Dubai: In September 2019, the UAE made a historic declaration by announcing a new landmark, which will feature a church, mosque and synagogue built in the same location in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has and continues to pioneer tolerance in a move to become a global capital for acceptance and to instil the values of co-existence and peace.
And what better way to understand and accept other societies and religions than through food?
For the first time ever, Jewish/Kosher-style food has been established as a cooking and delivery service in the UAE.
Elli’s Kosher Kitchen was launched by long-time UAE resident Elli Kriel, who wanted to provide and deliver 100 per cent kosher options for Jewish residents and visitors. Elli's Kosher Kitchen is a licensed food delivery service that can be sent to your hotel or your home. It might cost a little extra depending on how far you live from Dubai.
Kriel is a Sephardi Jew, who hails from South Africa, and has been a member of the UAE’s Jewish community for seven years. In case you were wondering, the Jewish community in the UAE is quite small. Approximately 200 or so people.
“When I first arrived with my husband and children in the UAE almost seven years ago, I needed to find my way around supermarkets. I couldn’t really ask anyone where to source kosher food in the UAE since I hadn’t met anyone who kept a Kosher diet like me,” Kriel told Gulf News. “I concentrated on my family’s needs and managed to cook kosher for them from my own knowledge and by using the internet, which is full of resources.”
Kriel explained that eventually, word started getting out that a Kosher family was living in Dubai and people travelling into the country for business would reach out and ask them for help with sourcing Kosher food.
“This led to me to either invite them to my home or send them home cooked Kosher meals. The requests increased rapidly from there and with the launch of the Year of Tolerance, it became clear to me that the demand was far greater than what I could have anticipated,” she said to Gulf News.
Elli Kriel was uniquely placed to offer a service that no one else in the UAE had thought to provide. It was when the Pope came for his historic visit that Kriel spontaneously decided to make it official and make her food available for the public. That’s how Elli’s Kosher Kitchen got its start.
What exactly is a kosher diet?
Kosher food is a diet that is derived from the Jewish faith. Similar to Halal, Kosher requires the ritual slaughter of the animal and the prohibition to eat pork. Where this differs from Halal is that certain seafood like shellfish (like mussels and oysters) and crustaceans (like lobster, prawns, shrimps, octopus, and calamari) are also off the menu. Kosher eaters do eat fish, however, they must have fins and scales. So they can’t have smooth-skinned fish like shark for example.
Additionally, a kosher diet only allows them to eat mammals with split (cloven) hooves that chew the cud (that is, animals that slowly chew their partly digested food over and over again in their mouths before finally swallowing) are permitted. “Many locals are surprised to learn we are not allowed to eat camels or drink their milk,” Kriel clarified.
Insects are also not allowed to be eaten, which isn’t really an issue, however, this means that vegetables need to very carefully cleaned and checked to ensure you don’t inadvertently consume insects. Over the centuries, strict protocols have been established for the checking and cleaning of fruits and vegetables, which can also be reassuring to consumers no matter what their background.
“Since broccoli florets and asparagus cannot be adequately cleaned, we usually only eat the stems?” Kriel explained.
An important and core Kosher practice is to not mix meat and milk food products. This even extends to utensils, serving dishes and cooking facilities. This means you will not find dishes like steak in creamy mushroom sauce or butter chicken in kosher recipes.
“Consequently, many kosher homes like mine, install two separate kitchens - one for meat and one for milk to adhere to these principles,” Kriel told Gulf News.
“Fortunately, I am experiencing a growing demand for kosher food in the UAE from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai thus far. We have more recently been getting requests for not just Kosher, but typical Jewish foods especially slow-cooked beef brisket and a dish called “tzimmes”, which is made with a medley of root vegetables, orange juice, sugar and cinnamon. These days I am busy perfecting my recipe for these dishes, which can be ordered very soon.”
While Kosher meals are generally meant to be prepared in a home, ready-made Kosher meals are a different challenge since you have to intrinsically trust the entire ingredients and cooking process. Foods produced in factories need to be supervised and checked by a Kosher authority to meet the strict standards and protocols. A certificate is usually issued to the manufacturer before any product can be labelled as Kosher. The good news for Jewish members of UAE society is that it is now it’s possible to find many products imported into the UAE, certified with a Kosher label (hechsher).
Kosherati: Kosher Emirati food
Dubai is a city filled with amazing types of foods and cuisines from all over the world, but Kriel was particularly curious about Emirati cuisine. Since she has been limited in experiencing all the amazing foods around her as a Kosher practitioner. Her desire to sample Emirati food, which is so new and different from what she has seen before, has gotten the better of her.
“I have learnt to cook certain dishes in my home. I love experimenting with local recipes is so that Jewish visitors and locals alike can see the commonalities in our foods and cultures. I am very fortunate to continuously experience the warmth and hospitality of the UAE so what better way to enhance this experience by combining our recipes made from the heart and rich in history?”
Kriel has created a range of Jewish-Emirati fusion dishes including Date rugelach, made with dates, orange blossom water and cinnamon rolled in a rugelach pastry.
Date cake with tahini frosting, a date loaf cake made with sweet tahini frosting and pistachio crumble. Inspired by Emirati flavors with a special blend of spices including cardamom and saffron.
UAE welcoming Jewish residents
One of the pillars of the Year of Tolerance was to solidify the UAE as the global capital for tolerance.
“I am so proud to be here in the UAE especially at this moment where tolerance is a core value and way of life. As a rule, I always look for the commonalities between people and celebrate our shared humanity.
There are so many similarities to the Jewish and Arabic culture that makes it easy to feel welcomed. My husband leads the Jewish community and both of us feel very committed to our life here which we cherish.”