On the Jewish food scene: Foods that feel wrong

By Rabbi Rachel Eserman

Some foods are simply unacceptable. Well, at least their names create a problem for me because they don’t fit. I was reminded of this when the rabbi leading the services I attended recently mentioned the type of challah over which she was making the blessing: chocolate chip. My reaction was disappointment. It’s not that I don’t like chocolate chips, but they don’t belong in challah.

Challah should be either plain or raisin. I know there are at least 50 different challah recipes out now, but some of them should have a different name. By the way, raisin challah is my favorite and it’s not just my preference. When I led floor services at a geriatric center years ago, the residents were very disappointed when the challah wasn’t raisin. I have no idea what they would have thought of chocolate chip: No one had invented it yet. 

(As a side note to put this into perspective, when someone says, “Don’t you hate it when you bite into a chocolate chip cookie and it turns out to be oatmeal raisin?,” my reaction is, “No, I’m disappointed when I bit into a oatmeal raisin cookie and discover it’s chocolate chip.”) 

While I’m writing (OK, while I’m whining) about my food preferences, I, at least, am willing to admit that chocolate chip challah exists as a category of challah. However, as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a blueberry bagel. Don’t buy one and give it to me to prove I’m wrong: I’ll be happy to take it and eat that blueberry bread since I love blueberries. But it’s bread with blueberries, not a bagel. Bagels are savory: plain, onion, garlic, etc. Now my friends know I have a sweet tooth, but I also love foods that contain garlic and onion. (In fact, if you don’t like food spiced with onion powder or garlic powder, you won’t be able to eat at least 80 percent of my cooking.) So, I also really love fruit (just check out my refrigerator), but it just doesn’t belong in bagels.

Speaking of challah again, another thing about the bread: I was reading a book at my chaplaincy work recently in which the main character baked a challah. Most of the people (staff and individuals) I work with are not Jewish, so I explained to them that it’s incorrect to say challah bread. It’s like saying bagel bread or bread bread. How do I know people call it that? Because the folks on the Food Network Channel keep saying challah bread. Duh! It’s just wrong. You’d think someone would tell them the correct way to say it. 

Do I think this column will stop people from making chocolate chip challah or blueberries bagels because in my expert opinion (OK, my whining opinion) they are inappropriate? Of course, not! But someone needs to take a stand: those foods are just wrong!