Cholent is a food that at first seems like a simple Jewish chili.
Don’t be fooled.
Cholent is customarily eaten by Shabbat-observant Jews at lunch on Saturday. It is such a powerful food that its mention will evoke groans, giggles, rapid salivation, the urgent need to take a nap, and the motivation to break a diet or vegan streak.
When it is eaten may be broken down by who you are: classically by yeshiva guys, in anticipation of Shabbat, anytime from Thursday night forward; by semi-normal people AFTER dessert following Shabbat dinner Friday night; by normal folk at lunch; and by hungry carnivorous husbands, as leftovers anytime from Shabbat on through Thursday of the next week.
It appears in different varieties, depending if a Jew’s genealogy stems from Germany, Poland, Italy, Morocco or what-have-you.
OK – here are some FAQ’s.
Q. Why do Jews eat cholent?
A. Years ago back in the day there was a group of Jews known as the Karaites. They had a philosophical belief that the Oral Law was not divine, but that the Written Law was divine. Well, the Written Law states, “Do not burn a fire in your homes on Shabbat.” The Oral Law explains: don’t ignite it, but you can have it burning from before Shabbat. The Karaites observed Shabbat by sitting in a cold, dark home and eating cold food. The Jews that believed in the Oral Law developed a custom to eat a food, that had been simmering from before Shabbat to emphasize that according to the Oral Law, this is how God wants us to both observe and celebrate Shabbat (which are not the same thing, btw).
Q. What on earth does “cholent” mean?
A. Some say it comes from chaud (“hot”) and lent (“slow”), expressing the point of cholent: that it be hot, and been cooking since Friday.
Q. What are some other things you can tell us about cholent??
- It’s the ultimate comfort food. When I smell it, I am brought back in time to the many, many Shabbos meals I’ve experienced in my life. When I wake up Shabbos morning and smell it cooking, all seems right with the world. If Shabbos had a smell, it would be the cholent simmering away.
- Many conversations center around it: did it come out watery or more stew-like, spicy or savory, did my husband throw in some jalapeno sauce when no one was looking?
- “They say” the cholent depends on the guests… if the guest are good, the cholent will be good. I doubt this is true, but it makes for excellent conversation (when the guests compliment the cholent, that is).
- Babies LOVE it. It’s mushy and savory. They can put the hungriest teenage boy to shame in a cholent-off.