Salt Beef to Spicy Courgettes – London’s Jewish food odyssey

“Fress” is the Yiddish verb meaning “to eat”. It is based on the German “fressen” which has connotations of animals eating – so it is usually about eating without restraint and somewhat copiously. As my old great aunt would say “Eat, eat, already!!!”

So when a new cookery book called “Fress” crossed my desk, I thought it was worth a read – and also a good look at where Kosher restaurants fit into the London eating scene.

The recipes in the book by Emma Spitzer (Fress is published at £25 by Mitchell Beazley) are beautifully photographed and is often about as far from traditional Jewish cooking as it’s possible to get. Yes, there’s egg and onion, and chopped liver – but whose Jewish grandmother ever thought of adding madeira wine to the chopped liver? This is not strictly Kosher, although there are some dishes which do comply and definitely nothing with pork or shellfish!

It’s much more Middle East than Mittel Europa. Many of the recipes are meat-free. Vegans won’t approve of everything but there will be plenty to attract them. Emma’s book includes Spicy Mushroom and Cashew Nut Rice as well as how to make Salt Beef (a nod to her childhood when a visit to Selfridge’s Salt Beef bar in Oxford Street – still with us – was a special treat.)

Secret Food Tours has written in the past about Honey & Co, the Israeli restaurant north of Oxford Street. It’s very good.

But where do you go if you are strict about Jewish dietary laws? London now has little choice. There used to be Blooms, a cultural throwback where you went to see just how rude waiters could be – and to marvel at the regulars with their bottles of scotch, marked with the level they have got down to (no one ever realised the staff could steal a little and make it up with water!).

You didn’t go to Blooms for the culinary experience, however.

Nowadays, finding Kosher eateries means a trip to Golders Green or Hendon or Stamford Hill, areas of Jewish population but with nothing to interest visitors to London. Many rework Indian, Thai, Chinese or Italian favourites with Kosher ingredients. Central London is largely Reubens in Baker Street – it’s traditional but seen as expensive and stuck in a time warp but the salt beef sandwiches “cut the mustard” – an apt English phrase meaning “to come up to expectations.”

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