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Is herring Jewish? Or the journey of the herring into the Jewish household

Jews have had a long and close relationship with the herring which has long since grown into a mutual love affair within a national context. Stop any person in the street and ask them to name a couple of traditional dishes of Jewish cuisine. Without doubt, amongst the list would be herring or a prepared version of it, for example, Forshmak. But is such a view justified?

Where did the tradition of preparing it in the Jewish kitchen ‘swim’ to us from? Why is an exacting kosher feast rarely laid out without herring? And with what dishes from this product can you vary your Sabbath table?

For a start let’s try and compile a history of sources of ‘herring love’ and understand when we started layering vegetables on this floating creation of the Creator.

Let’s get down to the bones

Herring is a type of fish, and not just a ready prepared, salted or smoked dish. The herring family is very varied, there are more than 180 types. It is this species that makes up one fifth of the whole of worldwide yields. But it has far from always been the darling of the consumer…

symbolic or part of a long tradition…

Today it is difficult to imagine that herring has far from Jewish roots. Indeed family recipes of dishes based on herring passed down from grandmother to great grandmother seem to be a cast iron argument that settles the halachic question. There is a logic to this; many herrings are kosher, they have both characteristic features: fins and scales. But herring has become a deeply symbolic dish not just because of that.

The story of one fish…

The first mention of this species of fish is in the chronicles of a monastery in England in 702 C.E. Up to the 15th Century herring was not considered to be particularly edible, because of its unpleasant smell and bitter, disgusting taste. At that time monks ate it during Lent, having categorically forgone tasty food which would bring pleasure. Also herring was the food of the poor who had nothing to eat and had no choice. For herring enthusiasts this description is incomprehensible, for the fish in question (without exaggeration) is really tasty.

Th ething is that the methods of processing and preparing the herring that we use today only appeared in 1390. Then, Willem Jakob Beikelson, a poor Dutch fisherman, invented a method of preserving his catch for more than 2 hours. He uncovered the reason behind the fish’s bitterness and its awful smell and more importantly, he solved the problem in one simple movement; immediately after the catch he cut out its gills, which gave the unsavory qualities to the foodstuff. Willem taught the world to salt herring in barrels and gave us a most delicious and healthy dish. After a few years they erected a monument to the fisherman and herring became a fundamental type of industry, livelihood and food for many countries and people. From that moment onwards it occupied an honored position on the Jewish table.

Herring as an acquisition of galut

Even after the aforementioned discovery, soused herring crossed borders and seas, and won over hearts and lands, but its price was never inflated. It was always in abundance and affordable for every Jew, wherever he was, no matter how much he earned. In addition, the poor Jew always tried to feed his rarely small family well. In herring there is everything necessary for this (We’ll go into more detail about the nutritional values of this foodstuff and give recipes from a dietician next Friday)! In order to vary the ration the ‘yiddish’ mother then started to invent varied dishes from herring which took root in Jewish cuisine, became national dishes and found their way down to us.

The classic Jewish recipe of Forshmak

The name of this dish is of German origin and means "anticipation". But let’s dig deeper! Forshmak is a snack, to put it simply - pate. The latter concept is credited to the French in general, but not the authorship of the dish itself! It’s not for nothing that on the Sabbath do we first serve guests as an appetiser "gehakte gering," before the main course, as a foretaste of the meal, as well as preparing it in the form of a pate. There are no accidents in Judaism, is that not right? French historians have recently confirmed that the idea behind this dish was really brought by Jews who migrated to France due to persecution in Europe.

In coastal Odessa this accessible and traditional dish acquired a special significance, recipe, variations and of course jokes. In this way expressions very specific to Odessa arose, such as ‘Formachit’ (to besmirch) or ‘ Don’t turn my patience to Forshmak’…

Odessa Forshmak

The classic recipe of Odessa residents

Herring – 2 pcs,

White bread or halla – 2 slices,

2 eggs (hard boiled),

Sousedapples – 2 pcs., in Odessa they use ‘Antonovka’

Vegetableoil - 2 tb. sp.

Baked potato – 2 pcs.,

1 onion,


Salt and pepper.

Preparation method:

Clean the herring, take out the bones and leave it in milk for 30 minutes. Pour 20 g. of lemon juice over the bread. Clean the fruit and vegetables. Mince it all together. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil, add spices to taste and stir. Lay the Forshmak out on a plate and sprinkle with Odessa herbs.

Important! Donpanic if the Forshmak looks slightly runny. Just put it in the fridge for 20 minutes and it will take on a more usual consistency.

Characteristics of Odessa Forshmakthe presence in the recipe of potatoes and soused apples. Although some replace them by simply adding more bread. Also, amongst the recipes of Odessa grandmothers you rarely encounter an ingredient such as butter.

Bon appetit and Shabbat Shalom!

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