Thursday, September 29, 2011

São Paulo: Garden of Kosher Delights

Shana tova, vegetable lovers! Happy Rosh Hoshanah. We are on the second day of the new year. How does a non-practicing Protestant-vestigial Catholic, Vietnamese-Pennsylvania Dutch-English American living in Brazil know what's happening on the Jewish calendar? In addition to friends' Facebook posts with muppets singing catchy high holiday tunes in Hebrew, I happen to be spending the month living on the edge of a neighborhood of São Paulo marked by some real deal orthodox kosher livin' (or Kosher Livenn):

I walk by this plaque, "livenn Kosher Today," on my way to the private-seeming but open-to-the-public Senac library in Higienópolis, a relatively tranquil, tree-lined region to the northwest of the city center, highly recommended by  (note: "Senac library" sounds pleasantly like "snack library" but is the library of one of many nationwide centers of professional training—fashion, computer magic, graphic design, etc.—funded by a 1% tax on the goods, services, and tourism sector. It remains something of a mystery to me, but I appreciate how quiet and underused its library is compared to many of the sadly overburdened and underfunded public libraries in San Francisco, though this varies by wealth and accessibility of neighborhood.)

traffic & trees
graffiti outside my building

sidewalk in Higienópolis

family time

At first I thought Livenn Kosher Today was a lifestyle magazine, but one day the sun pierced through the building's tinted windows so as to reveal food displays: a kosher butcher!

dialogue between São Paulo graffiti &  Livenn Kosher Today

Too shy to whip out my camera and take photos of the mysterious packaged vegetable products labeled in Hebrew on the wall facing the rows of shrink-wrapped, chilled kosher cuts, I waited until I got to Kosher Delight to investigate further. (Portuguese pronunciation of "delight": dee-LIE-chee), which proclaims itself one of the foremost suppliers of kosher foods (lots of baked goods, yum) in Brazil and prides itself on "helping the planet to live longer."

I picked up many, many delights that I had very much been missing, including fresh hummus (it's hard to find good hummus around these parts), olive spread, and a cute-as-a-button raisin challah swirl (the size of an overgrown cinnamon bun). The "shana tova" pastry (top photo, with my housemates' painfully adorable Lhasa apso, Marley) is a Jewish take on a Brazilian classic: pão de mel, or honey bread covered in chocolate. Our woman in Rio, vegname Celery Kabbage, observes that this new year's message on a sweet pastry operates as a bit of "poetisserie." She writes:

I  really like the concrete poetisserie of writing "shana tova" on a little cake. The full greeting is "l'shana tova u'metuka"--to a good and sweet year. The dessert itself conveys the second half of the phrase! Kosher Delight is totally avant-garde.

olive spread from Kosher Delight

My most exciting Weird Vegetables find was the Bissli Falafel flavour Wheat Party Snack. Who says fun can only be had with meat or sugar? There's a whole wheat party happening in that bag of falafel flavor.

These wheat sticks taste somewhat like a condensed, dehydrated version of Funyuns. The overall flavor was marked by an onion note that stood out above the wheaty grit, though I don't recall actual falafels being so overpowered by onions. Still, the Funyun connection makes sense with the lemon sunshine packaging and the suggestion of loads of fun and laughs in every package, that onions and wheat can be fun and funny (I prefer to read "party snack" as meaning "party in a snack" rather than merely something you lay out in a bowl for your human party).

Here is the party-for-one platter that I laid out after my festival of delights at the kosher bakery:

On a final note, all this Kosher Livenn got me thinking about the kosher status of vegetables. Judaism 101 informed me that all fruits and vegetables, with the exception of grape products due to the danger of their falling into the hands of idolators, are kosher, no rabbi necessary (in general rabbis are involved in verifying kosher food production practices more as a result of the complications of our industrialized system rather than for their blessing skills). A further explanation and important caveat:

All fruits and vegetables are kosher (but see the note regarding Grape Products below). However, bugs and worms that may be found in some fruits and vegetables are not kosher. Fruits and vegetables that are prone to this sort of thing should be inspected to ensure that they contain no bugs. Leafy vegetables like lettuce and herbs and flowery vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are particularly prone to bugs and should be inspected carefully. Strawberries and raspberries can also be problematic. The Star-K kosher certification organization has a very nice overview of the fruits and vegetables prone to this and the procedure for addressing it in each type.

I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the very involved, very illuminating Star-K vegetable insect-checking guidelines, which include detailed guidelines for leafy vegetables, floreted vegetables, and a really intense (and kind of bizarrely gorgeous) photo gallery of insects-on-vegetables. What's so treif about insects? According to the Torah, "every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten." Many many learnings to absorb today. But the main moral of today's lesson is this: that vegetables are a kosher delight! (as we suspected all along...) You may eat them with a feeling of both goodness and pleasure.

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