A Food Lover's Guide to Purim

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Purim is the Jewish calendar’s biggest party festival. The holiday celebrates the heroism of Queen Esther, a Jewish woman who rose to become the Queen of Persia and saved her people from destruction at the hands of her husband’s ill-intentioned advisor, Haman. People celebrate Purim by gathering in synagogues to read Esther’s story aloud. They then head off to parties to celebrate the ancient victory by wearing costumes, getting tipsy, and, of course, eating.

Here are some of Purim’s most delectable foods and traditions.

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Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen, the triangular cookies that hold a variety of tasty fillings, are Purim’s most recognizable food. The name translates from Yiddish as “Haman’s pockets,” and the cookie fittingly represents the pockets of the Purim story’s primary villain, Haman. (Some people say it also represents the tri-cornered hat he wore.)

In Eastern Europe, where hamantaschen originated, they were traditionally filled with sweetened ground poppy seeds, thick prune jam, or apricot preserves. Those fillings remain popular today, but in recent years bakeries and home cooks have also taken creative license with hamantaschen, swapping out the typical preserves for spreads like lemon curd, peanut butter, halva, marzipan, caramel, Nutella, and apple butter. On a festive holiday like Purim, the more cookie varieties the merrier!

→ Get the Recipe: Hamantaschen

Drinking

Jewish tradition does not have a particularly strong drinking culture, but on Purim it is customary to celebrate with alcohol (for those of-age, of course!). People tend to throw parties, dress up in costumes and masks akin to Mardis Gras, which falls around the same time, and toast one another with wine and spirits. Some people even craft special Purim-themed cocktails like The Shiksa in the Kitchen’s Purim Pucker or Tablet’s Spill the Wine.

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Mishloach Manot – Food Gifts

Each Purim, it is customary to bundle up small gifts of food – typically a few hamantaschen and another edible goodie or two – and deliver them to friends and family. The idea behind this tradition stems from the notion that Purim is meant to be a joyous holiday, and sharing these food gifts ensures that everyone will have enough to celebrate with. Delivering mishloach manot, which literally means “sending of portions” in Hebrew, also offers a chance to drop by for a visit with friends.

Global Purim Foods

Hamantaschen originated in Eastern Europe, but Jewish communities across the globe had their own Purim foods. In addition to hamantaschen, some Eastern European Jews serve kreplach, meat filled soup dumplings that keep their filling hidden inside, the way Queen Esther initially had to hide her Jewish identity. Moroccan Jews, meanwhile, make yeast bread shaped like Haman’s face with hardboiled eggs baked directly into the bread that symbolize his eyes. And in Italy, Jews make orecchi di Aman, fried strips of dough served in honey syrup that represent Haman’s ears. Without doubt, there seems to be a global trend of immortalizing the guy in baked good form!

How do you celebrate Purim? Do you have any special family traditions?

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A Food Lover's Guide to the Jewish Holidays

(Image credits: Natalia Hirshfeld/Shutterstock; Anna Kurzaeva/Shutterstock; Tomer Turjeman)

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