Israeli chefs target every last crumb for Passover (AP) Associated Press) By DANIELLA CHESLOW TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 04/06/12 11:57 am ET)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-Top
TEL AVIV, Israel – The Jewish springtime Passover holiday is known as
a festival of freedom, but its hallmark is a litany of dietary
restrictions centered on not eating leavened bread for a week.
The rules are so elaborate that chefs who want to observe the ritual
law must prepare weeks before, removing every last crumb, buying up
new sets of kitchen utensils and planning menus without bread or
At Liliyot, one of Tel Aviv´s most prestigious kosher restaurants,
chef Noam Dekkers oversaw his staff on Wednesday, their last regular
day in the kitchen before the annual Passover scrubdown — a process
he calls "logistical mayhem."
At the end of the day, Dekkers´ cooks threw away leftovers like
chopped vegetables and fish. Then, they stored plastic cutting boards
and boxes, locked grains away and scrubbed all steel cooking ware.
The following morning, city rabbis oversaw the final sterilization,
when the restaurant staff blowtorched grease off the grills and
dunked all the metal and glass cooking utensils into cauldrons of
boiling water. As of Thursday night, Liliyot was kosher for Passover.
"Tel Aviv is a secular city," said Dekkers, a nonobservant Jewish
Israeli. "But quite a big part of the community keeps the Jewish
religious traditions, especially of the holidays."
The preparations at Liliyot are part of a nationwide frenzy as Jewish
Israelis prepare for Passover with a binge of cleaning and shopping
culminating in a holiday dinner Friday known as the seder.
The holiday began Friday at sundown, and a horn blasted over a system
of loudspeakers through the empty streets of Jerusalem´s Jewish
neighborhoods to alert residents that Passover has started. Earlier
in the day, thousands swarmed into the city´s cavernous Mahaneh
Yehuda market to stock up on food.
Passover celebrates the biblical Exodus story of the Israelites´
escape from slavery in Egypt.
God killed the first-born boys of Egypt after the pharaoh refused to
release the children of Israel from bondage, but "passed over" the
houses of the Israelites. Distraught over losing his son, the pharaoh
let the slaves free, and the Israelites fled so quickly they did not
have time to wait for their bread dough to rise before baking it.
So on Passover, observant Jews avoid bread and instead eat thin wheat
crackers called matzoh to recall the Israelites´ flight.
Beyond the injunction on bread, observant Jews also refrain from
eating grains like wheat, spelt, rye and oats on the holiday unless
they´re in the form of matzoh. And Jews whose ancestors come from
eastern Europe also steer clear of legumes and rice.
The Passover rules are in addition to regular kosher regulations that
proscribe pork, require meat to be ritually slaughtered and forbid
mixing of meat and dairy.
In Tel Aviv, about 950 businesses keep kosher year-round. Rabbi
Shimon Baluka, director of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Rabbinate´s kosher
department, says the Passover rules are so tough that only a third of
the kosher businesses take the trouble to get certified. The others
close for the holiday.
Besides the pre-Passover inspection, about 100 supervisors will
ensure kosher restaurants abide by the rules during the holiday,
At Liliyot, beyond cleaning, keeping kosher for Passover means
stripping the regular menu of any chametz, the catchall word for food
not kosher for the holiday.
Dekkers said he changed his menu while trying to hew as much to the
original as possible. For example, seared gray mullet served over
black radish and a slice of chewy focaccia becomes kosher without the
bread. The juicy rib-eye steak served with multicolored carrots is
nearly untouched. Pasta dishes are gone.
The most important thing, Dekkers said, is to keep the food light
with plenty of interesting produce.
"I don´t have a problem with heavy food, but I do have a problem with
that heavy feeling after a meal," he said.
Passover is the holiday most celebrated by Israeli Jews, according to
a 2009 survey on religion conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of
Even though only about 20 percent of Israeli Jews identify themselves
as Orthodox, almost everyone attends a seder. And two-thirds of
Israeli Jews refrain from eating chametz throughout the weeklong
To accommodate them, the Israeli food industry transforms. Snack
manufacturers replace regular flour with matzoh meal. Cows eat corn
and alfalfa instead of hay to prevent a stray grain of chametz from
getting into milk. And supermarkets cover up non-kosher products with
large sheets, meaning regular breakfast cereals and crackers will be
hard to find.
For some, the rules can be liberating.
Pastry chef Avi Melamedson makes yogurt mousse, poppy cake and a
flourless chocolate fudge on the holiday.
"I have placed a kind of veto on matzoh meal," Melamedson said. "You
can use great raw materials and get quality products without flour."
Janna Gur, founder and editor of the Al Hashulchan (On the Table)
food magazine, said that in contrast to more adventurous years,
Israeli home cooks are currently focusing on their own family recipes
from around the Jewish world.
"People got tired of trying to reinvent themselves with a completely
new seder, and they are going back to tradition," Gur said.
Because the Passover holiday is so sacrosanct in Israel, even bucking
it takes special preparation.
Lior Hargil owns the Minzar pub in central Tel Aviv. It is one of the
few establishments that will remain open on Friday night, when most
Israelis will be eating the seder meal.
Hargil said he orders beer, which is not kosher for Passover, three
weeks before the holiday, holding 200 kegs in a neighboring
convenience store to take him through seven days when he cannot fill
his taps. He freezes loaves of bread because most bakeries are
shuttered, and stockpiles flour because most of the supermarkets
nearby won´t sell it.
"I want a sense of order and a vacation and not to have to run
around," he said. And among secular Israelis, he said, "People
actually want extra chametz." (© 2012 The Associated Press 04/06/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY