Bene Appetit- The cuisine of Indian Jews’ – Esther David

I have often thought why I wrote ‘Bene Appetit- The cuisine of Indian Jews.’ It was during the launch of the French translation of my novel, when I was in Paris and incidentally during Jewish Festivals, which I celebrated with family and friends. I was fascinated with the amazing variety of Jewish cuisine of the west. It was delicious and different. Soon, I became addicted to gefilte fish, matzo ball soup and Challah bread. I enjoyed walking in the Jewish quarter at Rue de Rosier in Paris and watching the varieties of Jewish food and bakeries. Soon after the launch of my novel, a reception was planned for a small audience and I was asked to make Indian Jewish food for the guests. I agreed and reached early with the ingredients and as my host’s family helped me, I made Bene Israel Jewish fish curry, coconut rice and black currant sherbet, which was appreciated.

Maybe, at that very moment, I started thinking about Indian Jewish cuisine, which was not as popular as western Jewish cuisine. But, it took me a long time to write this book and discovered the food traditions of Jews from Kochi, Andhra Pradesh, western India, Kolkata, Manipur and Mizoram. The title ‘Bene Appetit- The cuisine of Indian Jews’ is based on the French greeting ‘Bon Appetit’ and also because most Indian Jews are known as ‘Bene Israel,’ ‘Bene Ephraim’ and ‘Bnei Menashe,’ so Bene Apettit sounded perfect. The beginning of this book can be traced to the time, when I wrote a novel, where each chapter began with a recipe. Sometimes, in my novels; I set the tone of my narrative with some Jewish recipes, which surfaced in my memory in context to the mood of the text. Slowly, I started thinking seriously about this subject, which meant travel and research. So, I wrote to Hadassah Brandeis Research Institute. USA, but after my proposal was accepted, I got cold feet. So far, I had briefly documented the cuisine of the Bene Israel Jews of western India, not other Jewish communities, so I took this search as a challenge. But, much to my surprise, when I made contact with Jews of different regions, they were happy to know that I was also an Indian Jew and offered as much help as possible. This is how ‘Bene Appetit- The cuisine of Indian Jews,’ became a reality. I felt enlightened, enriched and proud of the Jewish heritage of preserving the dietary law. When I was working on this book, I was deeply touched, that Jewish communities of different regions connected easily with me, as we bonded over food, traditions, rituals and much more. I discovered Cochin Jews and their ‘pastels,’ Baghdadi Jews and their ‘jumping potatoes,’ Bene Ephraim Jews and their ‘chicken curry with Gongura leaves,’ Bnei Menashe Jews of Mizoram and Manipur with their fiery chili based soupy curries, along with the Bene Israel Jews of Maharashtra and Gujarat with their rose flavoured ‘chik-cha-halva.’ But, for New Year, Indian Jews dip apple slices in a bowl of honey and savour the simple yet varied flavours of Jewish cuisine.  While writing ‘Bene Appetit- The cuisine of Indian Jews,’ I felt that, we were like one big family, as we belonged to the same source…

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