With Gefiltefest food festival happening this Sunday June 15, Eddy Frankel presents a guide to London’s finest Jewish cuisine. It’s not all kosher – some is more Jew-ish than Jewish – but that doesn’t matter, just get off your tuches and get eating!
What: A doughnut with rigor mortis. That’s how Jews sometimes describe the humble bagel. It’s hardly a fitting epithet for something that has revolutionised breakfasts across the globe with its chewy wonderfulness. It’s not all positive, though, as reports have emerged that bagels are one of the top causes of accidental home injury in the States. Remember, only total schlemiels cut towards themselves.
Where: Your first port of call will obviously be Beigel Bake on Brick Lane and its top-notch salmon and cream cheese rolls, but Carmelli in Golders Green and Daniels on Finchley Road keep it kosher with a wide variety of baked goods.
What: Jewish cuisine is closely bound up with the countries that the Jewish diaspora have called home. Shakshouka was first created in North Africa, and, like other Sephardic Jewish staples such as falafel and houmous, shares the same roots as many popular Arab dishes of the region. Now, this concoction of poached eggs in cumin laced tomato and pepper sauce is showing up all over London.
Where: Honey & Co does a mean version, as does Zest at JW3, and Yotam Ottolenghi serves it for breakfast at Nopi in Soho.
What: Chicken soup is serious business in Ashkenazi (European Jewish) culture. This isn’t about tins of thick, milky goop. This is a hearty clear broth – known as ‘Jewish penicillin’ by those in the know – with fist-sized dumplings called kreplach or kneidlach. They sound like Klingon warriors, but they’re not. They’re seriously delicious balls of chicken fat (schmaltz) and matzo flour or chopped meat. No, seriously: delicious.
Where: Harry Morgan’s deli in St John’s Wood serves up overflowing bowls of the stuff, and the version at Mishkin’s in Covent Garden isn’t half bad either. For the Sephardic (north African Jewish) take, try the lighter gundi sabzi at Honey & Co. But go for kreplach at Restaurant 1701 if you’re after something a little more high-end.
Fish and chips
What: You probably think fish and chips is as English as a cup of tea. And you’d be right, because it’s not English at all. Tea was first grown in China, and deep-fried fish was introduced here by Portuguese Jews called Marranos in the sixteenth century. One of the first fish and chip shops was opened in east London by a young Jew called Joseph Malin in 1860, and by 1910 there were around 25,000 chippies across England. So now you know who to blame for your expanding waistline. Oy!
Where: Booba’s in Edgware and White Fish in Hendon keep the earliest traditions of Jewish fish frying alive in the north-west of the city. But Saul Reuben, head chef at Kerbisher & Malt, likes to tinker around with the classics.
What: Bacon is made by drenching pork in huge amounts of salt and leaving it to cure. It truly is one of the greatest foodstuffs But it’s treif (not kosher), can’t have it. They knew missing out, though, so they salted something they could eat – beef- and haven’t looked back. Okay it’s not bacon, but don’t kvetch, it’s as close as you can get.
Where: Monty’s Deli at Maltby Street Market serve up monstrously huge New York-style sandwiches that must be sampled. For a latenight classic, head to Beigel Bake on Brick Lane, but if you’re after something swankier, the Brass Rail in Selfridges on rye bread is great for hunger-busters.
What: Smoked salmon is another foodstuff introduced to Britain by Jews from Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century. There were dozens of Jewish smokeries in the East End until the 1970s, when industrial smoking methods forced them out of business; by then it had been established as a fine gourmet food, all thanks to Jewish methods.
Where: In Hackney Wick, H Forman & Son has been producing artisanal, delicate, hand-smoked Scottish salmon since 1905. It supplies big machers like the Savoy, Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols, so it’s got to be good. Mazel tov!
Gefiltefest, Jewish Cultural Centre, 94 North End Rd, NW11 7SX. Sun Jun 15, 10am-6pm. £20, £12.50 kids, £30-£50 family tickets.