Over the course of numerous shabbosim I have spent away from home, in the company of many different people, I have come to the realization that there is only one common thing between all shabbos observant households; they all have a very specific way of doing things, and can't imagine doing it any other way.
The differences start before shabbos even begins, or perhaps I would say, when shabbos begins. Some folks absolutely MUST take shabbos in early. ("I can't get to bed so late. I'm just too tired.") And some never heard of it. ("What? You take shabbos in early? Do you end early too?" Yes, that is a real quote, and sadly, no, they weren't joking.)
Then, the men come home, whether early or late, and the next, pretty major difference comes up. Everyone has their own, very distinct way of setting the table. For some it's easy. ("We just put out grapejuice, a kiddush cup, and the challah. We'll bring out the rest soon.") For others, it's a complicated proposition. ("Here, put this crystal wine decanter in between the silver napkin holder and the mehogany challah tray. And let me show you how to fold the napkins correctly...")
Once the seudah begins, there is singing, which naturally comes along with the requisite differences. ("Barchuni leshalom..." or "Barchuni lechaim toivim u'leshalom")
Then we make kiddush, wash and the next difference is very clear. ("My challah has nothing but sesame seeds on it.") Some buy their challah, ("I tell you, there is only one place in town to buy really good challah!") and some would ONLY make theirs. ("This is a recipe that my family has been making for generations. We put these delicious crumbs on top of the challah, I tell you, it's the best way to make challah!") Some are healthy, ("Whole wheat challah is just as good as regular. Even my sons like it!") and some less so. ("I always use a little bit of margarine in my challah, it gives great texture!")
Then, there is the fish. And if you think we can do this all the same way...think again. Some are really typical ("Real Jews only eat gefilte fish on shabbos!") and some less so. ("Sushi is our weekly shabbos treat!")
Then there are condiments served with the fish, otherwise known as dips. Some don't really do the dips thing. ("My husband likes me to serve him a but of chrein with his fish.") And some like to have a really wide variety. ("I have tomato dip and red pepper dip and chummos and techina and olive dip and dill dip and chrein and matbucha and...")
Then we move onto the soup. At one point in my life, I thought there was only one type of soup which the Halacha allowed on shabbos. Now I realize that this is further proof of our single minded mentalities. I went to somebody's house for shabbos. They were bringing out the soup, and I was excited to have a good bowl of chicken soup. That's why I was shocked to see something that was obviously not chicken soup gracing our bowls. ("Hon, you gotta try it! It's delicious! It's Chinese mixed vegetable and beef soup with Chinese noodles.") Suprisingly enough, it WAS delicious. But even among the chicken soup eaters, there is such a variety. Everyone has a very distinct way of making chicken soup, and everyone is absolutely sure that there is absolutely NO other way. Some like it very clear. ("You boil your chicken soup for more than two hours and you RUIN it.") Some like it just the opposite. ("Chicken soup isn't good unless it's been boiled all night.") People also have very clear ideas about what goes in their chicken soup. (Just carrot, onion, celery and dill. Anything else kills the soup.") Some are sure that THEY have the right combination of ingredients. ("I put in loads of vegetables. As many as I can fit into the pot. And all different kinds.") Some only call it chicken soup, while in actuality it's something else entirely. ("My secret ingredient is beef bones.") Some people like a very CLEAN soup. ("I pour my soup through a cloth three times to make sure there is no peices left in it.") Others feel differently. The more 'stuff' the better. ("I don't touch the soup. Just boil it up and serve it like that.")Then of course there are the folks who have found a happy medium. ("I strain the soup to get rid of the big pieces.") People are also very set on specific orders of operation that are imperative when cooking the soup. ("First, I boil the water for an hour. Then I add the vegetables and cook it some more. Then, an hour or two later I add the chicken.")
Once the finished product is at the table, there is yet more to discuss. See, some people have nothing but kneidlach in their soup. ("I wouldn't miss a shabbos of making kneidlach.") Some people have lukshen ("It makes the soup taste better.") Some people have the best of both worlds. ("So what do you want, kneidle, lukshen, or both?") Some people add some more stuff to their soup. ("Chicken soup with out chick peas and Lima beans inside is just not the same.") It's oddities like that which shock the more ordinary folks. ("CHICK PEAS? in your SOUP? WHAT?")
Then we move on. Some people never differ one bit in their main course offerings. ("Baked chicken bottoms, farfel, and potato kugel.") Some absolutely won't have the same thing twice. (Lemon chicken skewars, Thai beef, and wild mushroom rice.") Some people are sickeningly healthy. ("What's that green stuff, dear?" "It's brocolli soufle!") Some people simply think that they're being healthy. ("Do you want some of my sweet tzimmes?")
Then of course there are the zemiros. Different songs, different tunes, different havaros. ("Havurois.") Some sing Shir Hamalos, and some sing the whole bentching. Some lead the bentching in one way. ("Rabosai nevarech!") Some do it other ways ("raboisai Mir vellen bentchen!") Some bentch over a kos, some bentch without. ("I'm simply too full to drink another cup of grape juice now.")
But there is one thing which stands out in it's respective state of uniquness, beyond any other tradition of shabbos. This is probably the most enigmatic of the gastronomical delights native to orthodox Jews. Simply put, this food is the title song of Country Yossi's famous song: Cholent.
Cholent is truly a mystery in so many ways. Perhaps a topic for another blog post, I will say succinctly that cholent baffles my mind in every way. And yet, there is one aspect of cholent that I want to discuss here, which is complete proof of the way everyone has completely different minhagim, and can't fathom how anyone would ever do it any other way.
Some folks are very picky about their cholent consumption. ("I'm sorry. I only eat my mother's cholent.") Some don't care, as long as it's cholent. ("No, I don't want eggs or liver, I want to save my room for cholent.") Some think it tastes best with an ice cold accompaniment. ("Can I get you some beer with that?") Some people have unwavering commitment to their particular mix of ingredients. ("White beans and flanken only. Nothing else.") Some are against a particular ingredient, ("Potatoes kill a cholent.") while others beg to differ. ("No potatoes? Are you even Jewish?") Some people like it sweet, ("I always put sweet potatoes and honey in my cholent.") and some find the very thought scandalizing. ("No way! Do you also put pinaple and chocolate chips in your cholent?") Some people take shortcuts ("I put bar-b-que sauce and ketchup in my cholent.") and there are those that do the long route. ("I sautee the onions for a long time, that's what gives it such good flavor.") Some are very choosy with their flavorings in their cholent. ("Just salt and black pepper. Other spices take away from the flavor of the meat.") And some are a lot less discriminating. ("I put in a little of whatever I find in the kitchen.") Some people cook it one way ("A crockpot is the only way to get of right") and others feel differently. ("You need to put it in a pot on the blech. Make sure there is plenty of liquid.") Some people add lots of things to the cholent pot ("potato kugel, lukshen kugel and kishke, which can I offer you?") Some people just put one thing in, ("chulent ayer anyone?") some people don't allow anything to mess with their holy concoction.
But, no matter how they eat, or what they eat, there is one thing almost everyone can agree on ("I'm going for my shabbos shluf now!")
What is your philosophy on cholent making? Chicken soup? What are some interesting minhagim that you follow/have seen?