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Over the years, we’ve published a number of top 100 lists—all of which were challenging to conceive and curate, incredibly fun to put together, and controversial in their reception. But none was as challenging or fun—or likely to be as controversial—as the one we’re debuting today: The 100 Most Jewish Foods.
Before you start yelling at us, here are a few things to consider.
For starters, this is not a list of good food. It’s not a list of the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or the most enduring. In fact, a number of the dishes on this list are no longer cooked or served with any regularity—at least not in the home kitchens or communal spaces where they originated—and the edibility of many others is… well, let’s say it’s up for debate.
The point, instead, was to think about which foods contain the deepest Jewish significance—the ones that, through the history of our people (however you date it), have been most profoundly inspired by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar and the contingencies of the Jewish experience. That many of them are also delicious is obvious, and Darwinian: It’s how they survived as long as they did.
Much of the list will be immediately recognizable to Tablet readers: No one was going to leave out chicken soup or babka or shakshuka or… matzo. But there are also dishes here that, for many, won’t be familiar at all: unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet as well as recipes from around the globe and ones nearly lost to history. These are foods that were generated by a people that became many peoples; a tribe at once bound together by a shared tradition and separated by radically different host countries, cultures, politics, and influences.
We found inspiration in this tension between what is shared and what is not. Instead of organizing the dishes chronologically or by originating region or—perhaps most absurdly—by numbering them one (“best”) to 100 (“least best”?), we decided to present them to you as we believe they exist in reality: all on the same table. (And no, that isn’t photoshopped. We sourced and photographed all 100 dishes together—on one day.)
If spinning the big table isn’t your thing, you can also view the dishes in a simple alphabetical list or by contributor. In addition to Tablet writers and editors, contributors include leading chefs and food writers—Ruth Reichl, Eric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, to name only a partial list—as well as writers and artists and thinkers, including Maira Kalman, Joshua Malina, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Phil Rosenthal, and more. We aren’t all food experts or cooks, and we’re not even all people who love the dishes we’re writing about. It’s an unexpected collection of contributors, and sometimes the people are even more interesting than the subjects themselves. By which we mean: The list is a lot like Jewish life.
With that, there’s only one thing left to say: Enjoy.
Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.