Kosherfest: Jews Unite in their Love of Food

If ever there were a time to consider buying into the juice cleanse hysteria sweeping the nation, leaving the Meadowlands arena following the 25th Annual Kosherfest, the world’s largest kosher-certified products trade show, was it.

The two-day event–which took place a couple of weeks ago–is like a typical shul kiddush on steroids: a veritable smorgasbord of delights from basic cakes and cookies to gourmet gelato, fine wines and upscale BBQ food; the pervasive shoving and jockeying for position that inevitably occurs when hungry Jews are presented with seemingly endless platters of free food; and a giant game of Jewish geography, where you’re likely to run into everyone from your old camp counselor to your great-aunt’s Mahjong partner.

I had no strategy for navigating the nearly 400 booths, and instead blazed a haphazard trail of crumbs and discovery of the most innovative and delicious kosher food products in existence.

The frozen wares being hawked by Gelato Petrini and Gelato Giuliana were truly a revelation. I had been lulled into a false sense of satisfaction with low-calorie fro yo, but I quickly realized: there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Instead of artificial ingredients and a cloyingly sweet aftertaste, there were only thick creaminess and rich flavor; especially good were Gelato Petrini’s chocolate hazelnut and tiramisu flavors. I spent a lot of time with that little wooden sample spoon and then abruptly threw it away for fear it looked obscene.

Equally delicious were Finchi’s Desserts by Aunti Rashi, which, despite being low in or absent of gluten, nut, dairy, fat, and basically everything that gives traditional desserts a semblance of tastiness, really tasted rather “decadent” like the packaging claimed. I tasted the low-fat brownie with sugar-free chocolate mousse, and I cannot advocate for the combination enough.

For busy parents, fly-by-night dinners don’t come much easier than Mikee Mac’s non-dairy instant mac and cheese, complete with authentic cheese flavor (as opposed to some bright-orange substance merely masquerading as cheese) and zero suspicious additives, or the pizza cones from Dependable Foods that come ready to microwave and easily impress the scant number of children for whom regular pizza is not enticing enough.

Finally, though I am not the most enthusiastic carnivore, I felt compelled to try the Italian sausage burger at Jack’s Gourmet’s booth, which was overwhelmed with hordes of eager consumers. Jack, a young chef and ba’al teshuva from Crown Heights who found kosher meat paled in comparison to its non-kosher counterpart, started his own successful line with another meat-loving ba’al teshuva, Dr. Alan Broner. They served the burger ground and browned with a unique blend of spices, and I could see why Jack’s products were the cool kids at school.

Because Hanukkah is around the corner, the following foods deserve honorable mentions for being delicious and also somewhat related to the festival of lights. Taste of Crete’s vegan Greek cookies, especially the white wine flavor, were wonderful, and I felt more virtuous after I finished eating them than I would have had I just polished off a sleeve of Oreos. Dr. Praeger—the man responsible for tricking my 4-year old into eating minced fish because it comes in cutesy shapes—served up new kale pancakes that I’m almost positive I can get my son to eat if I call them “Green Lantern Latkes.” Manischewitz’s Chanukah Cookie House was cuter than your basic gingerbread house because it had menorah and mezuzah sugar icing decorations. Finally, Saba Habib’s extra virgin olive oil was distinctly smooth, with an almost fruity flavor; I sopped it up with a slice of baguette and felt positively Mediterranean.

Other highlights: an entertaining demo by an unflaggingly energetic salesman who nearly convinced me that owning a Vitamix would solve all my major life problems, and Empire Kosher Poultry’s giant chicken nugget, which weighed in at nearly 50 pounds and earned itself a Guinness World Record title. I felt poorly for the person whose winning nugget was now displaced by this breaded monstrosity; there is something so uniquely sad about coming in second place in a race to make the world’s largest chicken nugget.

At the end of the day, where traditionally, kind-hearted vendors distribute some display samples to those who so kindly listened to their pitches, it was madness. People started wantonly grabbing items themselves and slinking away quickly. “Hey, come back!” a candy store vendor shouted as a shifty-looking gentleman making off with a half-empty package of cookies.

But it was no use. The man had run off, taking the leftover cookies with him. I looked at the vendor, who looked angry, despondent, and finally, resigned, and then he threw up his hands and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “I give up. Take what you want.” And so I did.

I came to Kosherfest hungry, and I left full and loaded down with a haul of loot. I inadvertently burned off the gelato, at the very least, by circling around the giant parking lot adjacent to the expo center six times in search of my car, which was parked somewhere that I had forgotten to take careful note of.

It was a great day, even with all the elbow-dodging and acid reflux, and on a more serious note, Kosherfest is one of the few events I attend where I see all different types of Jews, from Hasidic to the most unaffiliated to everything in between, represented both behind the booths and circling the floor. It’s kind of nice that we all come together in harmony for something, if only for our unabashed love of food.

About the Author
Tova Ross lives in New Jersey with her family, and works in communications and as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Tablet Magazine and Kveller.