I normally wait until the day before Passover to buy any Passover foods. By then, everyone is sold out. This year I did my Passover shopping early — and still there wasn’t much to choose from.
Passover, or Pesach, is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. Next to the High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — Passover is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar.
Because the Jews in Egypt had no time to prepare for leaving which meant they had no time to let their bread rise, Jews today commemorate the week by eating unleavened bread or matzoh. On the first two nights of Passover, we gather with family and friends for a Seder to retell the story of the Exodus and eat a meal that includes lots of matzoh, which ensures Jews remain constipated throughout the week.
We eat foods, like gefilte fish, that we wouldn’t consider eating any other time of year, but scarf up on Passover as if we like it. We eat matzoh ball soup, because although we didn’t have time to let the bread rise, we apparently had plenty of time to roll the crumbled matzoh into perfect balls, set in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and them pop into a pot of boiling broth to rise just perfectly. One of the biggest sins any Jew can commit on Passover is to serve matzoh balls that aren’t fluffy.
And we drink plenty of really crappy sweet wine, because rushing out of Egypt, we didn’t have time to let the booze age.
During Passover, all the food we eat is supposed to be marked “Kosher for Passover,” and in Dallas that presents a problem because of limited availability. My usual supermercados — Rio Grande and Fiesta — carry none. Even the stores that carry a line of Passover foods are usually pretty low by the time Passover comes around and I remember to buy any. So this year, I’m planning to be prepared and buy in advance.
Here are my Passover shopping tips.
Shop early. Dallas supermarkets are always surprised there are Jews in Dallas. Hello? Ever hear of the Neimans? The Marcuses? Laura Miller? There are Jews in Dallas and have been ever since there was a Dallas. In fact David Kaufman, who was Jewish, was not only the first person to represent Dallas in Congress when he was elected in 1846, but was the first Jewish person to serve in Congress from any state.
But I digress.
Shame on Fiesta, which has the best international food aisles of any supermarket in the area and is partially Jewish-owned, for not bothering to carry at least a couple of crappy boxes of matzoh. And by crappy, I mean Manischewitz, a division of Bain Capital (Mitt Romney’s old company).
Kroger on Maple Avenue doesn’t carry a single box of Passover matzoh despite the four hospitals and a medical school located across the street. Hello! Has anyone at Kroger ever heard of Jewish doctors?
Kroger on Cedar Springs Road usually carries some Passover foods, but every year I’ve caught them mixing their kosher for Passover food with their non-Passover foods. So if it makes a difference to you, look at the labels on each and every item you pick up in their Passover section.
The area’s largest selections are probably at Kosher Thumb on Preston Road at Forest Lane and Central Market on Greenville Avenue.
Whole Foods carries several brands not owned by Bain Capital in their stores throughout the city. None of them at the Lemmon Avenue store were just plain matzoh, but they’re just what you’d expect from Whole Foods. I bought some organic whole wheat matzoh. Because if you’re eating something made of nothing more than flour and water, you might as well use the whole wheat and not just half the wheat.
Whole Foods also carries Yehuda gluten-free matzot. I know. What the hell is that? Why pay Whole Foods prices for flour and water without the flour? It’s just a glass of glass of water. However, on the gluten-free matzoh label, it says: “gluten-free matzoh style squares not for sacramental use.” OK, so not really matzoh, but if you can’t eat gluten, better than eating Mrs. Baird’s white bread all week.
Again, at Whole Foods check the labels. I found their Streit’s not-for-Passover-use matzoh mixed in the with boxes marked kosher for Passover at the Lemmon Avenue store. I mentioned it at check out, but haven’t been back to see if they sorted them.
And what makes matzoh not kosher for Passover? On Passover we eat matzoh made only with flour and water. On all other nights, they make matzoh with things like canola oil, flour and water. Canola oil? Canolas don’t grow in the desert.
For Passover wine, I usually go to Sigel’s for several reasons. For years, I lived in Oak Cliff, which was dry until recently, and Sigel’s is the nicest liquor store just over the bridge on Industrial Boulevard. Yes, Industrial Boulevard. I can’t see any damn river from Riverfront Boulevard, so I still go to Sigel’s on Industrial Boulevard.
But again, I digress. I tend to do that when I’m ranting.
Sigel’s always carries a variety of Passover wines from around the world. Since I’m never looking for Mogen David Concord Grape or Manischewitz Extra Extra Extra Sweet Swill, a division of Bain Capital, I usually ask one of the Sigel’s Passover wine specialists for help.
“Hello, I’m looking for a Passover wine that doesn’t taste like crap,” I asked the first clerk I saw at Sigel’s last year.
He turned to the woman at the next register he thought might be more proficient in the fine Passover wines the store stocked.
“This gentleman is looking for a Passover wine that doesn’t taste like crap,” the clerk said.
“Let me ask,” she said and picked up the intercom. “I need help with a Passover wine that doesn’t taste like crap.”
She pointed me toward the store manager who was standing in the aisle with Passover wines.
They actually had a good variety of wines from around the world. In addition to California and New York wines, they had bottles from Australia, South Africa and Israel. What I got wasn’t sticky sweet, but quite good.
What makes wine kosher for Passover? In addition to the rabbinical supervision and bribes taken to get the kosher certification, the mold used in fermenting kosher for Passover wine must not come from bread. Common preservatives like potassium sorbate can’t be added either. That’s because in the laws of kosher, as written in Leviticus, one line is rarely translated in its entirety. That line says, “you shall not eat the meat from a cloven hoofed animal, such as a pig or a camel, or eat food preserved with potassium sorbate on Passover, even if that does jack the price way the hell up.”
Really. It says that.
But if tradition dictates that you buy a fine Mansichewitz, a division of Bain Capital, look for a vintage older than the previous Thursday to make sure your wine had those extra days to age to perfection. And since we drink four glasses of wine each at the Seder, Manischewitz, a division of Bain Capital, might be the more convenient choice since it not only comes in the traditional square stackable bottle, but also is available in gallon jugs.