Monday, October 30, 2006

a lekker south african challah

i decided to do this post because i want to try to eventually highlight many of the different forms which the traditional sabbath and holiday loaf of bread, known as challah, can take.

image: muchnikarts "the challah ladies" Lithograph Signed & Numbered

this loaf of bread can appear in a myriad of diverse forms. it is more than just the ubiquitous standard braided north american one with which we normally associate challah. not that you'd ever find me passing it up save for a burnt or dried out loaf.

so what is lekker, anyway? i guess you could say it translates from dutch and afrikaans as tasty.

the following south african permutation of challah is called kitke. it is a word which some of my south african friends i met long ago in israel mentioned, one which evoked for them warm memories of the sabbath & holiday celebrations back in "zout afrikke".

a funny story happened when i was on kibbutz with these guys. i could not understand what the h*ll they were saying most of the time. as the story goes, it was the sabbath and we were all sitting together at long tables. one of them wanted challah and asked me to pass him the "kitkeh". i can quote him as saying something to the effect of, "pass me the kitkeh, china" --> having no clue what he mumbled to me, i wondered — did he want stuffed derma? or i thought perhaps he wanted this neither of which were in front of us. silly me. i think he thought i was just stupid for not knowing what he wanted. i still, to this day, don't know what half of them were telling me anyway. most of it was unintelligeable from those heavy accents mixed along with their own slang.

within this same vein of memory provocation, there is a fascinating article i found which echoes this same sentiment written in the forward's english version of their online newspaper. it can be read here.

as for why this bread is called kitke and not challah, it seems that its roots may be derived from german, lithuanian [a large part of s.a's original jewish population is of lithuanian descent] & slavic languages. an excerpt from the forward's article states that:
Kitt in German means “putty,” which is to say, a quick-drying plaster or cement that is used as a filler or adhesive, as well for making ornamental patterns or figures on such surfaces as walls and ceilings. Indeed, in some areas of Lithuania, kitke referred not to the whole challah but simply to the braids or decorations that were attached to the challah like putty before baking, and the word must have originally referred to these. (Kitka in Polish, also from Kitt, means an ornamental plume.) In many places, however, kitke came to designate an entire kind of bread — one that, like a koylatsh or a shtritsl, differed from a plain khale by virtue of its decorative features. And in still others, kitke replaced khale entirely as the word for a challah of any kind, as it also did in South Africa.
on one rare occasion and in a very yiddish sense [from a very frumm {religious} person], i heard mention of a kitkeh. it was used to described a decorative braid on top of a wedding challah.

according to israeli chef oded schwartz,
The Jewish community here has strongly Lithuanian roots. Schwartz says he has identified a "special Jewish cookery style" in South Africa that is not present anywhere else. "The Jews come from a rather narrow ethnic background.

The fact that the community lives in the Southern Hemisphere also contributes to the unique food culture. "So the traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit is served on Pesach because that is when they are in season. The wine for Pesach is made from fresh grapes instead of the traditional raisins used in the rest of the Diaspora. The classic "mock crayfish" is a South African invention, as is the word "kitke" for challah. "Also, the way that you serve meals -- this luscious South African table with a choice of seven starters and desserts and about 15 main courses is because of the particular circumstances of having servants in the home, allowing the housewife to be as extravagant as that."

the rest of the article can be read here concerning his collaboration on a south african jewish cookbook used as a fundraiser.

the kitke is composed of, from what i know — and correct me if i am wrong [this is what i was told] two sets of braided strands, one larger than the other with the smaller laid atop the larger set. i would not be surprised if there were other forms or variations on this same theme.

in this article, the author says that the kitke is an israeli invention. surprising. she offers directions and a recipe for making your own kitke.

this site offers a variation made with two strands. look at the bottom of the article. a totally article says it is a wedding loaf.

to read more about jewish south africa, please look at the following sites: a virtual jewish history tour [south africa] & the jews of south africa & jewish food in africa, a pan african view about african jews & their food [very interesting].

this is the site for the south african jewish museum of cape town. it looks to be a well-done website.

lithuanian jews are also called litvaks. here is a little something about these belarusian jews.

one of the groups of jews in [south] africa is called the lemba. they are allegedly one of the lost tribes who can trace themselves back to the high priests or cohanim. i remember seeing a pbs special years ago called, the lost tribes of israel, and they supposedly traced the men's dna back to ancient israel. both pictures and more about them, here and here.