Ways to enjoy a welcome break

From meat stew to sponge cake, there are almost as many end-of-fast dishes as there are Jews. We identify some of the more exotic choices.

By Denise Phillips, October 10, 2011
Break your fast on healthy fruit

Break your fast on healthy fruit

Fasting is straightforward and we all do it pretty much the same. The Torah is quite clear. Put your human cravings to one side and focus on trying to obtain the highest level of spirituality through prayer and forgiveness. Nil by mouth. No food and no water from dusk to the following dusk. Simple. Not a lot of room for variation.

How we end the fast varies enormously. Geography, age and family background all play their part. Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews each have their own customs.

The majority do it the traditional Ashkenazi way, with cups of tea and honey cake and then a selection of herrings both pickled and shmaltz, fried fish and salads. Many families will have evolved their own customs beyond this. My own have added salmon, quiches, salads, jacket potatoes and fruit platters. Another family reports a tradition of tucking into cauliflower cheese - good solid English comfort food.

Sephardi Jews have a range of dishes, very often taken from their particular country of origin. An Egyptian friend breaks her fast with copious cups of black coffee and kahk - savoury rings of bread coated with sesame seeds or cumin seeds - cheese sambousaks (pastries) and a selection of salads, normally including aubergine.

Also popular is ful medames - a vegetarian dish made with brown lentils or beans, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, chopped parsley. Her special tradition is to include humus and boiled egg as the topping.

Good old gefilte fish

Good old gefilte fish

Boiled potatoes with a lemon dressing are also part of the minhag, sometimes enhanced with rice. So the focus is on light but nutritious spreads of dishes to end a day of fasting.

Michelle Ramden, owner of Olive, the Persian restaurant in Finchley, north London, breaks the fast with challah, cheese, egg, jam and cakes. Other Persians - Jews from Iran - tend to go straight into dinner with rice, chorresht (meat stew often flavoured with saffron), and kebabs, and a special drink that they have only at this time of year, called faloodeh sib, made with shredded apple, rose water, mineral water and sugar.

Over in Sweden, the table is set out with jugs of water, wine, Coca Cola, vegetable soup and vanilla sponge cake with lots of icing sugar. Sliced challah is plated up to be served with cheese, pickles and other deli favourites.

Italian Jews often tuck into a three-course meat meal, generally starting with salads or soup followed by a chicken dish. Silvia Nacamulli's family always start with her beef and chicken broth (see the recipe on the facing page).

Chef Fabienne Viner-Luzzato grew up in Paris where, she says, the fast was broken with "a Turkish coffee with lots of sugar, accompanied by a liqueur, home-made lemonade and biscuits to dip in the drinks (see the recipe on the facing page), followed by chicken soup, chicken with olives and preserved lemons, couscous with spinach and white bean, and fruit". She jokes that they finish with "Gaviscon and paracetamol".

So, as with many Jewish food rituals, there is no clearly defined rule for that first all-important meal after the fast. It varies from one continent to another. Climate and the ingredients indigenous to the specific areas play a vital part in the different recipes families enjoy. One thing they all have in common though - no meal is more welcome.

Last updated: 2:45pm, October 10 2011