Rosh Hashanah is one of the most important festivals that marks the start of the civil year. Like many celebrations, Rosh Hashanah food is one of the most delicious traditions of the holiday.
This year Rosh Hashanah is celebrated Friday, September 15 – Sunday, September 17, 2023
It celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Jewish tradition.
There are many traditions and rituals that accompany this holiday that are beautiful ways to begin Jewish New Year with family and friends.
Here is an introduction to some of the food and drinks that you may come across if you have Jewish friends or families that celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah Traditions
The direct translation of Rosh Hashanah is ‘head of the year.’ It reflects this is the New Year celebration in the Hebrew calendar, marking the start of the month of Tishrei.
Traditionally there is a period of intense reflection between Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur holiday, ten days after the beginning of Rosh Hashanah.
The time is for prayer to repent for misdeeds and to revolve to do good things.
Many will attend synagogue for special prayers. This is particularly common on the morning of the first day.
Rosh Hashanah is also considered to be the ‘Day of Judgement’ for the previous year.
One of the most distinctive traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, which is a horn that can be blown with sustained notes, quick staccato bursts of the horn or a combination of both.
The shofar is traditionally blown every morning in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
But it can actually be blown many times during the two days of Rosh Hashanah, especially during the prayers of the festival.
In the month preceding the New Year, it is said that the blowing of the shofar is to warn people to reflect and to warn of the coming judgement.
When Is Rosh Hashanah?
Like many holidays around the world, Rosh Hashanah does not use the Gregorian calendar we use today.
For those who use the Gregorian calendar, Rosh Hashanah can happen at the earliest on 5 September and will always happen on or before 5 October.
Like Hannukah the dates shift and the Jewish day begins at sunset.
Rosh Hashanah happens at a different time each year as the lunar cycle dictates when the month of Tishrei begins.
However, Rosh Hashanah always happens 163 days after the first day of Passover.
Traditional Rosh Hashanah Food
Expect Rosh Hashanah foods to be rich and decadent, yet balanced with lighter elements.
There are a number of important foods play a symbolic role, like as apple or honey, that are certain to be on every table.
In some cases a community may hold a Rosh Hashanah seder to recite blessings over these symbolic Rosh Hashanah foods.
The Yehi Ratzon platter of food generally includes many of the dishes below, including apples in honey, dates, pomegranates, black-eyed peas, rodanchas, stuffed vegetables, leek fritters, and a whole fish.
As Rosh Hashanah means head of the year, it’s common for people to take this literally and feature a head of an animal during a meal.
It’s most often fish but it don’t be surprised if you see others.
One of the most common dishes on the dinner table in Jewish households during the Rosh Hashanah.
Pronounced guh-fil-teh the translation of this is ‘stuffed fish’.
The traditional way to prepare gefilte fish is to make a seasoned minced fish mixture for the fish skin.
However it is now also often formed into fillet shapes, or formed into a log and then served in slices.
Carp, pike or other white fish are most commonly used to prepare this Rosh Hashanah food, with minced fish often combined with eggs, onion and breadcrumbs.
One of the most important food traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah. It is common to have apples dipped in honey.
With a nod to Adam and Eve, eating apples is both the act of giving thanks but also hope for a prosperous new year.
It may seem odd to dip a sweet fruit or other food in honey, but this is an important Rosh Hashanah tradition.
Food is a way to wish others a ‘sweet’ new year. It is common to say the Hebrew phrase Shana Tova, which wishes a good year.
But it is also common to wish someone Shana Tova U’Metukah, which means a good AND sweet year.
Whether it is used as a glaze or in a sauce when preparing meat dishes, or even in a cocktail, the sweet taste of honey is closely associated with these celebrations.
Another of the most popular Rosh Hashanah dishes is beef brisket.
This is generally slow cooked to give the meat its tenderness and to absorb the flavours of the sauce it is cooked in.
There are several different recipes that can be used for the sauce, which is usually made from a base including chopped tomatoes, brown sugar and stock.
The brisket is usually cooked with root vegetables and served with other vegetables and a range of other sides for one of the main meals of the festival.
Keftes de Prasa
A common Rosh Hashanah food in Sephardic cuisine, for those who descended from the Jewish people who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (think Portugal and Spain) in the late 15th century.
These leek fritters are usually served as a side dish for many families during the holidays.
It’s an easy fritter recipe as leeks are chopped, sautéed, combined with egg and breadcrumbs then fried until crispy.
Leeks, along with chard or spinach, play a symbolic role and many people eat them to protect them from their enemy.
Matzo Ball Soup
Matzo balls are a type of dumpling that is prepared with matzo crumbs.
Breadcrumbs from matzo, an unleavened bread, are mixed with egg, water and chicken fat or margarine. This dough is worked into a ball.
Matzo balls are cooked in a tomato sauce or more commonly a clear broth that includes chopped vegetables such as onion, carrots and celery.
Having a large meal with friends and family is an important tradition of Rosh Hashanah.
A roast chicken is one of the most common centrepieces for the meal. There are many different recipes, but with Rosh Hashanah’s foods often emphasizing the element of sweetness, a honey glaze marinade is common.
The chicken is usually served with a variety of vegetables.
A big part of American Jewish traditions, as there were many Jewish bakeries in United States’ cities selling rye bread.
These rye breads tend to be darker in colour. They usually have a more dense texture than white bread, and in many cases prepared with molasses – which adds to the association with Rosh Hashanah.
The crust of the bread is also often seasoned with caraway seeds and glazed with an egg wash.
A great vegan dish for family members mnazaleh is a tasty tomato and eggplant stew.
Pronounced min-ah-zah-lay, it can be served as a main dish or side for the rest of the family.
It’s a simple dish with a base of fried onion, tomatoes and garlic. The diced eggplant, tomato and chickpeas are added into the stew and are then cooked in a pan.
Cilantro or parsley is then used to garnish the stew to serve.
Challah, and specifically round challah, is a symbolic Rosh Hashanah food.
The long braided version of this rich, eggy bread is eaten weekly for shabbat. However, the round challah looks more like a crown or circle and may have sweet raisins or other dried fruit.
Some say it symbolizes crowning God as the king, and others that it represents the full circle of the year.
In hopes for a sweet new year it is covered in honey instead of its normal salt.
Black Rice Salad
This is one of the popular side dishes that is on many tables during Rosh Hashanah.
Known as jeweled black rice salad it’s easy to make in advance and adds a splash of colour to the table.
The salad can be made with many different ingredients. However, the black rice is often combined with diced butternut squash, pecans, pomegranate seeds and apples.
It is served with a dressing made with lemon juice, honey, olive oil and a little cayenne pepper.
Eating fruit is an important Rosh Hashanah tradition and pomegranate is one of the most important.
Pomegranates are one of the seven species of Israel, along with barley, fig, grape, pomegranate, olive, date and wheat.
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Pomegranates are are mentioned in the Torah, with people hoping to be as full of virtues as the pomegranate is full of seeds.
Not one dish but a range of dishes that are found on many Jewish dinner tables.
This Rosh Hashanah food is stuffed vegetables or leaves.
One of the common dishes here is grape leaves that are stuffed with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, pine nuts and currants.
They are usually accompanied by a dipping sauce.
Alternatively, you may also find stuffed peppers or stuffed tomatoes on the table as well.
Some of the foods that are associated with Rosh Hashanah are associated due to wordplay.
The Hebrew word for carrot, gezer, is very similar to that for decree, or gzeira.
People eat carrots during Rosh Hashanah to nullify any evil decrees against them in the New Year.
They are commonly used in stews, and served alongside brisket or roast chicken during a roast.
They can be boiled or roasted as a side dish of other roasted vegetables.
Another of the ingredients that is generally in season during Rosh Hashanah, beets add a dash of colour to any table.
Latkes are traditionally a type of potato pancake, but these variations will have the purple hue of the beet.
The beets and potatoes are grated and combined with onion, lemon juice, eggs and flour to make the batter.
These are then lightly fried in batches to the point that they are crispy and have a golden crust, and are served hot.
This is a traditional Ashkenazi dish, from Jewish settlers in the Middle Ages along the Rhine River in Northern France and Western Germany.
It makes use of so many of the symbolic Rosh Hashanah food. The base of the stew is made with chopped carrots and other root vegetables such as squash.
Sweetness also comes from adding dried fruits including raisins and prunes. Slow cooking not only cooks the vegetables, but also intensifies its sweetness.
Sometimes it will include brisket, but is often left vegetarian.
Bringing colour to the table during Rosh Hashanah, a rainbow salad can be made with several different ingredients.
It offers a fresh crunch to go alongside the hearty dishes.
Among the ingredients you will find in this type of salad are red cabbage, yellow peppers, cucumber, white mushrooms, olives and tomatoes.
They are usually served with a simple and zesty dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
Rosh Hashanah Desserts
As Rosh Hashanah generally takes place during late summer into early fall, one of the ingredients that is in season is pumpkin.
Rodanchas are pastries that are made with filo pastry rolled into coils then stuffed with a sweet pumpkin filling.
These coils are then baked and dusted in icing sugar to serve.
Another one of the seven species of Israel and available in the autumn. Dates are commonly used as one of the ingredients in cakes.
These cakes tend to have spices such as ginger and cinnamon in the mixture, along with a zesty orange hint as well.
They often have a sweet orange glaze or icing on top.
Also known as lekach, almost every home will have some sort of honey cake.
Many varieties will also include apples because of their significance as well.
The act of giving people honey cake wishes a sweet new year.
Recipes are passed down from generations and while some are elaborately decorated, others remain true to the original recipe.
Coming from the Sephardic cuisine, tishpishti is a type of honey walnut cake that has a syrupy texture similar to baklava.
An egg and sugar dough is slowly combined with oil then grated apples, ginger and other ingredients are added in to make a thick mixture.
Once cooked, the cake is then drizzled with syrup giving a sweet, spicy and tasty dessert.
Most people think of kugel as a savoury dish but a sweet noodle kugel is a common Rosh Hashanah food.
With the wishes of a sweet new year, the sweet variety is made with egg noodles.
But they are now combined with butter, cream cheese, egg, milk and sugar.
There are also several types of kugel that are combined with fruits such as apple or apricots, and they can also be cooked with a crispy topping made with almonds and cinnamon as well.
They make for great pot lucks or if you’re in charge of bringing a dish to a Rosh Hashanah dinner.
These little pastries are sweet and flaky, and have long been associated with Jewish bakers, particularly in communities in the United States.
Make it at Home: Cinnamon Rugelach
The rugelach dough is made with cream cheese, flour and butter, and the fillings can vary.
But during this time rugelach often includes chocolate or fruit preserves.
The dough is made into a circle and then topped, It is into slices, and rolled into individual twists before being baked until golden.
Although many Rosh Hashanah desserts are rich and heavy, speciality ice cream also pops up often.
Apple, saffron and orange ice creams often appear, or simply vanilla with a fruit topping.
Rosh Hashanah Drinks
One of the most common Rosh Hashanah drinks, and nearly mandatory at every celebration.
Kiddush is not a type of wine but is actually the ritual of blessing the wine. It is typically sweeter than other wine and is often associated with the challah bread.
Along with the wine for the adults, you can also have Kiddush grape juice as well, which has been blessed for those sharing in the meal that don’t drink alcohol or for younger family members.
This is one of the most popular ways of enjoying a drink during the celebrations. It is light and fruity, and also has the sweetness that is important at this time of year.
Other fruit juices are often added to the wine base, and naturally pomegranate juice is one of the popular options.
Recipes will vary depending on individual preferences. Sangria at Rosh Hashanah can also include honey, and fruit floating in the mixture, such as sliced apple, grape and pomegranate seeds.
For something a bit fun, traditional cocktail recipes may incorporate symbolic fruit such as the pomegranate.
What Rosh Hashanah food is your favourite? Share in the comments below!