Taking the flavor out of Passover

It started with matza balls becoming a regular staple in restaurants whose menus were based on East European Jewish cuisine.

bread [illustrative]_370 (photo credit: Reuters)
bread [illustrative]_370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Modern technology and culinary experimentation have joined forces to take the flavor out of Passover. Once upon a time, there were certain foods that we ate only during Passover, but that has gradually been changing to the extent that now, except for the fact that matza is still available, Passover is no longer Passover.
It started with matza balls becoming a regular staple in restaurants whose menus were based on East European Jewish cuisine. Diners had a choice of noodles or matza balls or even both in their chicken soup.
Admittedly, they seem to taste a little different on Passover, just as cholent never tastes the same on a weekday as it does on Shabbat – but making matza balls a year-round option was already a downhill step.
But while matza balls were appearing on a daily basis, certain Passover foods have all but disappeared, though presumably, some women still follow the traditions of their mothers and grandmothers and prepare certain time-worn Passover goodies.
My mother used to make chremslech and bubelech, though some people confuse the two, and many kosher cookbooks provide the recipe for bubelech – pancakes made with matza meal mixed with egg yolks and folded into whipped egg whites – under the heading of chremslech. In our household chremslech were light-as-a-feather potato croquettes that we put in the chicken soup as an alternative to matza balls.
They were made with mashed potatoes, potato flour, eggs and seasoning and were fried in rendered chicken fat. No-one cared about cholesterol on Passover.
Dessert was always a high-standing, airy sponge cake, which owed both its height and its lightness to between 12-14 eggs.
My mother also used to make a special Passover egg salad which I have never been able to emulate, because I only ate it. I never watched her make it. But it was so good that as a child I used to sneak to the refrigerator when my parents were asleep to indulge in some of that salad on a crisp matza. It was something to die for. The only cookies we ate on Passover were macaroons.
There was no attempt to find a way of making regular year-round food suitable for Passover consumption. But in recent years, traditional foods have gone down the drain to be replaced with food that looks and tastes like leavened products.
Anyone that walked passed eateries in the nation’s malls on Passover could see what looked, and actually tasted like, regular bread rolls. There was also pizza which looked like, but didn’t quite taste like the genuine article. The variety of cakes and cookies available in pastry shops was mind-blowing, but none of the offerings I saw included an old-fashioned sponge cake, although in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods and a few other places they were selling reasonably tasty cakes that were maybe three or four centimeters high.
Among the other Kosher for Passover products in the supermarkets were breakfast cereals to replace the traditional matza brie that you used to have in another era. There were also Passover noodles that looked exactly like leavened noodles, and what was most aggravating was that in many supermarkets there was insufficient separation – even during the intermediate days of Passover – between Kosher for Passover products and those that were not.
There is a halachic prohibition known as “Marat Ayin,” roughly translated as what the eye can see or what is visible to the eye. Thus what looks like a bread roll and tastes like a bread roll, even though it isn’t strictly speaking a bread roll, comes within the category of forbidden food, simply because it is easy to confuse it with a genuine bread roll. Someone not familiar with the difference who sees people whose attire designates them as being religiously observant buying or consuming such a product, may be forgiven for believing that bread is permissible on Passover.
By the same token, men who wear kippot (skull caps) all the time, but who bend the rules when it comes to drinking coffee in a non-kosher establishment, are asked by the rabbis to remove their kippot before entering in case a passer-by who sees them makes the mistake of thinking the establishment is kosher.
Perhaps the rabbinical authorities who approve the new generation of food products designed to prevent us from yearning for what we cannot have during the Passover week will think twice about approving them next Passover, and in so doing will put the flavor back into the festival.