Let's Eat

Fast-breaking with tradition

Do you end Yom Kippur with a four-course feast or a light soupy supper?


We're united in the pain of Yom Kippur's 25-hour deprivation. The breaking of that fast, however, can cause marital disputes.

Challah or honey cake with "a nice cup of tea" (or coffee) is universally popular, but we're split over what comes next. When two become one, family traditions may not always tally. Some families feast and others keep it light.

"My grandmother in South Africa cooked for our breaking of the fast - until she was 89," says Jan Gold from Finchley. "She'd make a massive hot meal with bulkele (small yeasted rolls made with cinnamon and sweet bulke dough) and we'd eat several courses."

When Gold married English husband, Daniel Gold and joined his family for Yom Kippur it was more subdued. "My husband's family was small and my first year with them was a big shock. It was just me and his immediate family, and we ate a light deli meal - egg and onion, smoked salmon, light salads. It felt like they weren't making much of Yom Kippur, but they didn't feel comfortable eating a big huge meal," she explains. "When I told them what we eat in South Africa, they thought we were nuts!" Over the years, Jan has come around to her in-laws' way of thinking. "I've given in," she laughs. "It does make more sense to eat less and I'd find it hard to go back now."

Sarah Moss of Muswell Hill explains that when she and husband David first shared their first post-Yom Kippur meal, they were more than a little surprised at how their traditions differed.

"David's family always broke their fast at his aunt's house, on hot coffee, followed by a full meal. First they had smoked salmon, olives, pickles and herring. Then a meal with salmon, fried fish, many salads and desserts. My husband said it was a feast."

Sarah explains that her family had always done things differently. "The mood is informal and low key. We break the fast on tea and grapes or honey cake. Then we have everything on the table at the same time, like a high tea - challah and smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise, cake, fruit, some sliced cucumber and tomato. The idea of a big meal is out of the question."

"I love breaking the fast with Sarah's family, but it's completely different from what I am used and can feel a little strange," adds David.

The differences are not just about the food, but the sense of occasion. "It's what a family makes of a meal. In David's family it was a feast - they would get out the best china," explains Sarah, "but in my family there's not that feeling of ceremony - it's more informal."

Nutritionist Ian Marber agrees that ultimately it comes down to tradition. "As a child our family broke the fast with my grandma's fantastic honey cake. Once I was old enough to choose my food, I drank soup and plenty of water." Marber says there is no ideal food to break the fast on. "It's only 25 hours so it won't have much bearing on your health. People tend to eat too much - but that's tradition," he smiles.

A straw poll showed that traditions vary widely. South African Gwen Horwitz shares that in her family they break their fast on a "Brown Cow" - a mixture of half coke and half milk. "A number of people do that in South Africa" she says, explaining that they then go on to tea with babke, bulke or cheesecake before a four-course meal.

"Since living in London I've realised our UK relatives don't want that, so I cook a three or four-course milky meal which is less heavy. This year I'm making borscht; poached salmon; smoked salmon and fried crumbed lemon sole; salads and desserts."

Says Helen Goldrein, creator of food blog"My Dad always had a glass of milk and soda water. I always thought it sounded revolting, so one year I tried it... and it was revolting! I've no idea where he got that from." After that, we usually stick to tea, challah and butter with some herring and salads and maybe a piece of cake a bit later on."

Caterer and cookery teacher, Fabienne Viner-Luzzato, grew up in Paris with her Mother's Tunisian traditions. "We'd drink coffee and sweet home made lemonade with boulou (traditional Tunisian cakes), followed by chicken soup and a range of chicken dishes. There were many chickens around from the kaparot ritual." (Jews ritually passed a chicken over their heads three times, pre-Yom Kippur to fend off bad luck in the coming year. The unfortunate chickens were then slaughtered and donated to the poor or their value was donated.)

Viner-Luzzato explains that husband, Paul Viner's traditions are simpler: "Paul has hot milky tea with sugar, buttered toast with honey then smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels and salad, cakes and fruit." She reluctantly gave up her chicken feast for bagels: "It's been 15 years now and I'm used to it. At the beginning it felt sad, but now, to be honest, I prefer that to a big meaty meal. I still do my Tunisian biscuits and cakes and lemonade - everybody loves them."

Caroline Zeitlin is another French Sephardi with an English Ashkenazi husband. She says she and husband Adam take a "when in Rome" attitude to their different menus. "I have always felt that traditions are best when you are with your family. Since we married we have spent alternate Rosh Hashanahs with my family, so wherever we are we adapt to the local tradition!"

However you break your fast, fast well.

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