Inside Kosher World, the recent "for-the-trade" food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated "Davening Area"?
While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.
"These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity," said show director Phyllis Koegel. "They're now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations."
About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.
As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don't you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I've ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.
"For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover," announced vice president Evelyn Baran.
I sampled salad dressing from Mistral -- loved the soy ginger -- and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes -- sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?
Next I visited Raphy's booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey -- the watermelon peel preserves are to die for -- were dished up with flair.
Only fine wine could top off this "balanced meal," so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world's largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. "When people hear 'kosher' and 'wine' in the same breath, they think sweet," said Dennis Bookbinder, the company's director of sales. "Our slogan is: 'We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.' Today you'll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down."
Many of the company's 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world's foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal's, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.
This year's show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, "because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic," said show director Koegel.
According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn't hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.
So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: "Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher." Truer today than ever, I'd say.
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of "Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family" (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at www.cookingjewish.com.