Passover: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Foodways

Main Piece:  “In terms of food… um… my mom is Ashkenazi and my dad is Sephardic so I think my home is one of those rare homes that you see foods like rice and beans served, besides brisket…we have both brisket and lamb…which I don’t think anyone does that…’cause we cater to both sides of the family. There’s two dishes in particular that I think I’ve never heard of outside of my family. One of them is called Mina…and it’s a spinach matzoh dish… not entirely sure….but it’s amazing. And then the other one is Singato and that’s like mushrooms and meat and all sorts of good stuff…I don’t know what’s in it….but it’s Sephardic.”

Background: The informant notes that it is particularly interesting that her Ashkenazi mother and Sephardic father jointly contribute to the Passover meal because they are two different global denominations of Judaism. She remembers that when she was younger, her family wouldn’t serve the traditional Sephardic dishes because her older Ashkenazi relatives weren’t as accepting of these dishes as “traditional.” The informant prefers the Sephardic food served at dinner because there are more variations in the dish (vegetables, meat, grains, etc.) The informant’s family hosts over 50 people for dinner each year. She notes that it can be offensive to the hosts when a guest doesn’t eat a dish that is served.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The unification of two branches of Judaism, Sephardic and Ashkenazi, is noteworthy because these affiliations are infamous for not collaborating on religious methods concerning diet, prayer, ritual, and more. Ashkenazi Jews are a European denomination especially prevalent in Poland, Russia, France, while Sephardic Jews have majority of their communities in Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. Folk foodways are an interesting way to unify multiple globalized traditions. The informant noted that her older relatives were not so welcoming of this collaboration because it wasn’t as “traditional.” A widely accepted sentiment, “non-traditonal” is usually understood as imposing on an individual’s personal tradition. Of course a tradition is unique to the individual, so Sephardic foodways and Ashkenazi foodways are each traditional, but bringing together both foodways at one time became a new tradition which required adjustment.