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Some of the most vibrant Jewish neighborhoods in North America exist “South of the Border” in Mexico, where over 40,000 Jews have created a close-knit, distinct community.
Here are some surprising facts about North America’s least-known Jewish centers.
Another iconic Mexican regional dish – roast suckling goat, enjoyed in and around the Mexican city of Monterrey (which also contains an established Jewish presence) – was likely Jewish in origin, as a way for secret Jews to avoid eating the roast suckling pig so popular in much of Mexico. Mexican Jewish cooks have adapted the bright flavors and fresh fruits of Mexico to traditional Jewish dishes, adding chilies to gefilte fish and tropical spices to chicken soup.
In Mexico City today, kosher consumers can enjoy Mexican staples embraced by the Jewish community such as quesadillas (corn tortillas that are filled, folded and fried), flautas (tortillas that are rolled and fried), sopes (fried circles of cornmeal dough), chalupas (cups of fried cornmeal) – all filled with Mexican delicacies such as queso (cheese), nopales (cactuse), frijoles (refried beans), salsa, and guacamole.
Down the street is Mexico’s first Ashkenazi synagogue, Justo Sierra, built in 1941 as a replica of a magnificent Lithuanian synagogue.
Builders worked from a photograph, copying the ornate details faithfully.
The oil used to fry these savory snacks was originally meant to invoke the miracle of the oil.
Some theorize that the springtime Mexican dish Capirotada – a rich bread pudding infused with sweet cheese and drenched in syrup – also originated with Mexican Jews, as a way of disguising their consumption of unleavened bread during Passover.
Pan de Semita, the iconic sesame-seed-studded roll of Mexico’s Puebla region (the area where the Battle of Puebla, celebrated in Cinco de Mayo celebrations), has been linked to secret Jews who possibly ate it as an unleavened alternative to regular bread during Passover.
Finally, a fifth group has made its mark on Mexico’s Jewish community in recent years: immigrants from the United States, who call Mexico home now and have brought their own distinct traditions from North of the Border to Mexico.
A few of Mexico’s best-known dishes turn out to have surprising Jewish origins.