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Snack time: ABQ Nosh Fest features traditional and unusual Jewish cuisine

Traditional classics to the rarely explored flavors of Jewish cuisine will be included in the ABQ Nosh Fest.

The festival, presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, takes place on Sunday, Jan. 14. It will feature Jewish food prepared by some of Albuquerque’s best chefs and restaurants, including Il Vicino, Rhubarb & Elliott, Savoy Bar & Grill, Savory Fare Cafe & Bakery, Sharon’s Gourmet to Go, Slate Street Cafe and Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro.

“Everybody loves the savory aspects of Jewish cooking, the briskets, the corned beef, lox and bagels, the pastramis, the soups, the classic matzo ball soups,” said David J. Simon, executive director of the JCC. “A lot of people are less familiar with a lot of the other things. The sweet side of Jewish cooking, a variety of desserts, you know – noodle dishes and things like that. We’re just really excited because it’s a great nosh list that we have going of food items with a tremendous lineup of chefs and eateries.”

Some items also will be shipped in from New York City, one of the headquarters of Jewish cooking.

“We have babka – it’s kind of like a rolled cake, if you can picture a jelly roll, but it’s chocolate-stuffed, with spices and other fruits,” Simon said. “That’s being shipped in from New York. Along with those things some other crowd favorites, like kosher hot dogs, shawarma, which is another grilled meat sandwich which you get on the streets of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cities, a common Israeli item. Then there’s some of the other kind of Jewish standbys, like chopped liver, things like that, falafel and knishes. Knishes is like the Jewish empanada. They’re a pastry stuffed with sweet and savory fillings, so it’s almost like an empanada or sopaipilla kind of thing.”

Interestingly enough, New Mexico cuisine and culture have a lot of connections with Jewish cooking, particularly traditions that came out of Sephardic Jewish heritage. Sephardic Jews came from Spain and north Africa, as opposed to Jews from Russia and eastern Europe, called Ashkenazi Jews. Both Sephardic and Ashkenazi cooking styles will be on display at ABQ Nosh Fest, according to Simon.

“The history of Jewish cooking in America is fascinating,” he said. “You might say Jewish cooking in America probably started with (Francisco Vázquez de Coronado) and with the original Spanish entradas to Mexico and New Spain, which became New Mexico, because a large percentage of the Spanish settlers who came on those first entradas – historians estimate that as much as 25 to 33 percent of those first group of settlers who came were Jewish and they were fleeing the Inquisition in Spain. … Here in New Mexico there were some very interesting connections, and some of the food styles are similar.”

In addition to 30 food vendors, the event will include a cook-off featuring amateur chefs. The competition will be judged by a panel made up of local celebrities, including the recently crowned Miss New Mexico, Melissa Lou Ellis, who is the first Jewish Miss New Mexico, according to Simon. Joan Nathan, also known as the queen of American Jewish cooking, will hold “Nosh Talk” at 2 p.m. Proceeds from ABQ Nosh Fest go toward the JCC Camp Scholarship Fund, which gives children in need an opportunity to attend the summer camp for a positive learning and development experience over the summer.

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