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Modern diaspora dishes

Bloggers in remote locations are using food to keep connected to their Jewish roots

    People blog about food for many reasons — income, creative outlet or plain greed. For three Jewish food bloggers who live far from home, food can be a way of building a Jewish community — or just being able to eat in a foreign land. It can mean creating their own food traditions, or merging cultures.

    Kenden Alfond, Jewish Food Hero

    Jewish Food Hero began in 2014 in Cambodia. Kenden Alfond had moved to the city of Battambang with her husband and baby daughter and found herself yearning for a Jewish community. “I felt really alone. I was trying to live a Jewish life and had this longing to be part of a community. I realized that there were lots of Jewish women trying to create healthier families, and I wanted to create a community around this common desire for Jewish health.”

    Throughout her 20s Kenden travelled all over the world, starting in 2005 when she left America and volunteered in India with the American Jewish World Service.

    She sought out Jewish communities wherever she was, such as Chabad, and when she moved to Cambodia Kenden, 41, decided to make her own Shabbat dinners to build a community – even if there were no other Jews around. The Shabbat dinners she hosts now are usually comprised of non-Jews, any Jewish travellers in the area, her husband and their 7 year old daughter.

    She worries about her daughter Yael growing up so far removed from a Jewish community - the nearest shul is a 5 hour drive away – but says that these Shabbat dinners are her way of inducting Yael into the Jewish community via the grand tradition of Jewish food.

    Even living in a hot country, famed for its spicy soups, Kenden’s favourite meal is matzah ball soup – “I like the smells, the memories, the texture” – and her weekly diet consists of a combination of Asian rice-based meals and hummus sandwiches. She shares her recipes for incorporating the flavours of Asia with her Jewish traditions on her blog and in her cookbook. The book consists of a differently themed menu for every Jewish holiday, such as a Hungarian Jewish menu, or a New York diner themed meal. The dishes are meat-free however as Jewish Food Hero is a vegan blog. “I don’t have a dream that all Jews will become vegan or vegetarian,” says Kenden, “but the idea of the book is that these are dishes they can add to their diet and holiday meals.”

    She laughs: “This idea that you have to gain weight in order to join in the holidays has to stop!”

    On the ‘about’ page of her blog, Kenden states: “The Jewish Food Hero is not a single person, but a female archetype that calls out to the healthy heroine within each of us.” When I ask her why she chose a woman as her hero she asks me to close my eyes and and visualise Judaism and Jewish food. ”Jewish Food Hero is a woman.  Judaism is around food and festivals; we can all add healthier foods to our tables for ourselves, our children and our environment."

    jewishfoodhero.com

    Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant-Based Recipes for Your Holiday Meals

     

    Jessica Moses, NanaBowls

    Self-described “sugar-free activist” and former Digital Media and Events Manager at Deliciously Ella, Jess Moses moved to Thailand to launch her healthy smoothie bowls business. “NanaBowls was dreamt up one night after thinking about what to have for breakfast! Our favourite breakfasts are smoothie bowls. ! I love smoothie bowls but, although beautiful and Instagram-worthy, they are often laden with sugar, dairy and additives.”

    So she set herself that task of creating “the ultimate all-in-one smoothie bowl that not only tasted great but also ticked all the nutritional boxes for an anytime meal.”

    If you’ve never heard of smoothie bowls, they’re “basically a thick smoothie in a bowl topped with tons of crunchy granola” and Jess first came across them when travelling around Australia.

    Jess, 25, who grew up in Stanmore, has a degree in sociology from Nottingham University but her interest in healthy eating comes from her mum. “It was whilst living in university student accommodation without mum’s cooking that I first became conscious of the things I was buying and the way I was cooking. My mum at the time was studying nutrition so hearing bits about her course really sparked an interest in health and nutrition in me, thanks mum!

    “Making home cooked natural food was instilled in me from a young age, but at university it was difficult to keep kosher and I found myself eliminating quite a few food groups, and relying on just fish and eggs for protein.”

    She learnt her trade doing internships at London-based healthy cafe and meal delivery service The Detox Kitchen, nutrition clinic The Food Doctor, and Thailand’s leading health and fitness retreat Phuket Cleanse before landing a job at Deliciously Ella.

    It was while she was in Phuket that she met her business partner Phil Anthony and NanaBowls was born. The days of struggling for meal ideas are long gone. “NanaBowls solved that for me and for quite a few other Jews living in Phuket. The vegan protein [which is plant-based and kosher] ticks all the boxes!”

    Although there are always Israeli travellers passing though (and Jess serves quite a few!) she says “there is only a small number of Jewish people who have actually moved and settled down in Thailand. The lack of a large Jewish network has been a big struggle as Jewish life has always been a central focus for me. However it has forced me to make an extra effort to find Jews to connect with and create a Jewish community outside of home.”

    She has taken advantage of the local Chabad and says that the Israeli penchant for world travel has helped Jess feel more at home in Phuket: “I’m often bumping into Israelis in coffee shops and on the streets. It’s always so good to hear a familiar language and instantly connect.”

    If you fancy trying a smoothie bowl yourself, Jess and Phil share their recipes on the NanaBowls blog. “The key to sustainable healthy eating is keeping things easy. So instead of buying lots of different ingredients from lots of different shops, having NanaBowls kits in your freezer takes the hassle out of healthy eating,” she says. Oh and make sure to share your pictures on Instagram, like any good healthy foodie.

    nanabowls.com

     

    Molly Yeh, mynameisyeh

    Molly Yeh (pronounced yay) really embodies the theme of this article; she is of Jewish-Chinese descent and lives on a farm on the Dakota-Minnesota border surrounded by Scandinavian Lutherans and potatoes. “Actually latkes and kugels do very well in this environment,” she tells me. “There are a lot of potato farmers here, so I describe latkes as a giant tater tot and that goes down well!”

    Although there are “about 50 Jews in the area” (East Grand Forks, Minnesota) Molly says “my friends all know that when they come to me for diner they’re going to get something different to what they’re used to.”

    This environment is very different to the community Molly, 28, grew up in – Chicago and then New York, where she attended Julliard and met her husband who brought her to Grand Falls – but she enjoys finding ways “to introduce this community to my Jewish heritage.” She notes that sometimes it comes as a shock to her that people she meets have never had matzah ball soup, for example. “It’s eye-opening that my friends here didn’t grow up with the same food as me”.

    Although her father is Chinese, it is the Jewish food that her mother made that has stuck with her and influences her recipes and her blog now.

    Her recipes are often a fusion of the food she remembers from back home, her travels to Israel and the produce available in her very seasonally-driven town. “[Jewish Ashkenazi] ingredients and recipes are so ingrained in me – it’s all natural to my kitchen,” she gushes, admitting that if she wants to get her ‘Jewish food fix’ she’s the only person around to turn to. “There are no bakeries that make fresh bread here so I’m always making either challah or pita; I make bagels all the time. If I want these things I have to make them. I’m always working on a new project to make the foods I grew up with and always had such easy access to.”

    She describes her larder as “not your typical mid-west pantry, it’s definitely a Middle East pantry” and stocks up on spices whenever she goes to Israel.

    “It’s kind of like a puzzle,” she says of her attempts to create her “favourite foods in the middle of nowhere” but that just makes it even more satisfying when she does.

    Her favourite recipe? “I love making cakes, it’s like making an edible sculpture,” she enthuses. So she blended tahini with chocolate and came up with a chocolate cake with halva filling and tahini frosting. Sounds almost good enough to schlep to the middle of nowhere for….

    mynameisyeh.com

    Molly on the Range

     

    Try some of the bloggers' recipes here
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