Kosher foods are items made and served under proper Jewish dietary guidelines. For example, there should be no mixing of meat and milk, which symbolize death and life respectively, and the process of making kosher food has to be under rabbinical supervision and certification. One gourmet food expert offers visitors to New York City tours of some well-known kosher food shops in Manhattan.
Susan Rosenbaum takes visitors on gourmet tours of the lower east side of Manhattan. The first stop on her kosher food tour is a bialy shop, the only one in Manhattan.
"We are at Kossar's Bialys and Kossar's has been here since 1935,” she says. “They have been making a bialy, which is very traditional eastern European bread that comes from the Polish town of Bialystok."
A traditional bread dish in Jewish cuisine, bialys look similar to bagels, but Rosenbaum says, they are different in many ways.
"Here we have the bialy and the bagel. You can see some of the differences,” she says. “With the bialys, you have the depression in the middle, which is filled with onion or garlic filling. With the bagel, it's going to have a hole in the middle. There is also a difference as far as the baking. With the bialy, it's just baked, where with the bagel, it's boiled and then baked."
Small in size, the shop happens to be the oldest bialy shop in the U.S. and sells 3,000 bialys every day.
"You have four ingredients: water, flour, salt and yeast,” Rosenbaum says. “Those ingredients will go into the machine where they are mixed to form the dough. After the dough is formed, it will come out to have its first rising. It will then go into this machine," she points out, "where it will be individually portioned into the right sized ball. From here, each of the balls will go into the wooden tray and they have their second rising.”
“He will lay them out on the table,” she says of the baker. “He takes each bialy by hand and pulls it to form a depression. He will then add onion or garlic. And then it moves into oven. This oven is kept at 600 degrees Fahrenheit [315 degrees Celsius] and the baking process is seven minutes."
Rosenbaum's next stop on her gourmet tour is a kosher pickle shop.
"The Pickle Guys is another kosher shop and you know it's a kosher shop because you look here right on the wall, there is a sign that says ‘Under the rabbinical supervision of…’ All kosher food that's prepared outside of the home has to be under the supervision of a rabbi or a rabbinical organization,” she says.
Pickle Guys pickles almost all vegetables, from cucumber, mushrooms, tomatoes, to olives – you name it.
Will is the head pickler at the shop. "We have several different types of pickles,” he says. “You have anywhere from very sour to not too sour and the middle. You add salt, water, pickling spices, and garlic. To pickle anything, basically what is, it's time. The longer you let it sit, the more sour they get."
Rosenbaum explains pickles will stay in a huge refrigerator for two weeks to three months until they are ready to be served.
"There are two pickles I am going to try. The first one is the new pickle,” says Susan. “This is the pickle that has been in the brine for just under two weeks. Oh my gosh, it's like eating a cucumber with a little salt in it. The next one I am going to try is half-sour.
The half-sour has been in the brine for two to three weeks,” the gourmet guide says. “It's still going to be crunchy, very crunchy. It is beginning to take on more of the spices. As you can see, the first one looks very much like a cucumber. The next one is beginning to cure. It's getting lighter."
Will, the head pickler, explains, "As you put any vegetable into the brine, it will absorb the salt. If it has sugar, the sweetness of the sugar, and sour may be the vinegar from it. Every single item here you see has its own brine."
Gertel's Bakery is another certified kosher food shop which supplies other bakeries in town as well.
"When a rabbi comes here, he is going to check for a couple of things,” Rosenbaum says. “The first thing is he wants to make sure the flame of the oven has been lit by a Jewish person. Then he is going to make sure all the ingredients are kosher. There are no non-kosher animal fats that are used here. Then once that is determined, you will either have dairy pastry or pareve [made without milk, meat or their derivatives] pastry."
Gertel's Bakery is almost a century old. Of the more than 300 kinds of pastries the Gertel's Bakery makes, challah is one of the most popular.
"Challah is traditional bread for the Sabbath,” Rosenbaum says. “It's twisted bread, is made from egg and is a little sweet. You will typically have this for your Sabbath meals as well as some of your traditional holidays that we have."
Bialys, pickles or challah – kosher foods are no longer only enjoyed by the Jewish community. By virtue of the word "kosher," which means "fit" or "proper," kosher foods have found their way into the diet of the general public as well.