At this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Holidays at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which began Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 30, there’s a variety of pop-up kitchens with food from various cultures. One of them is L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen, the first to serve Jewish-inspired food at the festival.
The kitchen — named after the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim,” which means, “To Life!” — features a menu of Americanized Jewish food items such as pastrami on rye, potato knish with herb sour cream, chicken and matzo ball soup, and for dessert, a black and white cookie. As for drinks, there’s an egg cream made with milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer, Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager and a Blue Cosmo cocktail. While it’s unclear what exactly goes in the cocktail, one reviewer likened the drink to “20 packets of sugar dumped into a glass of Powerade.” The food is mostly traditional items found at any Jewish-style deli in New York, but with one big difference: The food is not kosher, and therefore is not an option for many observant Jews.
Why have a Jewish kitchen when many Jews, arguably a big part of the target audience for this pop-up, won’t be able to eat the food? “While Holiday Kitchen L’Chaim! draws inspiration from traditional Jewish dishes, all of our festival food and beverage items are prepared in a shared kitchen space and due to those operational needs, we are unable to meet kosher guidelines,” a spokesperson for Disney said in an email. “We continue to offer kosher meals on request at several of our Food & Beverage locations throughout the park, which are provided by a kosher-approved third-party vendor.” Disney’s website recommends requesting kosher meals, which are available at all of Disney World’s table-service restaurants, 24 hours in advance. Kosher items are also available at select quick-service restaurants that don’t require advance notice, and cost about the same, at $10 to $12 per meal.
While it’s understandable that creating a kosher kitchen for a one-month-long pop-up would be an expensive and difficult undertaking, it’s disappointing that there’s not one food item that could be made elsewhere for observant Jews to eat. And despite this being a holiday pop-up kitchen — and held over the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah — there aren’t any foods associated with Hanukkah on the menu, like latkes or sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
Social media responses have been divided, with Twitter users sharing excitement about the opportunity to enjoy matzo ball soup at Epcot, but others displeased that it’s not kosher or that the food isn’t representative of the holiday.
Not being kosher does mean some Jews won’t be able to go, Shannon Sarna, editor of the Nosher and author of Modern Jewish Baker, said in an email. But the majority of American Jews don’t keep kosher, Sarna added. “I think the fact that Jewish food is included (finally) is more important than if it is kosher. Disney World actually boasts many kosher options, but this is the first sign of Jewish food. Jewish food and kosher food are not synonymous for me,” Sarna said.
While the kitchen may miss the mark on the menu and the kosher certification, some Jewish leaders see the pop-up as a positive move. “The overwhelming number of Jews in the universe do not keep kosher and are spiritually connected to their Jewish roots all the same,” Rabbi Kenneth Block, a reform rabbi based in Washington, D.C., said in an email. “So a pop-up Jewish kitchen that is not kosher is actually reflective of being a modern Jew, as it should be. Sharing cultural differences is the only way to break down barriers.”
The L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen is located at Disney’s Epcot Festival of Holidays (between Morocco and France), and while you won’t find any Hanukkah latkes or kosher anything, visiting Disney in the winter and having the option of Jewish-style comfort food — if you’re not kosher — does sound like a pretty good holiday treat.