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Passover Foods: Foods That Tell the Seder Story
- Matzah is the primary story-telling food at Passover. It represents our fleeing Egypt and having to make bread in haste, without time to rise, and it represents affliction and the poverty of slavery in its flat, tasteless, dry form filled with holes. There are three matzot on the seder plate, piled on top of each other. The middle matzah is broken at the beginning of the meal; half is hidden at the beginning of the meal and searched for at the conclusion of the meal. It is called the Afikoman (see below). Matzah is the only bread that is eaten with a Passover seder meal.
- Haroset is a sweet thick or chunky fruit and nut dip that is meant to symbolize the mortar that Jewish slaves built Egyptian buildings with. Jews of European descent usually make it with apples, nuts, honey, sweet wine and cinnamon. Jews from other lands have other ingredients, but it is always ground or chopped to resemble mortar, and is usually brown in overall color.
- Salt water represents the tears of slaves and the water of the sea that parted so the Jews could cross into freedom.
- Parsley represents the rebirth of spring and the hope for the harvest that happens in late spring in the Middle East, at the end of the rainy season.
- A roasted egg represents rebirth, and the roasting reminds us of the Passover sacrifice brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times.
- A shank bone of a lamb also represents the Pascal offering made at the temple in Jerusalem in the early spring. Sometimes a chicken neck is substituted for the bone, and in vegetarian homes, a beet or a carrot may be substituted.
- Maror is any bitter herb, often horseradish or bitter greens like chicory or endive, and represents the bitterness of slavery.
- Hillel sandwich is a sandwich made of matzah, maror and haroset. Its combination of sweet and bitter tastes reminds us that life is a combination of joy and pain. Hillel is known as one of the greatest rabbis of all time, and he is the leader of the primary school of Jewish thought at the beginning of the first millennium.
- Afikoman, the Greek word for dessert, is a piece of the middle matzah on the seder plate, and is hidden at the beginning of the seder and hunted at the end of the seder to keep the children engaged. In some households, the seder is not finished until the afikoman is ransomed back to the family and a little piece is eaten by everyone.
- An orange is added by some Jews. Today, many believe the orange on a seder plate to represent the inclusion of women, specifically women's leadership roles and full empowerment in Jewish life. However, the tradition was actually started to symbolize the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Jewish community. The orange represented the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.
- Olives are sometimes included as a call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Other symbolic foods have been added to the seder plate over the years--Passover is a very flexible holiday, and different families and communities adapt it to their concerns and passions.
Also see our Passover Recipes index.