Note: We’re going to be writing more about food in the Bog, because why not? To start, here’s my friend Matt Terl, ranking the 10 best (or, least awful) store-bought Passover foods. While you might think this would appeal to a limited audience, I’ve learned that 73 percent of my readers are 20- or 30-something Jewish men who grew up in Montgomery County. So I think this fits. Follow Matt on Twitter @matt_terl — DS.
Passover food is terrible. Let’s accept that as our baseline.
Not the homemade food, of course — that can be terrific. Matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, brisket, roast chicken … the Passover dietary restrictions don’t significantly change any of these, so if you’re attending a seder at the home of someone who can cook, you should be just fine. (Once you get through the two hour storytelling portion of the evening, that is.)
But Passover also stretches for eight interminable days, and you’re likely not going to be roasting up a chicken for a quick lunch on Day 6. So Passover convenience foods are essential. And, as noted, they are terrible.
A quick summary of Passover dietary restrictions, for the blissfully unaware: no leavened bread. Nothing like leavened bread made with barley, rye, oats, wheat, or spelt. (Just remember the simple anagram BROWS and you’re ready to not eat things!) If you’re an Ashkenazi Jew (i.e., of Eastern European descent), then you also can’t eat rice, corn, millet, and beans, pretty much just in case some passer-by thinks you’re eating wheat.
Without flour, yeast, or corn syrup, shelf-stable packaged snacks can run into some trouble. That trouble is multiplied because they probably don’t contain butter or milk, either; if they did, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy them after your roast chicken, thanks to the regular, non-Passover dietary restrictions.
So in secular terms, it’s basically a bunch of gluten-free vegan stuff, only without the associated sense of smugness or the faux-brown-paper-and-twine packaging. And, like gluten-free vegan stuff, most of it is terrible. But not all of it!
Here, then, are the 10 best kosher-for-Passover foods that you can find tucked away in the back corner of your local supermarket for another week or so. Get ‘em before they make their exodus for another year! (I have no idea where that came from. I’m very sorry.)
In fairness, these actually are awful. From the box (which has remained fundamentally unchanged for at least 30 years) to the ingredients (which proudly boast of “fish gelatin”) to the texture and flavor: there is nothing likeable about this confectionery. Except that we buy them every year, and my grandfather loved them, and they symbolize Passover just as much as matzoh does, if not more. In this spot on the chart, just imagine whichever equivalent terrible Passover food ticks off those nostalgia boxes in your household. If you don’t have an equivalent Passover food, sub in your favorite Russell Stover seasonal egg. Same church, different pew.
Many years ago, a Redskins player told me how much he liked the Stove Top stuffing his mother used to make at Thanksgiving, which I cheerfully published as part of an 8,000 word piece on the team’s official blog. His mother read this and was so appalled at being accused of using boxed stuffing mix that she demanded that her son issue an official retraction, which he did. People have strong feelings about boxed stuffing, is what I’m saying. But this product represents a good effort at steering into the skid of Passover restrictions: crumbled matzoh makes a perfectly suitable replacement for dry, inedible bread in stuffing. Add some roasted mushrooms at the end of cooking and you could do much, much worse, especially If you are short on beige side dishes for your seder table. (Note: You will not be short on beige side dishes.)
No specific brand loyalty here. All Passover fruit slices are created more or less equal. Imagine a Sour Patch Kid, only much less sour. And slightly grittier in texture, because most brands use straight-up sugar instead of corn syrup or invert sugar. Also, not as good as Sour Patch Kids in almost every quantifiable way, but otherwise generally the same. If you like the idea of eating solid hummingbird food, this precisely the treat for you; I will almost certainly consume an entire box yet again this year.
All brands are equally good, but I like that Lays gets a special bandolier for the holiday. Anyway, this is something of cheat: they’re just potato chips, albeit not ones fried in lard, corn oil, peanut oil, or rice oil. For many years they didn’t make flavored Passover chips, presumably because it is expensive to replicate “sour cream and onion” or “chicken and waffles” without corn syrup. As a result, for me, Passover became a time to really appreciate the flavor of plain potato chips. Turns out that potatoes, oil, and salt taste good together. Who knew?
I know. I know. But look: if you strip out the whole ritual element, and the eating-nothing-else-for-a-week element, it’s basically an artisanal Carr’s Water Cracker. I mean, matzoh with butter and some sea salt? Really pretty good.
Again, only disgusting because they are the de facto dessert during the holiday. But in the abstract, it’s a pleasantly moist flourless coconut cookie, and it’s great with a cup of tea. (Note: None of that applies to the new-fangled flavors the manufacturers have been rolling out. Cappuccino Chip? Banana Split? And this year’s innovation is Pistachio Orange? People are monsters.)
4) Kedem Israeli Style Gefilte Fish
I realize this sounds insanely specific, but this PRECISE variety from this PRECISE brand is the only one I like, and I only wind up eating it on Passover. And even then, I think you need to do some elaborate prep work before it’s ready to eat — squeeze and rinse and dry and slather with horseradish — but once that’s all done, it’s delicious. I understand that a jar of fish quenelles and sliced carrots floating in a cloudy broth might make you skeptical, but … well, yeah, I can’t really blame you.
I can’t eat these anymore, because I am old and my teeth are a shattered ruin of crowns and fillings, probably from too many Passover fruit slices. But when I was a kid, this was the one Passover candy I would actually consider eating during the rest of the year. Many old people who remember the original Bartons candy stores in New York will tell you that these are a pale shadow of the original, because that’s what old people do. These toffee-like almond candies are actually pretty good, even by a non Passover standard.
Speaking of old people: in the old days, when we wanted Coca-Cola with sugar instead of corn syrup, we had to stock up in April, and it only came in two-liter bottles with yellow caps, and we had to carry it up a hill both ways to get it home. Sure, now you can get your glass-bottle Mexican Coke at any bánh mì joint worth its hipster cred, and you can buy retro cans of Pepsi Throwback at any grocery store, but Passover Coke will always hold a special place as the first Passover product that was actually desirable to the general public. Now get off my lawn. It’s my ball now.
Here’s the real secret, though: the product that was most improved by swapping out corn syrup for processed white sugar wasn’t Coca-Cola at all. It was, and remains, ketchup. Of everything on this list, Passover ketchup was the only item my family actually bought in bulk to use throughout the year. That’s unnecessary now, because the modern fear of high-fructose corn syrup means that Heinz and the rest of the Ketchup Industrial Complex now offer sugar-sweetened variants year-round. Far from diminishing Passover ketchup’s stature, that fact only serves to reinforce its ranking here.
And it has to be the top choice, because with enough Passover ketchup, you can even make the rest of the awful Passover food palatable.