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Gefiltefest. Oy!

I am a bad, bad man and I don’t improve as I grow older, I get much, much worse. I don’t care, I love it. And you’re no better. If you were you’d stop reading, but you haven’t, have you? You love it, too. I don’t know who’s worse. Maybe not me. Yesterday I went to Gefiltefest, a festival, as the title suggests, of Jewish food and culture held at JW3 on the Finchley Road in North London. That is a tautology because there is no Jewish culture without Jewish food. Here’s the scandalous part: in my bag I had a pork loin that I intended cooking for my supper. Pork. They searched my bag and it was fortunate they were looking for weapons and not treif, (unkosher), because they would have sent me packing. I got away with it.

It was more a festival of ideas than of food. I saw Claudia Roden talk about her favourite dishes. Ms Roden is one of the best food and recipe writers around. She was a real pioneer in teaching the UK about food from the Mediterranean, especially Jewish food, and is some sort of a hero. She talked at length about her favourite dishes – dukkah, an orange and almond cake, a calzone. Dukkah is a North African spice mix. Dukkha is the Buddhidst word for suffering. After an hour of this I understand the confusion. No detail was too trivial for Ms Roden to exclude, I’m glad to say. We heard it all, with barely a pause.

Claudia Roden talking at length. Photo by Simon Wilder

Claudia Roden talking at length. Photo by Simon Wilder

There were other sessions called things like Safe Treif, Noah’s Pudding and Salad Revolution! After Claudia Roden, Sarit Packer and Itamar Shrulevitch of Honey and Co were due on. I said hi and thought about staying but I needed some fresh air by then. They will have been more fun. Their new book on baking is terrific, by the way. I’m fascinated by the rise of Middle Eastern food in western Europe and North America. I’m working up a whole thing about this subject so I’ll hold fire until it’s more fully formed, if you don’t mind.

As soon as I stepped outside it started to rain heavily. Such a crying shame when Summer events are washed out, especially three days before the forecast is for a fierce and very un-English 35°. They’ll dance in it at Glastonbury, but we weren’t at Glastonbury. The Gefiltefestival-goers were elderly Jewish women with too-orange hair dos and their serious, balding sons-in-law. What are you going to do? There were twenty or so stalls with, I don’t know, Jewish muffins, whatever they are, and too-orange smoked salmon, £2 for two slices on a cracker. I smiled and shook my head. Many of the stalls had spiralisers which gives you a clue to something. There was a stand from Soyo selling good-looking salads that joins my quarter-formed theories about Middle Eastern food – abundant, colourful, beautiful – I should check them out more thoroughly. But by the time I saw them I’d already had a cold felafel for £6. Yes. Felafel, as anyone who has ever eaten one knows, should never be cold. Cold felafel are a food crime on a level with cheese strings and beetroot. Felafel should be freshly cooked, hot and crunchy. This had been prepared, at a guess, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Cold felafel does not belong at a festival of Jewish food.

SONY DSCA boy gave me a free bag of chicken soup-flavoured crisps. Actually, they were called How Chicken Soup Saved the Day. When did crisp packets become so arch? Maybe it’s me that’s ill-equipped for 2015. They were very nice, though. Being bad can yield rewards.

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