'Mom, what's Shabbat?" That was Liam, the 13 year old. He's been invited to his friend Alex's house next Friday and wanted to know what to expect. So Mom headed down to The Place (619-286-6499), a kosher deli/restaurant in College Area. There, I met Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah, who was happy to offer a word of explanation.
"The essence of the idea of Shabbat is that, whatever you really enjoy or look forward to as a type of food, you try, as much as possible, to have that food and celebrate with your family. The exact type of food will be different, depending on your taste or customs. I'm from France, and my parents are originally from Algeria; the main dish was traditionally chicken with couscous -- or meatballs. But, I'm in America now, so my wife serves rice and kugel, which is a potato cake, with the chicken. She's French, and she's a great baker. She makes desserts like eclairs -- which is a challenge, since she can't use butter.
"Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday night," continued Boudjnah. "We go to synagogue, and it lasts an hour. Then we come back home. Once the meal starts, it could last from an hour to three or four. But it's a day of rest, so all the food must be prepared ahead of time."
Next, I spoke with a middle-aged Jewish lady, who told me about the form of the meal in her own home. "It starts with a blessing. First, the woman of the house lights candles -- usually one for each member of the family -- and blesses the candles. After synagogue, the husband and wife sing songs welcoming the Sabbath and blessing the family. Then they wash their hands; it's a ritual wash, not one in a bathroom. Then there is another blessing, and then we go to the table and make the blessing of the bread, usually two loaves of challah [ $2.99 for two small loaves]. That represents when we traveled in the desert and received double portions of manna from heaven on Friday, so there would be some on Saturday, when they didn't work."
After the blessings, "we start with a fish appetizer. We can eat fish and meat in the same meal, but not on the same plate. And we never have meat and milk -- or dairy -- in the same meal. In my home, I have one cabinet and drawer for my milk-product dishes and silverware and another cabinet and drawer on the other side of the room for my meat dishes and silverware. Also, we never eat any pork products whatsoever."
She said she favored gefilte fish for an appetizer. "It's a blend of pike and several other fish, all ground up [ $6.99 for 1.6 ounces, frozen]. I boil mine for two hours with carrots and onions and then put it in the fridge to cool. Then I slice it and serve it on a bed of lettuce."
Next is the soup course. "Traditionally, it's a matzoh ball soup [ $2.39 for 4.5 oz.]. Some people take the chicken and the fat and put it in the broth of the soup. Others add vegetables and noodles. But it's not set in stone; I'm just giving you the tradition."
Salad follows. "In my home, we do a green salad and fancy it up. Because it's the Sabbath, and because it's restful, you take your time and do a seven-course meal." For entrées, "We do two meats -- again to symbolize the double portion. The side dishes can vary depending on your ethnic tradition. If you were Russian, you might serve stuffed cabbage. I might serve a meat roast and a chicken or fowl dish. The most important thing is that the food is kosher."
Over at the meat counter, Yossi the butcher explained what it takes to get kosher beef. "We only use meat from the front part of the cow -- shoulder roasts, minute roasts, chuck roasts, and ribeye roast. The cow must be slaughtered by a special person called a shohet, who is trained to slaughter in a kosher way. That entails saying a blessing and cutting the throat, but if the blade touches the bone in the neck, the meat is not kosher." An inspection searches out other unkosher characteristics: a hole in the lungs or the stomach, lungs stuck to the ribcage, or metal in the stomach. "After that, the veins are taken out. The meat is soaked in water for one hour and then salted for one hour. This is to take the blood out -- we are forbidden to eat blood."
From there, I wandered over to Boaz the chef for a recipe suggestion. "For a roast, I'll take a shoulder roast and fry it on all sides. Then I add garlic, onion, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, and a little bit of nutmeg and tomato paste. I let the tomato paste burn a little, to give color to the gravy. Then I add wine and water and cook the meat for 45 minutes on each side. When it's done, I cool it and refrigerate it for 24 hours. That's the secret; it lets the flavors blend. Then I slice it, put it on a sheet pan, and heat it in the oven for half an hour [ $14.99 a pound when available]."
A few of the salads: "We have a Moroccan eggplant, which is deep-fried eggplant, diced red pepper, garlic salt, cumin, olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar. Another is Israeli potato salad, which has potatoes, carrots, pickles, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and lemon [salads average $6.99 a pound]."
Desserts "can be anything you like -- just no dairy." Boaz noted that because The Place is a kosher market and restaurant, they don't sell any dairy products. ("There's a separate restaurant called The Dairy Place across the street.") Said my lady acquaintance, "I like to serve a honey cake or a sorbet in the summer. We can use margarine," and there are nondairy cream products. "And a lot of your tofu stuff is also nondairy."