September 6, 2011

Tourists Cause Surge in Demand for Kosher in Eastern Europe

Budapest…At the Carmel Restaurant on Kazincy Street almost every table was occupied on a Shabbat in late August. Most of the diners were Israelis who took advantage of the low fare charters to many European cities.  They could select from either option A or B and with some special prodding were able to switch from Moroccan fish to the traditional gefilte fish which was really the filling for a slice of karp. Why the rigid selection option? The manager explained that the restaurant had to order the specific amounts it required, a reminder to the Israelis and the several Americans who were there that despite the welcome site of kosher food, it was still a far cry from the abundance of kosher options in Israel and the US. In addition to Carmel, Budapest has one other meat restaurant, Hannah, a pizzeria, a small bakery and a mini-mart.  The supply of kosher comes from the community’s own schechita (kosher slaughter), from several food plants that manufacture kosher food under supervision and from imports from European cities, Israel and the US.

The kosher tourists were also in evidence in Prague, as Michal Gunsberger, a self appointed mayor of Jewish Prague, and the owner of King Solomon, one of three kosher restaurants in the city, was busily pointing out the sites in the Jewish Quarter. The others are the Israeli restaurant Dinitz and the Chabad eatery Shelanu. In fact, a young woman representing Dinitz was handing out discount flyers  at the Prague airport as droves of Israeli and American Jewish tourists descended on the city. Like Budapest, Gunsberger receives his supply of glatt kosher meat from the community’s own schechita and a supply mix from several capitals in Europe.  Azi, a visiting Israeli with his family of 6, was visiting Prague after giving up on a visit to the Sinai. “In the end, it cost me less to come here and it is certainly not as dangerous,” he said. Despite a great tasting goulash soup  that seemed to top even the dish in its root city, Budapest, there was still the feeling that  the supply of kosher food is extremely measured.  Yet, community sources say that kosher food sales in both cities have been soaring, a reflection of a resurgence of Jewish life, partly due to the emergence of a small but dynamic Jewish community and in great measure due to flourishing Jewish tourism.