Tzimmes

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009
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Tzimmes is classic Ashkenazi Jewish food. It is a sweet, diced carrot stew that usually includes raisins or prunes and is flavoured with honey and cinnamon. Sometimes it also contains meat, particularly brisket. It can be eaten all year round but is a special delicacy on Rosh Hashanah when we traditionally eat sweet foods, as an omen for a sweet year.

Tzimmes is definitely Yiddish, but its German etymology is more obscure. Some believe it comes from zum essen, which simply means to eat. Others conjecture that it is Old High German from ze imbiz, meaning a light meal, related to the same Indo-European root as the English word bite . Others still claim that it is connected to the English word simmer.

More obscure still is how tzimmes also came to mean fuss or commotion. You can say, I said sorry for sitting on his hat, but he still had to made a big tzimmes out of it, or Who would have thought that you could make such a tzimmes out of running a country etc. One senses that it is to do with tzimmes being rich, overcooked, and distinctively Jewish; but other foods (cholent, kishke, pshaw) could have conveyed those nuances just as well. Why tzimmes deserved this honour is a mystery.

    Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009