Traditional Passover Foods

Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families

The food we serve at the Passover meal also can tell our own family stories through recipes that have been passed down through the generations reflecting both traditional Jewish foods and foods from other cultures reflecting everyone at the table.

Gefilte fish

The biblical story of the exodus (Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt) is recounted at a Passover seder, a celebratory meal, through lectures, gatherings and traditional foods.

Certain foods are prohibited during Passover. Those following traditional rules will even refrain from keeping these forbidden foods in their homes.

The various rules and customs can be daunting for a beginner. Even frequent attendees at Passover seders do not have a single way of celebrating the holiday, especially in America where diversity among the Jewish population is greater.

Passover Meal: Preparation

A few key foods and rituals are included in many Passover seders, such as brisket, matzah (unleavened bread), tzimmes, gefilte fish, a seder plate, and the reading from a Haggadah, the book that is recited at the seder.

While these customary practices are usually present in all seders, ultimately it is family traditions that dictate the event.

Some households are more traditional and enjoy hours of reading the Haggadah in Hebrew prior to the Passover meal. Other families prefer a more casual environment, move through select English readings and make the food the primary event.

Some families finish the seder with popular Passover desserts (see below), whereas others proceed with music, stories and blessings well into the night.

Kosher for Passover

Kosher laws specify which foods can and cannot be consumed, as well as how such foods should be prepared and handled.

Not every Jewish person follows these food laws (called kashrut) by only consuming kosher food on Passover. However, many do find meaning in this tradition.

The kosher rules during Passover are even more strict than the typical rules which dictate separating milk and meat products. For instance, kosher for Passover forbids any food that is deemed chametz, or “leavened.” This rule excludes any food produced from wheat, oats, barley, rye, and other and spelt (the five grains).

That might not seem so bad, but this effectively excludes popular food such as pasta, bread and most desserts from being served. Kosher for Passover also leaves out beer and other alcoholic beverages, leaving wine (supervised during production) as the only alcoholic beverage accepted to drink.

List of Passover Foods

Passover foods are alien to many people who have not celebrated the holiday before. All families have different traditions, but there are some foods common to most Jewish households in the United States–particularly Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. We have lots of Passover recipes available on our website.

  • Horseradish is what most American Jews use for the ritual bitter herbs in the Passover seder. If you’ve never had it, be careful: It’s related to mustard and wasabi, and is strong and pungent.
  • Matzah ball soup, either chicken or vegetarian based, is a favorite holiday food. Matzah balls are dumplings made from matzah meal and eggs. You can buy a mix to make matzah balls. If you Google “matzah ball soup recipes” you’ll find literally hundreds, including videos. (And there’s a matzah ball app for your iPhone.)
  • Gefilte fish is a poached fish ball or patty made of chopped deboned freshwater fish, eggs and matzah meal. Many families eat it with horseradish to give it a kick. It was a food eaten by poor Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia. People who are new to it – including Jews of Sephardic or Mizrahi background – tend to either love it or hate it.
  • Matzah or potato kugel is a sweet or savory pudding sometimes served as a side dish at the Passover meal. It can also be made with Passover egg noodles. Want to see a master at work making one? Click here.
  • Tzimmis is a mixture of fruits and vegetables, often carrots, potatoes and dried fruits. Sometimes meat or chicken is added, and the Tzimmis cooked into a sweet and savory side dish. You can see a video demonstration on one family’s recipe here.
  • Sponge cake, macaroons, meringues and other eggy Passover desserts are traditional served.

For recipes for many of these dishes (and more), see our Passover Recipes index.

The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF


Author: 18Doors


18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.