Spring is here — well, almost — and with it the holidays with foods that have special meaning. Passover, starting on the evening of March 27 and ending on April 4, is one such holiday that celebrates the season, and unlike other Jewish celebrations typically celebrated collectively in a synagogue, it takes place almost entirely in the home. This year, Montreal restaurant are chipping in so that, unlike what usually happens at holiday time, no one has to lift a finger.
The traditional meal, or seder, is enjoyed around the dining table, recounting the history of the Jews in Egypt while drinking four obligatory glasses of wine, and eating symbolic foods like bitter herbs, lamb shanks, a roasted egg, and a mixture of fruits and nuts, called charoset, to remind celebrants of the mortar used by the ancient Jews to build the pyramids.
Kat Romanow and Sydney Warshaw, co-founders of The Wandering Chew, a Montreal-based, woman-owned not-for-profit dedicated to preserving and revitalizing Jewish food traditions, have been sharing and teaching Passover recipes, including homemade matzah, for years.
Each diasporic tradition has its own traditions of foods families expect to see on their table, but matzah — a thin, crispy cracker, baked quickly — is at the heart of the meal. The grain used to cook matzah, whether made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt, cannot have come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and rise. Round or square matzah is a key part of the table setting, wrapped in special cloth, in ball form in chicken soup, or as a hidden ingredient in desserts like sponge cake.
“Most people cook for themselves at Passover,” says Romanow. “There isn’t a robust tradition of restaurants selling Passover-specific meals,” says Romanow. “But things are starting to slowly change, which is exciting.”
With Jewish traditions from around the world in Montreal, there’s a wide variety of dishes available, from Eastern European, or Ashkenazi cuisine (brisket and chopped liver come to mind), to Sephardic cuisine, with roots in Moroccan, Iraqi, Egyptian, Iranian, and Italian food. Kosher restaurant La Renaissance Gourmet Bstro offers diners their choice of an Ashkenazi or Sephardic meal, with Moroccan-inspired salmon, chicken with olives, and lamb tagine on the Sephardic menu. Beso, another Kosher restaurant, has a similarly extensive option for diners, including the famous Moroccan salade cuite with roasted peppers.
The classic proteins — brisket, chicken, lamb, and turkey — figure prominently in most Passover meals, no matter the tradition. For smoked turkey, kosher-style Snowdon Deli and Schwartz’s have you covered; orders must be placed a week in advance. Meanwhile, Schwartz’s signature brisket is available with no need to pre-order. Snowdon Deli’s classic menu, complete with gefilte fish (whitefish quenelles), roast capon, and knishes, is available every day, though the restaurant will be closed before sundown on Saturday, March 27, when the holiday begins, until Tuesday, March 30, when they’ll reopen for takeout.
Hof Kelsten already has matzo ball soup, brisket, and smoked salmon on their daily menu, and will be making some Passover-friendly specials, including a pastry box with their signature sweets. And, in addition to their usually evocative Jewish fare, Arthurs has a special à la carte Passover menu including matzah ball soup, house-smoked salmon, chicken liver mousse, and a dessert box with matzah brittle, peanut butter bars, and pecan meltaways. (Orders must be placed by Monday, March 22, by noon.)
Finally, chef Adam Shiller (ex-Tuck Shop and Provisions) and his sister Arielle are sharing their love for Passover dishes from the Zoe Ford catering kitchen, carrying on the tradition of Friday night meals started by their grandmother and bringing them into this second lockdown holiday. Shiller’s offerings — by pre-order only through Instagram — include matzah ball soup, chopped liver with onions, tzimmes (a sweet potato and carrot stew), and matzah crackers with caramel, chocolate, and fleur de sel. A family operation from start to finish, they’ll even provide all the necessary ritual items for the seder plate.