commentary to give you paws…”

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Heidi, I so love your open heart and capacity for learning beyond your own experience. In truth, I have met some wonderful, spiritual (in the deepest sense) people who are very drawn to Jewish culture. And if it’s food that you enjoy, then you would really enjoy anything Jewish!

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Louise Edington April 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I’ve always been fascinated by the Jewish traditions and culture also but not the food! I have eaten Matzo and Gefilte Fish and liked neither – and I really don’t have a sweet tooth at all for macaroons etc. Turkey on Christmas day (British trad) is the closest I get to food reminding me of any holidays – other than Cadbury’s Chocolate eggs at Easter…..
Louise Edington
Fearless Over Fifty
http://louiseedington.com

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Franziska San Pedro
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Hi Judy,
my Dad loves Matzos (in German it’s Matzen) and he munches on them all year round.. just like Louise I am not too crazy about Gefilte Fish but there’s a lot of Jewish Food I absolutely love. I also love all the differences between Russian Jews, Egyptian or any Jews from any other country. It’s so cool how they all have their own recipes and fit Kosher cooking into their very own cultures. But what I love most is the explanation and the history behind it.
As you know, I cooked Kosher at Silverseas with a Rabbi who had an eye on me whatever I did. Very interesting!

In my family we have special foods for many different occasions, we have so many traditions, the comment box would probably explode!

Franziska San Pedro
The Abstract Impressionist Artress

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Franziska, I wanted to put something in the post about the different Jewish cultures – Sephardic vs. Ashkenazi – but it got too long! My background is Ashkenazi, but I actually pretend I’m Sephardic now because I don’t eat wheat so need the rice and legumes that the Sephardic eat. It’s quite fascinating the variety from different regions/lineages. Yes, I remember you writing about cooking Kosher–what an amazing experience, and you definitely had the eagle eye watching you!

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Brandy Mychals
Twitter:
April 29, 2011 at 6:45 am

Hi Judy,
Love Passover meals – except the gelfite fish…I also like Matzo year round :-) Not sure that I experience the different styles of food based on the region you are from, but I’m intrigued…and, my vote is for the light an fluffy Matzo balls – LOL!
Brandy Mychals
Creator of the Character Code System

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