By Mordechai Schmutter
Kosherfest is an annual event in which manufacturers, retailers, and kashrus organizations get together to talk about food and offer each other samples, or, if they have no food samples, then at least pens with logos on them.
I come to Kosherfest every year, because if I’m going to leave my house to cover something for an article, it had better be something with food. And Kosherfest is all about food, for two days straight. Well, not straight. Some of us definitely go home in between, to pick at our supper and react in horror to how many toothpicks we have floating around in our pockets.
But it is tiring. There’s also a lot of walking involved, to balance out all the weird things we eat. It’s basically like a two-day, thirteen-hour marathon, if you had people on the sides handing the runners gefilte fish.
But I always go, to see what’s new. One new thing was that instead of a little Kosherfest book that tells you where to find all the exhibitors, they gave out a huge foldout map, so you could block entire aisles staring at it with a question mark over your head. “How do I get to the little side room so I can catch 30 consecutive Minchahs?” you could ask passersby. Or, “How do I get to the water cooler full of Moscato?”
Yes, one booth had a water cooler full of that delicious blue-bottled wine that almost has a lower alcohol content than orange juice. They weren’t just doing this out of the goodness of their hearts; it was a company that actually sold wine. But you have to admit, this would be a great idea for the office. And here I’m specifically talking to my editors at the 5TJT.
The wine came in handy, because some booths display milchig products, and some display fleishigs. So unless you want it to be Treiffest (which isn’t held until June), you have to go in with a plan. Plan A is to be born into a Dutch family. But the plan that most people go with, because they didn’t think ahead, is that first you eat your milchigs and your pareve meats, and then you wash out your mouth, because let’s face it, we have a long way to go with pareve meats. Then you eat your real meats, as well as your meats pretending to be other meats.
Not everything is about food. A lot of the souvenirs were about getting people to remember the brand names via items that they could keep forever, such as pens. Every time I thought of something funny, I would take a pen from a booth, write it down, and put the pen in my pocket. And then when I thought of something else, I’d reach into my pocket, and, “Ow! How many toothpicks do I have in there?” And I’d take another pen.
One ice-cream company, for example, gave out air fresheners for the car. You know those things that you hang from your mirror that smell like pine, so that people can come in and wonder if you have an actual tree in your car? This one smelled strongly of ices. I put one in my minivan, and every time I got in, it was like getting punched in the face with a Popsicle. But to be fair, I sit in the front, right next to it. The smell had to be strong enough to reach my kids, who sit in the back under a layer of potato chips and coloring books. And anyway, the whole point of the souvenirs is that every time you get into the car, you’re reminded. (“What is that smell? Oh, it’s Klein’s. The one that sells ice pops, not the one that sells Natural Foods. Such as Jelly Bellies.”)
At least it wasn’t the stinky cheese booth handing these out.
Klein’s was also handing out bottles of water, which they don’t even make, as far as I know, so that people could continue their marathon, and so other people could say, “Klein’s has water? Where’s their booth?”
“Just follow the smell of ices.”
And also so that when you’re done with the water, you can get a refill at the Moscato cooler.
Speaking of water, there was a company there that made a “flavored spring water beverage.” I don’t know why they had to call it a beverage. What else would flavored spring water be? A gravy? It kind of tasted like someone took some water and stuck in an air freshener. But not in a bad way.
But isn’t “flavored water” just another term for “bland juice”? I guess they couldn’t just call it “bland juice beverage.” With bland juice, people complain that they barely taste the juice. With flavored water, they say, “Yeah, I can kind of taste the flavor! Which one is this?”
And speaking of water, there was a big surge in the “things you add water to” industry—things that you add water to and they magically become a food. One item in particular was a challah mix, which two brands were selling. You just add water (and in the case of one brand, also eggs, oil, and yeast) and voilà! You can just eat it! Though you also have to make it into a shape. And bake it. It’s like a cake mix, but not as sweet.
I wonder what would happen if you added the flavored water beverage.
There were also several innovations in the world of fish. You’d think that with animals in general, how could there really be new products? Are they still finding parts of the cow they didn’t know were there?
“Whoa! Where did that come from?”
But apparently, they’re now finding parts of the fish that taste like meat. Well, salami, anyway. I tasted a pareve salami made out of fish, and it was way better than some of the other things a pareve salami can be made out of.
There is also a gefilte fish loaf now with the carrot already built in. Because for years, the biggest pain of gefilte fish has been boiling the carrot. (“Oh, man! I forgot the carrot! Now I have to start a new pot of water!”) So this way you get it done at once, thereby saving you valuable time you can spend pouring challah mix out of a box. And people who don’t want the carrot can pull it out, thereby defeating the entire halachic purpose of gefilte fish.
Another big trend was snack foods. (I say “trend,” like all these companies are getting together and figuring out what kind of food is going to be in style. They’re not. But somehow, every year, several companies suddenly come up with the same item, such as challah mix. Maybe it’s something in the water.)
In recent years, the big trend was health foods. We try to be good. But then we go to Kosherfest, eat a ton of health-food samples, come home, and, “Hey, I gained weight today! They must not work.” So now we’ve all given up and gone back to snack foods.
For example, one trend was “things dipped in chocolate.” I ran into two companies that came up with a chocolate-covered potato chip, which I think might actually make the chip healthier. One of them was pareve, in case you have a craving for both potato chips and chocolate at once but you’re still fleishig from the meat made out of other meat.
There were a ton of innovations in the world of chips. I saw beet chips, protein chips, hummus chips, okra chips, lentil chips, and pomegranate chips. What part of the pomegranate are they slicing?
Another company had chocolate flowers, which come on a two-foot stem, because that’s what you want to teach your kids to do: eat flowers. It wasn’t clear, though, whether the chocolate flowers were made out of chocolate, or they were actual flowers dipped in chocolate, like the chips.
In general, Kosherfest is kind of like a smorgasbord, except that you find yourself going, “Whoa! What’s this?” more than at your average smorgasbord. But they’re definitely similar, in that you have to balance a plate and a cup and a clipboard and a pen and a voice recorder and a bag of samples and a two-foot flower, and try to eat a chicken wing with a toothpick. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.