Observant Jewish people follow a strict set of rules about which foods they are allowed to eat. Permitted foods are known as ‘kosher’, which means ‘fit’ or ‘proper’. Certain animals must not be eaten at all, such as shellfish or pork. Those animals that are permitted have to be slaughtered in a certain way, and all of the blood must be drained from the meat before it is eaten. Certain parts of permitted animals must not be eaten. Meat cannot be eaten with dairy products, and the utensils used for meat and dairy have to be kept separate. There are also various other, more detailed laws, but these general rules lay down the basics of kosher food.
At the festival of Passover, there is an extra restriction on the Jewish diet – leavened foods are forbidden. This means that observant Jewish people cannot eat anything made with raising agents such as yeast. Bread is replaced with a flat cracker called a ‘matzah’. The crockery and utensils for Passover are kept separate from those used during the rest of the year.
Other festivals also have traditional foods associated with them. For example, at Shavuot people eat dairy foods such as cheesecake, and at Rosh Hashanah the festive meal begins with apples and honey.
In order to help them follow such complex rules, Jewish people often buy their food from specialist shops. Wherever there is a Jewish community, such shops will spring up to meet demand. In the early 20th century, the highest concentration of kosher butchers in the country was in the East End of London, because of the large population of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who lived there.
Other shops serving the Jewish community sell traditional foods such as rye bread, salt beef and bagels. Of course, in areas with a large Jewish population, Jewish shopkeepers also often run the non-specialist food shops. As well as food shops, there are many restaurants catering for a Jewish clientele. Their kitchens must pass regular inspections to ensure that they are kosher.