Capital Jewish Food Festival debuts to a large, hungry crowd


Photos by Mark Poetker

More than 2,000 people weaved their way through long lines as they munched on small bites or ate full meals during the first-ever Capital Jewish Food Festival on Oct. 9.

The festival explored food as an expression of identity, tradition and community and was put on by the Capital Jewish Museum. The event was held along the street in front of its building and focused on the harvest festival of Sukkot.

Tickets ranging from $15 to $50 enabled participants to check out 20 restaurants they either already frequent or never heard of while also learning about composting, food justice and sustainability.

The aroma from matzah ball soup, hummus, falafel, pomegranates, bagels and corned beef, some to sample, others to purchase, permeated the air.

“This is a great way to start our presence here on Third and F,” said Ivy Barsky, the museum’s executive director.

“Food is a viable link, telling us who we are and where we came from,” noted Susan Barocas of the Jewish Food Experience and chair of the festival.

Joan Nathan, author of 11 cookbooks and host of many television and in-person culinary events, spoke about the changing Washington Jewish food scene. When she first came here in the 1970s, there were only a few Jewish restaurants — including the Parkway Deli in Silver Spring — that specialized in “honest third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Jewish food.”

Today, she said, the area is home to so many restaurants from all over the world that feature Jewish food. She urged everyone to try new recipes “but keep those recipes from your family.”

When asked what she thought of the festival, Nathan replied, “It’s about time,” adding, “It’s really great to see.”

The featured speaker was Michael Twitty, a Washington-area African-American Jewish culinary writer who has taught middle school students at several area synagogues. He stressed that ethnic food is part of the history of Jews as well as enslaved people and that Blacks and Jews have much in common.

Food, he said, “It’s the joy of the people. The simchah. The happiness part,” adding it brings people to their roots. “What good is a tribe if you have no family, no roots,” he said.

“There are two types of Jewish mothers — the type that orders good Jewish food, and the ones that cook good Jewish food,” he said.

It is important not to just copy recipes from our mothers and grandmothers, but to really learn them, he said. Everyone should cook alongside their elders to ensure that the results taste just like childhood memories.

“Please learn these stories and these memories. Get them recorded so we will always have a living, breathing history,” Twitty said.

Sarah Kramer came to the festival with her parents. “I am into food in general, and this is great,” she said.

Her father, Jack Kramer, added, “I was hoping for more traditional European Jewish food,” including gefilte fish.

The Kramers walked from table to table, checking out samples and buying food to eat there or take home.

Plant Burger handed out plant-based chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries with garden herb, barbeque, spicy aioli or maple mustard sauce. It was one of the few tables that had samples throughout the day. Many others ran out within two to three hours.

Immigrant Food cofounder Tea Ivanovic was “very excited to be here. We met so many people.” The restaurant, which has three locations in Washington, ran out of samples about two hours into the five-hour event. A staff member explained, “The turnout was twice as much as we expected. It’s fantastic.”

Baked by Yael owner Yael Krigman was happy to be at the festival and to especially get the word out that her baked goods are kosher. “This is a great opportunity to bring our challahs and cakes to the masses,” said Krigman, who is known for her cake pops and storefront at the entrance to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Chix Soup Co. handed out its prescription chicken soup with tiny matzah balls, chicken, orzo and Parmesan cheese.

Bread Furst bakery had a table filled with challah bread pudding and mandel bread. “It’s a Jewish food festival. We belong here,” said Scott Auslander, general manager.

Little Sesame offered hummus in roasted winter squash, crispy chickpeas, pomegranate and molasses. Their chickpeas are grown just for them by a farm in Montana.

“It’s such a fun event. I hope they have this every year,” said Ray Gergen of Kensington.

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