Passover or Pesach, is one of the most important Jewish holidays. It’s been celebrated annually for thousands of years and is a major event for both secular and religious Jews around the world. The traditional Passover meal, also called a seder, is a time for friends and family to come together and celebrate key events in Jewish history.
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If you’re not strictly kosher, or religiously observant, you may have questions about Passover food, Passover bread, and how to create a traditional Passover meal menu. The seder rituals evolved over a long period of time, and in many different countries, so there are some variations when it comes to the Passover food list.
If you’re hosting a traditional passover meal, there are some foods that are essential like matzos (Passover bread), Kiddush wine or a non-alcoholic grape juice alternative, as well as the 6 traditional foods for the Pesach plate. Apart from the most important traditional items, your Passover meal menu will depend on whether you prefer Ashkenazi or Sephardi Pesach dishes, what your budget stretches to, and how many people you are cooking for.
What is Passover and what does it celebrate?
Passover is an important religious holiday celebrated by Jews every year. It commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as told in the biblical story of Exodus. During this eight-day festival, Jews observe special rituals and customs to remind them of their ancestors’ freedom from oppression. Passover is a time for family gatherings and feasting, during which traditional foods are eaten and stories are shared about the Exodus experience. It is an occasion for reflection on what it means to be free and to celebrate God’s power to free people from bondage.
What are Traditional Passover Foods?
The best known Passover food has to be matzos. Part of the Passover tradition is complete abstinence from all leavened bread. Traditional families will even search their home before Passover to ensure that they haven’t overlooked any items of chametz. Matzo is the staple bread substitute for the entire Passover week – and to say that it’s not universally popular is an understatement!
Matzo Passover bread is so unique that its taste and texture are hard to describe, but if you could imagine a dry, brittle, crispy cardboard with a slightly burnt flavor, you’d be on the right track. Matzo definitely isn’t a delicacy, but it is a traditional Passover food and it plays an important ritual role in the seder meal. Many Jewish families invest in a special matzo plate as part of their Passover tableware.
Matzo on its own is definitely an acquired taste but it can be used as an ingredient in some seriously tasty dishes. Savory matzo balls are a wonderful substitute for dumplings in chicken soup and matzo can also be used to make sweet Passover meal desserts with toffee or chocolate.
Other traditional Passover foods are the classic Ashkenazi gefilte fish, lamb dishes, chicken soup with matzo balls, mina (a meat pie made with matzo), and fried meatballs made with matzo meal called kaftekas. Pesach is a spring festival so there is an emphasis on seasonal vegetables and other spring greens.
What are the 6 Passover foods?
A traditional seder meal follows a ritual format that the Haggadah divides into 15 steps. The ritual includes a series of blessings punctuated by cups of wine and the eating of symbolic foods. A Passover meal that closely follows the ritual can be a long event.
What are the 6 foods of Passover?
The 6 foods of Passover that are arranged on the Seder plate are:
- Maror (technically bitter herbs, but often horseradish or horseradish paste).
- Chazeret (romaine lettuce or a locally available bitter root).
- Charoset (a sweet crunchy paste of fruit and nuts).
- Karpas (a vegetable slice that can be dipped into either salt water, vinegar or charoset).
- Zeroa (a piece of roasted bone or meat on the bone – usually lamb).
- Beitzah (a hardboiled egg).
Each item on the Passover food list symbolizes an aspect of the Jewish Pesach tradition such as the bitterness of slavery (maror), the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build in Egypt (charoset), the sacrificed lamb from the Temple in Jerusalem (Zeroa), and the ritual Passover sacrifice (beitzah).
What foods are forbidden for Passover?
When you prepare your Passover food list, you can start by crossing off all bread products. Chametz (any foodstuff containing one or more of the 5 grains and a leavening agent) is strictly forbidden to observant Jews throughout the entire Passover period.
The prohibition on chametz during Passover is mentioned several times in the Torah and is observed by all religious Jews. Even many secular Jews abstain from bread products during Passover for cultural reasons. In Israel, Jewish owned shops and restaurants are legally forbidden to sell leavened bread products during the Pesach week. In a country where pitta bread is part of the daily diet, this means some major adjustments!
What do we eat on Passover according to the Bible?
The Bible instructs us to eat a seder meal of roast lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This might seem like a simple or even frugal meal to modern Jews who expect a sumptuous Passover meal menu, but in ancient times a healthy unblemished lamb was quite a valuable asset.
Archaeological evidence suggests that most ordinary people survived on a staple diet of pottage (rough soup or stew made from locally available ingredients) and bread. We’re all familiar with the story of how Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
The ancient Israelites supplemented their diets with fruit, dairy products and hunted meat and fish, but generally had much fewer luxuries and a smaller variety of food than we enjoy today. It’s worth noting that the Bible (Exodus 12 1:51) permits smaller households to share a sacrificial Passover lamb. The traditional Passover meal would have been a welcome feast for our poorer ancestors.
What tableware do we need for the Passover meal?
If you want to celebrate a traditional Passover dinner in style, there are several items of Judaica tableware or silverware that you’ll need. The good news is that many of them are also good for the weekly Shabbat dinner and for other Jewish holidays. Tableware like silver Shabbat candlesticks can be used at any time – even during a power cut!
Top 5 Passover Judaica Tableware Items
- Seder Plate
- Matzos Plate
- Candlesticks, Candle Lighter & Match Cover
- Kiddush Cup or Set
- Wine Glasses or Wine Fountain
Although traditional Passover Judaica is handcrafted from 925 sterling silver, modern seder tableware can be made from all kinds of materials. One of the most exciting and futuristic materials is anodized aluminum. It might sound like something that’s more appropriate for building aircraft, but is an amazing metal for creating beautiful Passover and Shabbat tableware.
Anodized aluminum comes in a variety of bold colors that are ideal for modern home decor. It’s also super-robust and easy to clean – and unlike sterling silver – you’ll never need to polish it. Like sterling silver, anodized aluminum Passover gifts can be personalized in our Jerusalem workshop. Our jewelers can add names or blessings to most gifts or can even produce custom orders to your own specifications. Our English-speaking designers will be happy to help. Talk to us today!
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Passover, it can be a lot to take in. There are so many different dishes and rules about what you can and cannot eat. But don’t let that discourage you from celebrating! The holiday is a time for friends and family to come together and enjoy each other’s company. And of course, the food is always a highlight. So even if you aren’t strictly kosher or religious, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some of the classic Passover dishes.