Breaking the fast has its own set of traditions. Ashkenazim usually break the fast with something salty, like herring, because they believe fish restores salt lost by the body while fasting. Herring also was the cheapest fish in Eastern Europe, where the custom originated.
Egg and cheese dishes—dairy products in general—are popular among the Ashkenazim for the first foods after Yom Kippur.
Some Eastern European Jews break the fast with a German sweet roll called shnekem, from the German word for snails, because of its coiled shape. The yeast dough containing milk and sour cream is rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon sugar, raisin and nut filling then rolled up, cut into slices and baked.
Gil Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts” that Central European Jews ate cheese kuchen, a coffee cake, for the meal following Yom Kippur. German Jews also ate erstesternen, a cinnamon star cookie, so called because stars were the sign of the end of the fast day.
Zimbabwe Jews break the fast with juice, traditional rolls with oil called rusks, oil biscuits and cheese. Sweets include almond and honey turnovers and sponge cake. Later they dine on a meal of cold chicken, fried fish, chicken soup and other sweets.
The Jews of South Africa, whose origins were in Europe, have babke, a sweet milk bread with almonds and raisins originating in Poland. They also drink soda water, milk or lemon tea. Later they have a meal starting with pickled herring and lemon fish.
Typical among South African Jews whose ancestors came from the island of Rhodes is breaking the fast with melon pip milk, bread with olive oil, sponge cake, honey and almond turnovers, and rusks.
Others break the fast with cold chicken, chicken soup and sesame biscuits, followed by almond sponge cake with syrup or marzipan. (Marzipan is a sweet mixture of almond paste, sugar and egg whites often tinted with food coloring and molded into forms such as fruits and animals.) Layered phyllo pastry with almonds and honey also may be served.
Among Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews, a light snack is followed by a heavier meal. For example, some Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian Jews break the fast with cardamom coffee cake. Some Iraqis drink milk, then have the cake or a cardamom-almond cookie called hagadi badah, Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts.” Afterward they have a big meal that includes teebeet, a stuffed whole chicken with rice that has been left to cook over a low flame all Yom Kippur day.
Pan dulce, a sweet yeast bread in loaf form or rolls, is served by some Sephardim before and after the fast, Marks notes in his book. Marks also writes that the Jews of India for the meal following Yom Kippur have a semolina-filled turnover called singara or kushli, and sutlach, a Middle Eastern rice flour pudding.
Some Yemenites break the fast with ginger cake or watermelon, then they drink coffee and eat cookies. Afterward they have more of the broth from before the fast or another Yemenite soup.
Edda Servi Machlin, author of the cookbook “Classic Italian Jewish Cooking,” among others, recounts that her Italian family drinks vermouth and then eats a special, oval-shaped bread to break the fast. They then enjoy a meal with soup and pasta, chicken, fish, stewed fennel, cold noodles with sauce, sweet cakes and fruit.
Marks writes that Italians typically break the fast with il bolio, an Italian sweet yeast bread.
Nicholas Stavroulakis, who wrote “The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece,” relates that Greek Jews prepare interesting drinks to break the fast. One is made with grenadine; another with almonds; another with lemons; and one has melon seeds, water, sugar and almond extract or rosewater.
Rachel Dalvin, who has researched about the Jews of Ioannina, Greece, shares the fact that these Jews broke the fast with avgolemono, chicken-lemon soup, and a variety of stuffed vegetables that were common in Turkish cookery and acquired because Turkey occupied that part of Greece for centuries.
Some Moroccan Jews break the fast with fijuelas, a deep-fried pastry soaked in sweet syrup. They may also drink arak, an anise-flavored liqueur. Later they have coffee with milk, cake and cookies. Still later they have harera, a special thick soup with chicken and ground vegetables.
Here are some special recipes to break the fast from “Olive Trees and Honey” by Marks, a cookbook of traditional Jewish vegetarian dishes from Jews around the world that can be prepared ahead.
2 to 5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon table salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups plain yogurt
1 cup milk or
1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
4 cups peeled, seeded, diced or grated cucumbers
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, cilantro or mint or
6 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon plus
3 tablespoons fresh dill
2 chopped hard-boiled eggs or
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mash garlic and salt into a paste in a bowl. In a large bowl, blend yogurt, milk and oil. Stir in garlic, cucumbers, and scallions. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Five minutes before serving, stir in herbs. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with eggs or walnuts. Serve with crusty bread or pita.
Italian Cold Pasta in Egg-Lemon Sauce
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour or
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
2 cups boiling vegetable soup or water
1 pound tagliolini/taglierini or thin egg noodles such as linguine
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (optional)
Beat eggs, egg yolks and lemon juice in a saucepan. Whisk a little of the egg mixture in a bowl with the flour or cornstarch to make a paste. Stir it back into the egg mixture.
Add salt and sugar if using. Gradually beat in hot soup or water. Cook over medium heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon until smooth and thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt then noodles and stir. Return and bring to a boil and cook 7 to 10 minutes. Drain. Place in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Let cool at least 30 minutes.
Mix noodles with sauce and garnish with parsley.
My Favorite No-Herring Taste Appetizer
Though I do not like herring, once I tasted this dish more than 20 years ago I was won over and make it often—and not just for breaking the fast.
2 cups herring in wine
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill
2 teaspoons sugar
Wash and pat dry herring. Place in a blender. Add sour cream, mayonnaise, dill, sugar and scallions. Blend a second or so just until herring is pureed slightly. Spoon into a serving dish. Serve with crackers or pita chips.
(Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem.)