The mighty sesame seed has been an integral part of many important dishes throughout the world for centuries. One of the oldest oilseed crops known, sesame seeds are thought to have been domesticated more than 3,000 years ago.
White sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and brown sesame seeds. Roasted, crushed, and made in to oils. Sweet or savory dishes…you name it. In the Middle East, the crushed sesame seeds make the creamy tahini that used to make hummus, Israeli halvah, and Tahini sauce for falafel. Roasted sesame oil is an essential component in and over a lot of iconic dishes in Asia. In southern China, black sesame seeds are crushed with rice to make black sesame soup, a staple of dim sum. Roasted sesame seeds are also used to coat “Greek sesame seed bagels” called koulouri, and Italian and Danish bread sticks. They also blend with other seeds to make crunchy seed toppings like Egypt’s dukkah.
Explore this magnificent little seed and its many forms by cooking the dishes that have counted on it to make them famous:
Scandinavians’ take their Christmases very, very seriously. Home cooks begin cooking and baking a month in advance with everything culminating in a massive feast on Christmas eve. The five Scandinavian (or Nordic) countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland all share a harsh climate, long winters, and strong traditions, especially around Christmas foods
My Hungry Traveler got together for Christmas in 2022 with friends and family and cooked up a Scandinavian feast. Here is a guide on how to through a Nordic feast, either for Christmas or any special occasion:
Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord (Julbord) – The typical Swedish Christmas feast includes a variety of dishes, served in a buffet known as julbord. Held on Christmas Eve, these dinners are filled with traditional Swedish dishes, including warm dishes like meatballs in cream gravy, potato-anchovy casserole, salmon, pickled herring, cheese, and cold cuts. Danish rye bread open face sandwiches (smorrebrod), and a few Finnish starters like beetroot salad, creamed salmon soup, and Karelian pies served alongside Scandinavian schnapps, Aquavit, and mulled wine called Glogg. This is the beginnings of a true Scandinavian Christmas feast.
Danish Main Course – After standing around stuffing oneself, it’s time to sit down at the table to a nice warm soup and to begin the serious eating! The two most common types of meat served at a Danish Christmas dinner are pork roast (flæskesteg) and roast duck (andesteg). Sides almost alway include sweet and sour red cabbage and caramelized potatoes. A gravy made from pan drippings and red currant jelly round out the plate.
Scandinavian Christmas Desserts – Baking is a fine art year-round in Scandinavia. But come late November, the serious Christmas baking begins. Danish and Norwegian home cooks bake at least seven different kinds of cookies — a carryover from the 19th century when the number reflected a family’s wealth and status. Scandinavians’ especially love the ritual of gathering around the living room coffee table to enjoy after-dinner coffee and a dazzling array of cookies, cakes, and rice pudding with whipped cream and cherry sauce.
In almost every culture there is a belief that the dead should be honored, be it out of respect or a fear of ghostly retribution. In some cultures, there are holidays set aside specifically to commemorate the dead, which vary from reserved veneration to a killer party. Listed below are some of the major festivals around the world. Scroll down to see the recipes for the essential dishes from four of the major festivals: Mexican (Dia de Los Muertos), the Philippines (Undas), China (Hungry Ghost Festival), and Japan (Obon Festival).
Mexico- Dia de La Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that’s celebrated on the first two days of November. Its purpose is is to celebrate the lives of deceased relatives when their spirits are believed to return to this world. Although similar to Halloween and All-Saints/All-Souls days in time of year and focus on thy deceased, Dia de los Muertos’ is neither rooted in pagan or Christian beliefs. Its origins go back to an Aztec harvest celebration. While American Halloween sees spirits as as scary and something to be warded off, Day of the Dead is based on receiving the souls of dead relatives with joy and hospitality. It is not meant to be ghoulish, but rather a grand celebration of the deceased. Graves are swept and offerings (Ofrendas) of Pan de Muertos (Bread of Dead), foods the loved in life, marigold flowers, and photos of the deceased. The traditional foods of this joyous occasion always include breads and pastry, sugar skulls, and other foods the deceased favored in life.
Food has always played a big role in Chinese holidays, but during the Hungry Ghost Festival, food takes center stage. Paper money (Joss) is burned at the beginning of the month-long holiday so that the spirits have money to spend while wandering the earth. By the 15th of the month they have mostly run out of money. That’s when the Hungry Ghost Festival occurs. The festival entertains them and provides them with food, supplies, and more money. The festival not only entertains them but wards off the evil intentions of disgruntled spirits by appeasing them with gifts and their favorite foods in life. For the orphaned dead, basic foods like rice, Mantau (steamed buns), fruits (pineapple means good luck), and sweets are left outside of the house. For ancestors, a large meal of their favorites is held on the 15th, the one day they are given a day to visit their living descendants. Their favorite dishes are served and 2-3 empty place settings are set out for them. Paper lanterns are lit and floated away to guide the spirits back to the afterlife. Besides the offerings placed outside the home to appease the wandering souls, the main feast often includes the following foods:
A traditional Buddhist festival, Obon commemorates lost ancestors, whose spirits are believed to come back during Obon to visit living relatives. The Obon festival is not solemn and often involves the Bon Odon dance to welcome the spirits as well asfireworks, games, and feast on traditional foods. It is also one of the few times you can find Japanese street vendors serving up popular Obon foods.
Undas, the cousin of All-Saints Day, is a somber occasion that is balanced by the joy of meeting deceased relatives. Filipino families prepare food and bring it cemeteries to share along with sweeping and cleaning the gravestones. They also have a huge feast with the whole family, relatives, and friends consisting with the special dishes that their loved ones used to enjoy, which are also made to bring to their gravestones.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Christians and Catholics)
Considered a national holiday in many countries, All Saints’ Day (November 1st) has roots in early Catholicism as a festival to honor unknown saints and martyrs. The day after this—All Souls’ Day—is a more solemn holiday during which people commemorate the souls that are now in Purgatory. The prayers of the living are said to help speed the burning of minor sins in purgatory and to help sanctify souls for the entrance into Heaven.
Halloween (United States)
October 31, also called All Hallows Eve, has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. People light bonfires, don scary costumes, and visit neighborhood homes to receive “soul cakes” for the promise of praying for the dead. Not offering the visitors a treat would expose them to the tricks of malevolent ghosts. Brought to America during the mass immigration of Irish and Scottish immigrants, who brought All Hallow Eve traditions with them. In America, All Hallows Eve soon became Halloween, soul cakes became candy, and “soul caking” became trick or treating. This major holiday in America is now measured in billions ($6 billion in candy sales, $500 million on pet costumes, etc.), pumpkin carving, and dressing in costumes.
Pchum Ben (Cambodia)
This holiday is celebrated every year in Cambodia between mid-September and mid-October. Officially a 14 day festival, foods are prepared in the early morning to bring to pagodas for Buddhist monks to offer to the souls of the deceased. White is worn (Cambodian color of mourning) to remember ancestors. During the 15 days of Pchum Ben, the line between the living and the dead is thought to be at its thinnest. Cambodians believe that during Pchum Ben, spirits come back in search of living relatives, hoping to atone for sins from their past life.
Gai Jatra (Nepal)
This “festival of the cows” is one of the most popular holidays in Nepal and is held each year in August or September. Families who lost a relative in the last year lead a cow (or a child dressed as a cow, if no cows are around) down the village street in a procession. The cow is one of the most revered animals in Hinduism, and participants believe that the animal will help lead recently deceased family members into the afterlife.
Often compared to American Thanksgiving, Chuseok is Korea’s largest national holiday, and is celebrated throughout both North and South Korea. Marked with dancing, games and food, Chuseok is also a time for Koreans to honor their ancestors. The holiday is celebrated sometime in September or October. Traditionally, the celebration coincides with the fall harvest. During the three-day festival, the living give thanks to the dead for their part in providing bountiful crops. Families celebrate Chuseok by sharing the harvest with others, so the holiday is food-centric, with food prepared from the harvest and traditional Korean rice cakes are eaten. Koreans also visit and clean the graves of their ancestors.
Bread for the Dead (Switzerland, Austria, Ecuador)
In Switzerland (Bones of the Dead or Swiss Dry Bone) cookies are treats that are shaped as a pile of bones and are intended to offer to dead ancestors. In Austria, grandchildren are given “Allerheiligenstriezel,” a braided yeast bread, to commemorate the women who cut off their braided hair as a sign of mourning. In Ecuador (Guaguas de Pan) is a small bread shaped in the form of a baby and decorated with piped icing.
Also called “Turning of the Bones,” this celebration is based on the belief that the spirit of the dead can’t fully go to the land of the ancestors until the body is completely decomposed, bodies are dug up every 7 years to be rewrapped in silk and carried around the tomb to live music before being buried again.
Qingming Festival (China)
Ancestor Day is a Chinese national holiday celebrated in April where families pay their respect by visiting the tombs of their ancestors and sweeping them clean.
Pitru Paksha (India)
This two week tradition is when offerings of food and prayers are made to all the deceased. If the proper rituals and offerings are accepted by ancestors, wealth, health, and salvation are bestowed.
Hosting a memorable dinner party is about more than just serving up a few select dishes. At the core, it’s about delighting your guests in a full sensory experience- transporting them to another place by virtue of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch.
If you really want to make a memorable experience, introduce your guests to the cuisine and customs of another culture. Spanish traditions lend themselves perfectly to a dinner party; meals in Spain are as much about spending quality time with friends and family as they are about enjoying delicious foods. By serving up a tapas-style dinner, you’ll delight your guests with a variety of delectable small plates and cheese board leading into a magnificent paella main course and then finishing with luscious desserts to create an intimate, comfortable setting where everyone can linger at the table long after the meal has ended.
The brininess of olives, the earthy aroma of cured meats, and the complex pairings of robust wines—these flavors, combined with fresh ingredients and vibrant conversation, are the essence of what makes a Spanish meal so special. For Spaniards, how they eat is just as important as what they eat.
And while no dinner party would be complete without lively conversation, the Spanish have elevated socializing into an art form. It’s not uncommon for meals to last several hours, with anything under two being quite rare. The custom even has a name, sobremesa, which means “over the table”. Sipping wine or coffee long after the plates have been cleared is what defines a typical Spanish dinner—and no recreation would be complete without it.
MHT is excited to present how a host can create the type of dinner party experience you’d encounter in the heart of Spain:
Greet your guests with a glass of Fino Sherry and then move to a glass of Spain’s champagne, Cava. No Spanish meal is complete without a thoughtful wine pairing. Complement your feast with a glass of full-bodied red, which is perfect alongside the savory flavors of meats and cheeses.
For a taste of all that Spanish wine has to offer, try serving wines that blend of grapes from across Spain, especially from the regions of Priorat and Rioja. Sangria is wine mixed with fruit that is all Spanish and perfect for pairing with paella.
Spanish wines also provide the perfect base for a dinner cocktail. Mix a light and refreshing tinto de verano by blending a Spanish red with lemon soda and serving over ice.
One thing that makes meals so unique in Spain is the variety of the menu, and there’s no easier way to taste a bunch of dishes than through a creative and robust tapas menu. Greet guests with a platter of imported jamón ibérico, lomo, cecina, anchovy-stuffed Manzanilla green olives, Manchego cheese, and marcona almonds. Add a few slices of a crusty baguette, olive oil, which is used as an accompaniment in almost every traditional Spanish dish, along with a little remoulade and romesco sauce.
Complement the cold foods with a course of small plates of delicious warm tapas. There are literally 100s of tapas recipes to choose from, both cold and hot. And, of course, keep the wine flowing.
Paella is the principal dish of a Spanish feast. While it’s normally cooked in a wide, shallow pan over an open flame, you can improvise with whatever pot or pan you have on hand—just be sure to use a medium grain rice (like Bomba from Valencia) and fresh seafood and vegetables. A side of Cataluña’s spinach with pine nuts and raisins is a perfect complement to the complex flavors as paella.
If any of your guests are vegetarian, a second vegetarian paella with a spicy garlic sauce is perfect. Another excellent option is a Spanish potato and onion casserole, tortilla Espanola, which is typically served as a tapas but fits perfectly as a vegetarian entrée.
Before dinner draws to a close, delight your guests with something sweet. A refreshing Valencia orange sorbet is the perfectly clean ending to cut through the decadence of your meal if you can find some. A classic flan or a sweet flourless almond cake are especially nice and traditional.
Crucially, don’t overlook the most important element of a Spanish meal: sobremesa, the custom of lingering at the table well after a meal has finished to hang out with family and friends, chatting and enjoying each other’s company.
Barbecue is more than a meal- It’s an event. People gather for good barbecue, whether invited or not. Barbecue is an event that gathers people around a fire. Like the fires of prehistory, this is the setting to eat, drink and tell stories.
Smoking has been used as a way of preserving and flavoring food for thousands of years. Soon after the discovery of fire, man found that meats and fish exposed to smoke lasted much longer before spoiling. In many cuisines around the world, smoking meats and fish became a yearly ritual, especially in autumn, to provide protein over the winter when hunting became less fruitful. The annual celebrations that surrounded these events morphed over time to become an excuse for family and friends to gather. The introduction of refrigeration and spices over the last 500 years has helped make smoking meats a ritualistic culinary art form that celebrates community rather than just a method of preservation and survival.
Three different countries have taken BBQ to whole other level that has become, in many ways, part of their national identities. Experience the amazing recipes and stories that have made each of these countries approach to BBQ do special.
Almost every state and region in the United States has its own style of barbecue, each with its own cuts of meat based on what were readily available. Using a backyard grill at home is a wonderful American tradition utilized as a way for family and friends to gather for an afternoon to eat hot dogs and hamburgers. A true American barbecue is usually a day-long event that celebrates the smoked foods and cooking rituals.
The word braaivleis is Afrikaans for “smoked meat”. The word braai is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill”, and is a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In South America, asado is a technique for cooking cuts of meat, usually consisting of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill (parrilla) or open fire. It is considered the traditional meal of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and southern Brazil. The asado is a very traditional way of cooking that typically requires the great skills of an asador. The gathering of family and friends is critical to a successful asado.
Almost every country in the world has a national holiday that commemorates the date that country came into existence as an independent nation. It is a special day of national pride that each country celebrates with patriotic parades, songs, homage to the founders, and of course, traditional food and drink.
Nationhood is actually a relatively new concept. It all began with The Age of Enlightenment, a movement that began in Europe during the late 1700s. This philosophical movement took science, reason, and inquiry as its guiding principles in order to challenge traditions and reform society. The Enlightenment’s ideals of democracy – equality under the law, separation of church and state, and individual liberty – encouraged colonial independence throughout the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The results of these powerful ideas were first reflected in both the American and French revolutions – when a monarchial form of government (kings ruled by “divine right”) was replaced by a republic empowered by the people.
During another “Age”, the European Age of Exploration (1400s-1600s), Europeans, especially Spain, Portugal, Holland, England, and France – sailed the world in search of new lands for their country, indigenous peoples to convert, and riches to be found from gold and the spice trade.
The end result of this ruthless quest for riches was slavery and ultimately uprisings leading to bloody conflicts in all the countries they colonized. Those conflicts eventually led to full-fledged revolutions where colonists were defeated and sent home, leaving a new and self-governing nation behind. The pride each nation has in the people who sacrificed their lives for their liberty is celebrated annually with a day dedicated to national and personal independence.
A big part of those celebrations are gathering with friends and family to eat and drink traditional foods special to their country. MHT offers you menus and recipes that four different countries might serve on their Independence Day. It’s a fun way to change things up a bit while experiencing some new and amazing cuisines.
Haiti became a free country on January 1, 1804. As France’s most profitable colony, its plantation economy depended on a brutal system of slave labor. Following an insurrection that grew to a full-fledged revolution, Haitian slaves along with gens de couleur libres (free people of color) defeated the French military and declared Haiti an independent republic. Haiti was the first black-led republic and the first of many Latin American countries to triumph against European domination.
After freedom, it became time to celebrate and eat. The dish that symbolizes Haitian independence is Soup Joumou, a traditional soup that the French slave masters wouldn’t allow them to eat as they considered it a delicacy. After the Haitians threw the French out, this once forbidden soup became the symbol of independence and freedom.
Brazil celebrates its independence from Portugal in 1823 on September 7th. Brazil is the only country in South America that is not Spanish-speaking. This is the result of a 1500s treaty between Spain and Portugal that split the newly discovered Americas between them. Portugal claimed the huge territory in the west, Brazil, and Spain everything to the west of that.
Brazilian cuisine is a unique contribution of indigenous peoples, imported slaves, and Portuguese explorers. Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is basically Portuguese bean stew made with Brazilian black beans and leftover parts of the pig. Over the years, sausage, ham, and other meats have replaced the pig snouts, hoofs, and ears of yore. The meal that Brazilians eat on Independence Day is an ultimate combination of historical cuisines that represent the country. Feijoada and pão de queijo have their roots in Portugal and farofa and couve a mineira from Africa. The Cachaça (fermented palm sugar alcohol), the basis of the national drink, Caipirinha, is made only in Brazil.
The March First Movement, also called Samil Independence Movement, was a series of demonstrations for Korean national independence from Japan that began on March 1, 1919 in the Korean capital city of Seoul and soon spread throughout the country. The movement was begun by Korean cultural and religious leaders who, after almost 10 years of Japanese rule, drew up a Korean “Proclamation of Independence” and then organized a mass demonstration for that day. On the appointed day, the leaders, hoping to bring international pressure on Japan to end its colonial rule over Korea, signed and read their proclamation in Seoul and all over the country. Centuries of suppressed anti-Japanese feelings were released in one great explosion, producing mass demonstrations for years in many parts of the country and forming the largest national protest rallies against foreign domination in Korean history.
This special day is celebrated every year with parades, readings, songs, and endless food. Traditionally cold noodles and hot stews are eaten. Big family and neighborhood parties are held all over Korea, north and south. Lots of hand foods are usually served and accompanied by a never-ending stream of steamed rice, marinated beef dishes, and the pickled vegetable salads called belacan.
Greek Independence Day is celebrated every March 25 since the start of the War of Greek Independence began in 1821. Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire since 1453 and was eventually separated years after the war began with the help of Russia, Great Britain, France.
Left behind by the Turks and Egyptians of the Ottoman Empire were the savory and sweet phyllo pastries that are responsible for famous Greek dishes like spanakopita and Greek baklava. Synonymous with Greek Independence Day celebrations is Bakaliaros & Skordalia, a wonderful combination of batter-fried codfish and mashed garlic potato dip.
Asado (A-sod-oh) is Argentina. A day long homage to all things grilled meat, the asado brings together family and friends, usually on Sundays, and represents the true spirit of Argentinian people. Historically, the abundance of wild cattle from the pampas plains combined with the mystique of the proud and independent Gauchos (cowboys) who herded them, makes for a strong cultural identity around cooked meats.
My Hungry Traveler is excited to show you how to throw a fun and filling asado that friends and family won’t stop raving about. You can also learn more about the origins of Argentinian cuisine HERE.
Plan for a long weekend afternoon when the weather’s nice and you don’t mind being outside.
During weekends in Argentina, it’s very common for friends and family to gather around food. Time is spent chatting, listening to music, drinking vino tinto (red wine), and munching on tasty appetizers until the main dishes come off the grill.
Figure around 1 pound (1/2 kilogram) of meat per guest and extra for leftovers.
Ask guests to bring typical side dishes, chimichurris, and fruit desserts.
The star of the show, meat, should be of the highest quality, only salted to allow the beef flavors to shine, and cooked slowly to medium-well doneness over low heat. Pork gets salted the same but with a light squeeze of lemon to bring out its natural sweetness. Sausage doesn’t get salted.
Sprinkle a heavy dose of coarse like sal parrilla or Kosher salt within 30 minutes of serving.
One person mans the grill. In Argentina this grill master is called the “asador” and is revered and applauded for their skill in handling this difficult responsibility.
Asado courses come in waves and the asador usually goes around serving guests as the meats come off the grill.
Prepare everybody in advance that there’s little chance of escaping unstuffed.
All asados start with sitting around chatting and munching on appetizers before the meats come off the grill. The meats are cooked with the larger, longer cooking meats going on the grill first and smaller cuts going on later. Argentinians love their meats grilled low and slow until it is well done with crispy outsides and tender juicy insides.
Appetizers – Known in Spanish as entradas, these are the meal-before-the meal of an asado. Plates of picada (cold cuts of deli meats and cheeses), loaves of baguettes, empanadas,pickled eggplant, and provoleta (grilled cheese wheel) are just a few of the varieties to be served well before the meat is even done cooking. For a hearty group, matambre arrollado (rolled stuffed beef), also known as “hunger killer”, is also served.
Wine– Although beer and other beverages are often served at an asado, Argentina is known for its incredible wines that seem to have been made for the sole purpose of complementing their meat. Red wines, such as the popular Malbec, complement the rich flavor of the meat perfectly. Mix somesparkling water into the wine for a less intense, bubbly red wine.
Sides and Salsas – The asado’s grilled dishes are almost always accompanied with fresh salads and salsas to counter the richness of the meats. A nice complement ischimichurri(green, red, or both), ensalada criolla (red pepper salsa), Ensalada de Palmitos (hearts of palm salad), Ensalada Rusa(potato salad). Vegetables like red peppers, onions, zucchini, and eggplant are brushed lightly with olive oil and salted before joining the meats on the grill.
The Opening Act – No asado is complete without Argentine sausages –chorizo, salchia paradilla, and morcilla. Chorizo is served in a baguette with chimichurri (choripan). Salchia a basically a coil of grilled pork or chicken sausage that’s much like an Italian sausage in taste. Morcilla is blood sausage may sound scary but actually has a mouthwatering taste. In a traditional asado, the achuras (innards) come next. To many Argentinians this is the best part of an asado. Different parts of the cow grilled include the kidney, intestine, tripe, and sweetbread. Remember, there is no shame in skipping the achuras, morcilla, or anything else for that matter.
The Main Act– It’s finally time to focus on the heavenly smells that have been wafting in the air for hours. Although beef is the main event, many asados will also have chicken and pork. In addition to asado de tira(short ribs) and bife de chorizo (sirloin steak), an asado usually has a few other grilled items, including pollo asado(butterflied chicken), bife de lomo (tenderloin), entraña (skirt steak), vacío (flank steak), and pork spare ribs.
The Finale – After applauding the asador, brace yourself to taste any deserts that guests brought. Although it will be painful to fit them in at this juncture, it’s the right thing to do.
Where’s the Beef?Excellent quality Argentinean sausages and meat cuts can be ordered online from Wild Fork Foods.
Since 1970, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, more commonly known as Jazz Fest, has brought thousands of music lovers to the Big Easy. Under George Wein’s (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival) guidance, the vision of a large daytime fair with multiple stages featuring a diverse range of music styles, Louisiana cuisine food booths, Louisianans arts and crafts booths, and an evening concert series throughout the city was realized. In addition to local customs, he emphasized African, Caribbean, and French culture, and was able to present the music, cuisine, and crafts of various cultures to the world through Jazz Fest in a way that was both enjoyable and exciting.
The 350 people who attended the first Jazz Fest has grown to an average of 70,000 visitors per-day over the seven days of the Festival held annually on the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. Here’s 2022’s music lineup for both weekends and each of the 13 stages and music styles spread around the huge fairgrounds.
As exciting as all the fantastic music is, it’s the food that makes Jazz Fest so special. With its official food policy of “no carnival food”, there are more than seventy food booths that include local dishes like Cochon de Lait, Andouille Sausage, Soft-shell Crab, and Oyster Po’Boys, Cajun Jambalaya, Crawfish and Sausage Jalapeño Stuffed Breads, Muffulettas, Creole Red Beans and Rice, Pralines, Bread Pudding, Beignets, and the mother of all Jazz Fest dishes, Crawfish Monica. All food vendors are small, locally owned businesses. To check out this year’s list of food booths and what they’re serving, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make to New Orleans this year, my Hungry Traveler has complied the best recipes from Jazz Fest that you can make at home. So, crank-up the music, grab something to drink, cook-up some amazing dishes for a big party…and let the good times roll!
Every spring (April 15th this year), Jews around the world observe Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus from enslavement in ancient Egypt. There are many timeless Passover traditions that are shared by Jews everywhere, but the food served at this holiday varies by region.
The reason for these different foods is the majority of Jews (80%), called Askenase (Hebrew for “Germany”), initially settled in Eastern Europe and Germany. The Sephardic (Hebrew for “Spain”) Jews were exiled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the late 15th century to northern Africa and parts of the Mediterranean. The dietary rules for Passover and in general of the Ashkenazi Jews are very rule bound, especially when eating Kosher and “Kitniyot” (no grains and seeds, rice, corn, and peas). Sephardic Jews have no such restrictions and as a result, their Passover Seders reflect the exciting cuisines of their home countries. In addition to some of the more interesting Passover customs shown below, three different Passover Seder menus are offered here. You can experience these tasty recipes at home for the holiday, Jewish or not.
Matzoh(Mott-zuh)- Matzoh is one of the most iconic elements of Passover. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews fled so quickly that there was no time to waste waiting for bread to rise Instead, they ate unleavened matzah in their desperate escape from slavery. Jews eat matzoh in honor of their ancestors, and to celebrate their freedom. This special unleavened bread is kept on a separate matzah tray.
Finding the Afikomen– At the start of the seder, three pieces of matoh are piled next to the seder plate. The middle piece is removed and broken in two. The larger piece, called the afikomen, and is meant for desert after the seder. It is wrapped in a cloth and hidden in the house as a game for the children to find.
Elijah– An extra wine glass is set on the table as an offering to the prophet Elijah, whose spirit visits homes on Passover. At the end of the Seder, it is customary to pour wine into Elijah’s glass and open the front door so his spirit can visit the home.
Cleaning the House – Before Passover begins, it is customary to clean the house. The idea is to go into the holiday with a clean slate to ensure a successful Passover.
Telling the Passover Story – The Jewish people, led by Moses, asked the Pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves, and were denied. As punishment against Egypt, God sent ten plagues to convince the Pharaoh to release the Jews (Blood, Frogs, Lice, Flies, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Killing of the firstborn). The pharaoh repeatedly refuses Moses’ pleas to “let my people go”. With each denial, God unleashes a different plague on the Egyptian people. As a result, God sent the last plague, which would kill the firstborn male in each household.
The Jews were instructed to mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb so that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes. With this last plague, the Pharaoh finally relented, and the Jews were free to began their exodus from Egypt. The holiday of Passover commemorates these events.
Recognizing Persecution Today – The Jewish people have a long history of being persecuted. Passover is seen as a holiday to not only reflect on that persecution, but to recognize the oppression of people everywhere.
Hosting a Seder – The Seder is the foundation of Passover. Jewish people around the world gather on Passover to have a Seder. A typical Seder is comprised of a dinner as well as reading through the Haggadah (Passover prayer book), which includes the story of Passover and various prayers to recite during the Seder. In addition to a multicourse meal, it includes acknowledging each of the plagues set upon the Egyptians. The Passover Seder Plate is the centerpiece of the Passover meal. The symbolic foods placed on the plate are integral to the telling of the Passover story. .
Passover Seder Plate
The different foods on the Passover Seder plate each serves the purpose of retelling the story of Exodus. The symbolic foods of the Seder Plate come together to create an atmosphere which reflects upon, sympathizes, and celebrates the tragedy and triumphs of the Jewish ancestors and their Exodus from Egypt.
What To Use
The Shank Bone
Pesach or Passover sacrifice: Jews leaving homes in Egypt
Roasted chicken neck, leg bone, or lamb shank bone
Representative of mourning and tears from being unable to to stop the destruction of the Temple. It also celebrates Spring, renewal, and rejuvenation.
Hard boiled eggs or haminados (eggs cooked over low-low heat for 5 -6 hours with water, onion skins, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and a splash of oil and vinegar).
The Bitter Herbs
Reminder of the bitter slavery and exile in Egypt
Grated horseradish wrapped in lettuce leaf
The bitter enslavement of ancestors
A romaine lettuce leave
Symbolic of the mortar used when being forced to build Egyptian storehouses.
The are many variations based on finely crushed fruit, dried and fresh, red wine, and nuts. (See MHT’S Charoset recipe below).
Alludes to the backbreaking labor forced on ancestors
Parsley which is dipped in salt water and eaten.
The Salt Water
The tears shed by ancestors enslaved for so long
1 tbsp salt in 1 cup water for dipping vegetable and egg in before eating
Passover Seder Menus
Below are three separate Passover Seder menus: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and a “best-of” (in MHT’s opinion) combination of the two.