How People Break Fast on Yom Kippur Around the World
From bagels and lox to melted chocolate
Yom Kippur, a High Holy day for Jews around the world, is a solemn time for reflection upon your recent trespasses and a chance to promise to be a better person as you forsake food and water for 25 hours. But the after party? It’s the original breakfast: literally breaking your all day fast, partaking of a traditional morning meal after sundown. Bagels, lox and other prepared deli counter noshes are usually plentiful in U.S. households during a Yom Kippur break fast because they can be procured ahead of time, wrote Marlena Spieler in her book, Jewish Food for Festivals and Special Occasions. But morsels usually reserved for early-hour fuel also tend to pop up at family gatherings in other parts of the world. This is what you should bring to a Yom Kippur break-fast pot luck in these countries:
A light meal of yogurt or cheese is common for most Israeli breakfasts, both the celebratory or the average Monday, but it has special meaning on this day. Historian Gil Marks wrote in The World of Jewish Entertaining that “break-the-fast can be as simple or elaborate as desired, but is usually dairy; its whiteness befitting Yom Kippur’s theme of purity.” He added that yogurt and cucumber soup is popular in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans.
Forget the scones and omelets. “Kaak [cookie rings], sambusak [a savory turnover], and jiben [vegetable and cheese casserole] are traditional at the meal following Yom Kippur,” according to an interview with cookbook author Rae Dayan in Marks’ The World of Jewish Cooking.
In The Book of Jewish Food, anthropologist Claudia Roden wrote that, in North Africa, sweet buns with nuts and raisins are punched up with a bit of saffron on Yom Kippur. Specifically in Morocco, marzipan and cookies are usually washed down with a sweet drink before the main feast of a rice, meat and chickpea soup called harira. Just like at the American breakfast table, coffee is an essential.
Similar to their U.S. relatives’ obsession with smoked salmon, Polish Jews serve herring and bagels to commemorate the end of Yom Kippur, according to the New York Times.
Grecian Jews scramble for egg and lemon soup to break the fast, according to Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. There may not be pancakes, but there will most likely be the syrupy samali cake.
Looking to fill up fast? Consider the Iraqi-Israeli classic sabich, a fried eggplant and egg sandwich that may not be part of a traditional Yom Kippur feast but will quickly stop any hunger pains. For a daintier snack ahead of a bigger meal, Marks wrote in The World of Jewish Entertaining that Iraqi Jews often eat cardamom cookies where the dough has been moistened with rose water.
Apples are popular in Jewish households during this season, as they are often dipped in honey to signify a happy and healthy new year (Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish new year, is a few days before Yom Kippur). Apples bathed in cool rosewater and sprinkled with sugar are also the sweet start to the break fast feast in Iranian Jewish households, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light.
The all-star German treat of zimtsterne, which translates to “cinnamon star,” offers a chance to warm up to a bigger meal. A bonus: While these cookies are served by German Jews breaking the Yom Kippur fast, they are also popular Christmas desserts. If they’re a hit, break out the recipe again this winter for holiday dinner parties.
Here’s something both sweet and savory: Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food offers a recipe for red mullet with raisins and pine nuts, an old Roman Jewish recipe, while also stating that the tradition in the Piedmont region is to eat bruscadelle: toasted brioche-style bread (or even challah) that’s soaked in strong red wine and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
“It’s what my ancestors would have wanted!” might be the best excuse yet to claim chocolate as a meal option. Crypto-Jews, who were practicing the religion in secret in Mexico during the Inquisition, would ceremoniously drink a glass of melted chocolate to symbolize the end of the Yom Kippur fast.