Thursday, 30 March 2017

Kosher curry that's more faith than fusion: The rich tradition of Indian Jewish food

It's not quite brisket vindaloo or matzah ball curry, but there is something distinct about the collision of influences in Indian Jewish food.

There's a heady aroma of coconut milk for one. It's used everywhere, substituted for cream in curries to avoid the mixture of meat and dairy, which is prohibited in the Talmud.

If it sounds like the latest addition to the dreaded trend of culinary fusion, it shouldn't. The culture and traditions of Indian Jews stretch back thousands of years, although globally, the demographic remains relatively small.

Only a few thousand still live in India and others are dispersed around the world. It's why Esther and Ken Daniels consider themselves lucky to have met on a volunteer army program on an Israeli army base.
Esther Daniels holds a typical Indian Jewish dish of coconut rice and chicken curry.

Both were born in Mumbai (then Bombay), but Ken moved to Canada as a child to a small town in Wabush Labrador Newfoundland.

His family were the only Indian, Jewish, and certainly only Indian Jewish family in town.

After meeting in Israel, he and Esther stayed in contact. Eventually they got married, to the delight of their respective parents.

"My dad couldn't be happier," says Ken Daniels.

"Indian Jewish is our heritage, that's our background."

"My dad was overjoyed," says Esther. "He wanted to keep our faith alive."

A convergence of traditions
So what does it mean to be an Indian Jew?
Ken Daniels
Ken Daniels says for his family, there's a big difference between culture and faith.

"Indian culture is very important to us, but we identify as Jewish. That's our faith."
That doesn't mean the two don't frequently intersect.

Esther says some of her fondest memories come from her childhood in Mumbai, coming home to a special meal in celebration of the Sabbath.

"Friday night was so special," she says. "Walking home from school, you could smell the puri!"

It's a tradition they continue to observe in their outer suburban Melbourne home.

Friday nights might mean goat or chicken curry, served with coconut rice.

A Jewish enthusiasm for potatoes sees them served as a fixture in special meals, prepared, for instance, with peas and a hum of green masala paste.
Potatoes and spices feature prominently in Indian Jewish food.
While their house is full of ceremonial objects and mementos that link to their faith, the kitchen cupboards very much point to India.

"European Jewish food is more rib-sticking — because they come from a cold country," says Esther, as she adds fresh ginger, fennel and turmeric to her curry.

"They have noodles, kugel and roast, matzah balls and Gefilte fish.

"I have such close Ashkenazi Jewish friends, and I love their matzah ball soup.

"But they say, 'no don't eat that, make me what you're making!'"

(Source: ABC)

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