Characteristics and Differences Between
Sephardic and Ashkenazi Foods
In summary, think of it in terms of the "weight" of the dishes. Sephardic cuisine is typically lighter and more summery (or sunny), while Ashkenazi dishes are much heavier/heartier and more appropriate for colder or harsher climates.
Sephardim use more ingredients common in Mediterranean cuisines - lamb, olives, lemon, tomatoes, garlic, dates, figs, artichoke, lentils, eggplant, couscous, rice, cumin, turmeric, chickpeas, olive oil (even saffron, ginger & chiles)...
Ashkenazim rely on things commonly found in Eastern European cultures - potatoes, carrots, beef, beets, cabbage, chicken or goose fat, gefilte fish, pickled fish, sweet & sour sauces (usually honey, sugar or raisins plus lemon or vinegar), basic salt & pepper. Ashkenazi Jews contended with both poor agricultural conditions as well as a frigid climate, and so their more isolated shtetl existence became rooted in those dishes.
You can learn comparison from cookbooks from well-known Jewish
cooks. for example, Claudia Roden is a Sephardic Jew, so her holiday
recipes cover that aspect, whereas Joan Nathan is Ashkenazic, so she
follows those traditions more closely.
Another Summary of Differences: Style of the same Dish
- Ashkenazic - somewhat loose/wet mixture of apples, cinnamon, nuts & wine
- Sephardic - thicker, usually made with dates (and sometimes figs, prunes or raisins)
- Ashkenazic - relatively savory, sometimes with tomato sauce or sort of a BBQ-style sauce, usually with paprika
- Sephardic - sweet & spicy, typically includes dried fruit (prunes, apricots), often includes chiles
- Ashkenazic - simple seasoning & preparation, served with potatoes
- Sephardic - spicier, incorporates more Mediterranean flavors (cumin, olives), served with rice
Sephardic in Detail
Ashkenazi Jewish Food in More Detail