Last weekend I was once again obliged to attend the barmitzvah of some child I had never met. Happily it was the great nephew of my dear friend Moshe, so at least I had someone to whom I could complain about the catering.
Complaining is no fun if the person on the receiving end is trained to be polite and leave you feeling even more furious than when you started out, like they are in call-centres. Satisfaction is only arrived at when the other person loses his cool.
Moshe takes every criticism personally, even when the criticism is aimed at someone else, in this case, his niece. That Moshe is so easy to infuriate is the main reason I like him.
On the spectrum of religiosity, Moshe’s niece is, well, not religious. I therefore requested a special meal because this was not a kosher catered function — it was a kosher-style catered function.
For readers who are not aware of the concept of kosher-style, it follows the same restrictions in terms of what foods may be eaten, but does not go so far as to adhere to the rituals in terms of slaughter and separation.
For the not-so-religious Jew, kosher-style catering comes in at a fraction of the price of the supervised version, and guests can enjoy meat that looks and tastes just like the real halachic thing.
The other advantage of kosher-style food is that it includes proper haimishe chicken soup with butter-laden matzah balls using a recipe made famous by the gentile-style Nigella Lawson. Nigella believes that made this way in Kensington, the matzah balls taste much more sophisticated than the ones usually found in north-west London.
As someone who keeps proper kosher, kosher-style holds little appeal. I can see why it suits some, but it means that at a Jewish function I’m labelled the religious nut as the glare of 200 pairs of eyes burn into my flesh while I unwrap the several yards of cling film from my plate of real kosher food that has been carefully created to match the kosher-style menu other guests are enjoying. My authentic kosher meal is a fake of a fake kosher meal.
Which is why I much prefer treif-style to kosher-style. Treif-style is genuine kosher food that looks and tastes just like the forbidden foods you have always craved.
Of course, treif-style is nothing new. Dairy-free dairy foods concocted to be consumed at the same sitting as meat have courted controversy for many years. I have often heard people argue that following meat with non-dairy ice cream, for example, flies in the face of the spirit of the law which serves to remind us of our responsibilities towards animal welfare.
My response to this is straightforward: “You have clearly never tasted dairy-free ice cream. If you had, you would know that eating it can only serve to remind us that we should never ingest dangerous and vile-tasting chemicals”.
My favourite treif-style food is foie gras. Jews make the best foie gras in the world. You can be sure that if anyone knows how to feed an animal to death, it’s us Jews. I should know — every time I went to my grandmother’s house as a child, I was subjected to forcefeeding.
When it comes to foie gras the whole question of animal welfare is quietly put to one side. To be kosher the bird must be killed humanely, but no mention is made of the suffering the creature endures during its lifetime, so it’s definitely good for a sprauncy simchah, especially when served in typical Jewish portions, just so guests can experience what life was like for the bird when it lived.
If foie gras doesn’t do it for you, there’s a wide range of kosher sea-food including faux crab-meat, prawns, shrimps and the somewhat less popular mock turtle.
Back at the barmitzvah, the meal came to a conclusion and I was all ready to get going with the specially printed benchers that had been provided, but no benching took place. It turned out that the books were no more than souvenirs of a Jewish-style simchah.