A member of the UAE’s Jewish community has made culinary history with the launch of the first kosher food service in the Gulf region.
As prominent Jewish leaders from around the world arrived in the UAE for interfaith events during the official Year of Tolerance last year, they sought kosher meals - food that follows traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Longtime Dubai resident Elli Kriel, who provided kosher food to Jewish travelers informally over the years, noticed an increase in requests in the run-up to the Year of Tolerance and saw an opportunity.
Kriel started “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen” a food delivery and catering service offering certified kosher food in February 2019, two months after the Year of Tolerance was announced.
“I realized there was an opportunity to do more and in a very adventurous moment, I decided to take the plunge,” Kriel said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“The simultaneous recognition of our community also bolstered my confidence. I don’t think I would have done it before then,” she added.
Two more events affirmed Elli’s decision. In May, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, a chaplain at New York University, was appointed by the Jewish Community of the Emirates as its first Chief Rabbi. In September, the UAE announced the construction of an interfaith complex in the capital Abu Dhabi that will house a Jewish synagogue, Christian church, and Islamic mosque.
“Kosherati”: Kosher cooking, with a twist
Since launching, Kriel has cooked for Chief Rabbi Sarna, as well as Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Shudrich, and popular Emirati social influencer Khaled Al Ameri.
The “busiest period to date” for Elli’s Kosher Kitchen was between November 2019 and February 2020 - just before the coronavirus pandemic began its worldwide spread.
While most customers of Elli’s Kosher Kitchen are American and French, recently the clientele has changed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“Up until February, it was mainly kosher business travelers and tourists. Since travel bans have been enforced, my customers are mainly expats and Emiratis living in Dubai,” said Kriel.
Kriel recently offered Ramadan menus of traditional regional Arabic foods during the Islamic holy month. Kosher dishes share similarities with ‘halal’ dishes, which are permissible for Muslims to eat.
The challah, the babka and the rugelach by the dozens. From Ellie’s Kosher kitchen in Dubai so we can try when we break our fast during Ramadan . Hope you and your family are safe and well. #PrayForHumanity pic.twitter.com/kbbYBpEJ8o— مروان العابدين (@MarwanAlAbedin) May 17, 2020
Both Jewish and Islamic dietary laws mandate the ritual slaughter of an animal and prohibit eating pork. But Jewish dietary law has certain requirements, such as the prohibition of shellfish or the mixing of meat and milk products, that are unshared by Islamic dietary law.
In addition to religious considerations, Kriel’s food is crossing cultures, adopting local flavors in some of her recipes such as her “Emirati style” borekas, a puff pastry of Sephardic Jewish origin.
“I want to experiment and develop a new genre of Jewish cooking that reflects the UAE environment. I refer to it as Kosherati,” said Kriel, who is co-authoring a cookbook on Emirati recipes modified for a Jewish household.
Jewish community in the UAE
There are an estimated 200 Jewish people in the UAE, where Kriel and her family have lived since moving from South Africa in 2013. Kriel’s husband Ross is the president of the Jewish Community of the Emirates and leader of the Jewish community in Dubai.
Kriel said the recognition and support the Jewish community in the UAE has received is “amazing and very appreciated.”
“The UAE has demonstrated to all of us that our great traditions, properly understood, are a force for the good,” she said.