Celebrating Jewish Literature: Jewish food from across the world

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Pages from “P is for Pastrami: The ABCs of Jewish Food” by Alan Silberberg. (Photos used with the permission of Penguin/Random House)

Confession: I frequently anthropomorphize objects from stuffed animals to mechanical devices. Yes, I can assign almost any inanimate object a personality. However, I normally don’t do that with the food I eat – that is, unless the food is offered in a book format. This is a long way of saying I loved the delightful drawings in the children’s board book “P is for Pastrami: The ABCs of Jewish Food” by Alan Silberberg (Viking), which offered humanized versions of different Jewish cuisines. Even better, it features some Jewish delicacies with which I was not familiar. That means that parents reading this work to their children might just learn something, too.

Much of the food will be familiar to most readers. Even though the letter P is used for pastrami, Silberberg still managed to include one of my favorite foods: the letter D “is for DILL pickle,” which the Dill Pickle himself notes is “Delicious.” A CHALLAH (for the letter C) wearing a kippah wishes readers a “Shabbat shalom,” while a LATKE offers a “CHHAPPY CHHANUKAH” with the drawing of the letter L also serving as a menorah. A Kosher Hot Dog (for the letter K), which looks a bit like a superhero, notes it’s “ALL BEEF! ALL THE TIME.” 

There are several Israeli foods featured: the picture of “F is for FALAFEL” features three cute, smiling falafel balls. The eggs in SHAKSHUKA (for the letter S) shout out the name of the dish. A T-shaped grinder turns sesame seeds into TAHINI for the letter T. Some foods are


 referred to by a name I’ve never heard before: “Y is for YAPRAH,” with the two yaprah shown noting they are also known as grape leaves. Did you know a QUAJADO (for the letter Q) is a type of frittata made from eggs, cheese and vegetables? Well, I didn’t until I looked up this Jewish dish that is said to have been prepared in Spain before the Spanish Inquisition. (I found that information online when I looked up the origin of the dish.) The word ZHUG (for the letter Z) sounded familiar, but I wouldn’t have been able to define it as Yemeni hot sauce without the smiling, dancing bowl filled with zhug letting me know.


Although I wouldn’t mind writing about every letter of the alphabet offered since every drawing is adorable, I think you get the idea. Know anyone with a young child? This would make a great gift for them. If the parents are foodies, then they’ll love it, too. Actually, if you are looking for a fun book for a foodie friend, this would be a perfectly silly gift for them, too. Yes, I know they don’t need to learn the alphabet, but the pictures are such fun, they bear repeat viewing, something that parents (“read me that again!”) know all about.