Keeping Kosher in Italy

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… and when traveling in general. Since I am currently in Italy I am using it as a concrete example.

If you are wealthy you can stay at kosher hotels and bed & breakfast and eat at kosher restaurants. This is the easiest way but it can be expensive and is restrictive in some countries where such places are rare.

This post is meant to help people staying in self-catering appartments. This perspective is based on my own understanding of kashrut and should be used as advice and guidelines not as an authorative view. Therefore feel free to disagree and check with more knowledgeable people if in doubt.

Here are a few tips:
– Forget about meat altogether for the length of your stay; things will be much easier. Some people pack more or less all the things – including tins of meat – they intend to eat when away but this might prove very heavy if you are flying and more complicated to manage once you’re actually there.
– Pack two pots; one big enough for boiling such items as rice and pasta and a smaller one for boiling eggs, warming up sauces and cooking vegetables. Take also a (parve) knife.
– When you get to your destination, visit a local store or supermarket for disposable plates and cutlery.
– Before you go, find the list of kosher authorized products.
– Read it! This is very important. First it will help you determine whether you need to pack other items. For instance, taking olive oil isn’t necessary as Carapelli, a great and widely available type of olive oil, is authorized. On the other hand you might wish to pack vinegar as no wine vinegars are allowed. Then knowing some names will help you recognize the products while shopping. Thus if you know the name of a brand of tuna fish and of mozarella you will save time once you are in the store.
– Make rice and pasta dishes. You can use plain tomato sauce and add your own ingredients such as tuna or vegetable). Prepare salad plates. Cook eggs (hard-boiled, omelets…). Eat plenty of fruit and yogurts. Keep in mind that all fresh bread is permitted; this is the same in France where legislation regarding bread is quite strict. This will prove useful when you want to eat a packed lunch.
– When you go out things are obviously more complex but there are still a few things you can do. Concerning tea and coffee: if it is served in a glass or duralex cup, there is room for leniency, based on the opinions that glass does not absorb.
In Keeping Kosher – Eating Out, Rabbi David Sperling writes:

It would therefore be preferable to use a disposable cup, or a glass. But if these options are unavailable, one can drink kosher tea or coffee from a regular cup (see Yechave Da’at, ibid., and also the Nodah Bi’Yehudah, Yoreh De’ah, 36).

In the same article, Rabbi David Sperling also deals with the issue of eating cold foods, something you might find useful if you wish to eat a salad in a non-kosher restaurant.

Feel free to add your own advice and ideas as they will undoubtedly be useful.

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31 thoughts on “Keeping Kosher in Italy

  1. If you can eat the bread, sounds like a feast! Better than our vacations, where we bring a lot of frozen food (this is easier in winter than in summer) and buy some produce.

    I have certain pots that I deem “vacation” pots. One is stacked with different sizes, so I get a colander, too. (I think I got it from LL Bean – camping stuff).

    I’ll have to tell my husband we need to save up to pay for the restaurants, too.

  2. Great tips!
    Another idea is to compromise. We know people who’ve eaten at the kosher establishments on Shabbat but made do on their own during the week.

    The idea of a list of kosher products is very foreign to American and Israeli ears. We’re used to looking for the kosher symbols on the products themselves.

    • Were it not for the plates and cutlery issue, it would seem that pizza would do. The ingredients in the dough are kosher, you can select a kosher topping and the oven is so hot it’s like self-cleaning. But there again it’s just a feeling.
      I know a number of French Sephardim who regularly go to Italy and who eat pizza there but the friends who go with them would never consider it.

  3. The kosher product list is excellent in its extensiveness.

    Rabbi Sperling’s writing on “cold food” is good advice.

    • Lots of European countries have such lists.
      I tried to write this post by remembering everything I had re-read recently about kashrut. In addition, since I didn’t have Blu Greenberg’s How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household with me, I searched the web and found Rabbi Sperling’s article where he says something quite similar.

  4. Dear Ilana,

    Thank you so much for writing me. Your words really give me hope. I know I can become kosher. It’s just so slow going.

    I can’t remember if I told you in my last entry that I just ordered a book called Kosher for the Clueless, but Curious by Shimon Apisdorf. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of this book.

    Your post today was very educational for me, and the food sounds wonderful.

    My Partner in Torah has a daughter and son in law who are visiting Italy right now. They left on such short notice, that they were unable to book a kosher tour, so they are surviving like yourself. Sounds like lots of fun though.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

    Melissa

  5. I might note that Rabbi David Sperling is my personal rabbi at my yeshiva. The man is a walking book of halakhah (he’ll cite the Taz and Shakh off the top of his head), and he knows my hashkafot and my personality better than I do.

    I’ll read this post of yours later when I have the time.

  6. Oh, this same article of his is also available as an online video recording of a live shiur. I’ll see if I can find the URL. As I recall, however, one of his halakhic positions changed in between the shiur and the article, but I cannot remember exactly.

  7. One of the reasons we love traveling in Israel is that we don’t have to pack food and exactlyplan every meal. Not all restaurants are kosher, but many, many are. And you can stop into a supermarket anywhere in the country and be sure to find bread, cheese, cold cuts, and in most places, meat that are kosher.

    So when are you coming for a visit? 😉

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  9. Thank you for such a great post. Traveling kosher does not require a luggage full of tuna fish cans and vacuum packed salami.

    I love Italy and other foreign destinations and find keeping kosher is not as difficult as people think (but I have been doing it for a while). I’m very accustomed to local “kosher lists” having traveled a fair amount in Europe, South America and South Africa.

    Americans are a bit spoiled with all our hechshers that, in my opinion, have become more and more political and commercial rather than valuable indicators of kashrut (which was their original purpose and largely is their current MO despite some well-publicized gaffes).

    I sort of view traveling as an opportunity to be a bit more thoughtful about your food – learning about the local customs (e.g., bread legislation in France), speaking directly to chefs as necessary, and being creative with available options. I have asked for double wrapped fish in aluminum foil on cruises and in Greece, for example where fish is ample. When going to hotels that don’t have kitchenettes, I have brought along an old blech to warm up food for shabbat (not so hot as to cause fire concerns for hotels). I also know people who actually travel with a crock pot and make soups, etc. with local fresh ingredients, beans, etc.

    For great kosher restaurant and travel recommendations around the world, including where to find those kosher restaurants, a great resource is http://yeahthatskosher.com/ — I’m currently writing up a post about Panama and some new restaurants in Miami.

    Happy travels and good food.
    – Zahavah (http://koshercamembert.com)

  10. Nice post. That’s more or less what I do when I go abroad. When I was traveling in South America for 4 months I simply became vegetarian, except when I found a Kosher restaurant in major cities or Chabad centers that served Kosher food.

  11. see this from JewishEurope.org:
    Is bread Kosher?
    Most bakeries use lard which makes the bread not-Kosher, hence it is not advisable to buy bread in stores that do not have a kosher certification, including supermarkets.

    Doesn’t really fit in with what you said about bread in italy

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