Normally around some certain holidays, I seize the opportunity to teach myself about culture, religion, and history via associated food traditions for that holiday. For example, last year, I taught myself about Jewish cultural traditions as they related to Passover. I made matzo ball soup, matzo brei, coconut macaroons, even haroset, which I didn’t even know about until I made it.
And what did I learn through my little culinary lessons about the Jewish culture? That if I were forced to eat hard, dry, bland crackers for eight days straight, I’d be a cranky, constipated neurotic little you-know-what, too. ;)
I don’t know why matzo has such a bad reputation. I love matzo – broken into little pieces and eaten with haroset like chips and salsa. (Hope that sacrilege doens’t offend anyone.)
But Passover this year has long since come and gone, and just about the only thing I did was...nothing. I can’t even pretend because I didn’t do a single thing except note that the Matzo Man would probably make a great oven mitt. Or a hot pad.
All is not lost in my culinary lessons in Judaism, though. Sure, I probably won’t bake a kugel until September (and I’m not even sure if kugels go with Rosh Hashanah, but I love the word “kugel”), but I can still practice my lessons in kosher-ness for Passover by learning what not to eat at Ye Olde King’s Head, a British pub in Santa Monica. Isn’t that what Passover is all about? What you can’t eat? Exactly, and there ain’t nuthin’ kosher about fish and chips. Or is there?!?! I guess we’ll find out by looking at what British things we ate and drank, and why it’s not kosher for Passover.
There are two commandments from the Torah regarding Passover. One of the commandments is that Jews avoid "chametz,” or any form of leavened bread. Instead, during the eight days of Passover, Jewish people eat matzo, which is what their ancestors ate during their hurried escape through the desert from Egypt. But chametz isn’t just any form of yeast-risen Wonder white bread; chametz also includes anything made from the five major grains - wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt - that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with moisture. That pretty much puts Jews on a mini-Atkins diet.
We didn’t eat fish and chips at Ye Olde King’s Head, but fish are battered and fried, and the batter on the fish, because it’s made from wheat flour, would considered “chametz.” And if it’s a beer batter, well yeast and barley might make a rabbi’s head spin.
Kosher/Not-kosher Conclusion: Fish and chips are not-kosher! for Passover. (Now, if this were Hannukah, it would be a completely different story. Fish and chips would be more than okay, since they are deep-fried, and Hannukah is all about frying foods in oil.)
While we didn’t have the quintessential British fish and chips, I did try a Cornish pasty for the first time. Pasty, which rhymes with “nasty,” is not that tassled, sometimes bejeweled sticker that some “dancers” use to accessorize themselves. A pasty is, like many other cultural cuisines’ version of filled dumplings, a Hot Pocket, born out of tin miners’ need to easily carry their lunch with them into the mines of Cornwall. The miners, whose hands would be covered with dirt from the mines, could hold the pasty at one end, eat it without touching the rest of it, then just throw away the sullied little corner of the pasty that they had been holding. Ye Olde King’s Head’s pasty is a perfect bulbous dome of flaky, but somewhat dry, lard-based pastry filled with simple ground beef and vegetables. It was mostly flavored with the natural juices from the meat, with no complicated spices or herbs.
Kosher/Not-kosher Conclusion: Pasties are not-kosher! for Passover because the pastry crust is chametz.
The pasty was a little bland for my taste, so I did a little fit of flavor embellishment with HP sauce. In fact, I doused just about everything we ordered with the brown sauce, which tastes like a fruitier, tangier version of A-1 steak sauce. Unfortunately, I have no idea what HP’s brown sauce is made of, so I can’t determine it’s kosher-ness. My guess would be that HP’s brown sauce is kosher! for Passover.
Ye Olde King's Head's menu had a few items on their Pub Snacks menu that looked like they had been pulled off the menu at Ambala Dhaba or India’s Oven. Now with all the vegetarian dishes in Indian cuisine, an Indian Jew or Jewish Indian, could eat reasonably well during Passover. You just can’t touch the naan, so in that case, what would be the point? I tried Ye Olde King’s Head’s lamb samosas which neither looked nor tasted like a samosa from any Indian restaurant I’ve ever eaten. The samosas didn't taste bad, they were just different, and comparatively milder in both flavor and heat. Rather than the usual triangle or cone shape, the samosas were folded into flat rectangles. The accompanying raita didn’t have cilantro or mint, but some other herb or spice that I couldn’t identify. I ate the samosas with HP sauce.
Kosher/Not-kosher Conclusion: Samosas are not-kosher! for Passover because the samosa pastry is chametz. Raita is likely kosher! for Passover, though I would verify that with an expert before dipping any of your meat-free foods in it.
The last thing we ordered was a Scotch egg, which doesn’t sound very substantial as one egg. However, a single Scotch egg is hard boiled egg that is enveloped in a thick layer of sausage, breaded, and deep-fried. It is very substantial, and is the perfect segue into the second commandment of Passover.
The second commandment from the Torah regarding Passover is that the head of the household tells the story of Passover on the first two nights of the holiday. This is called Seder, and is a sort of religious service that takes place around the dinner table around which friends and family have gathered. The centerpiece of the Seder table is the Seder plate, which has several food items on it that represent various parts of the Passover story. These items are used as props and visual aids during the storytelling. One of the items on the Seder plate is a roasted egg to symbolize the festival sacrifice.
Kosher/Not-kosher Conclusion: Scotch eggs are not-kosher! for Passover. Unfortunately, the Scotch egg at Ye Olde King’s Head, while technically related to the roasted egg on the Seder plate, would not work for Passover because breading is chametz. In fact, a Scotch egg wouldn’t work for any Jewish holiday because the sausage is made from pork. Dang, may as well have gone all-out not-kosher! and melted mozzarella cheese all over that Scotch egg.
It’s too bad because along with Jamie Oliver, the Scotch egg is one of the tastiest things to ever come out of Britain. The pasty had been good but somewhat bland, the samosa had been good but not very samosa-like, but the Scotch egg was awesome. Especially dunked in HP sauce.
Screw Jew. Give me a Scotch egg.
Ye Olde King's Head
116 Santa Monica Boulevard (@ 2nd Street)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
** a year ago today, i made my first pass(over) at matzo ball soup **