Why Gefilte Fish Is Part Of Passover Tradition

If you've ever made a meatloaf, then you may understand gefilte fish is and how it's made. Pronounced "geh-FIL-teh fish," the dish consists of ground white fish mixed with breadcrumbs, egg, and seasonings and formed into individual cakes before being cooked. However, most gefilte fish consumed in the U.S. isn't actually homemade, per The Boston Globe; that may be because most supermarkets carry commercially-prepared gefilte fish that tastes close enough to grandma's while still being shelf-stable, per Religion News.

In terms of texture, gefilte fish is similar to meatloaf. Unlike meatloaf, gefilte fish isn't served hot and is enjoyed cold or at room temperature with sliced cooked carrots and horseradish stained with beet juice, per Chron. The taste is similar to crab cakes without the crispy edges and is so popular among Jewish folk that it has managed to work its way into Passover tradition even though the recipe must be modified to be kosher for the holiday. It actually may have origins in the Catholic religious tradition of eschewing meat on Lent Fridays, as various sources, including My Jewish Learning and Jewish Telegraphic Agency, suggest. The dish is also traditionally associated with another Jewish holiday.

Gefilte fish got its start as a Shabbat tradition

When Jewish housewives began making gefilte fish back in medieval Europe, it may have been because the Lent-ready dish from which it derives (per My Jewish Learning) afforded a clever "workaround" for the Jewish commandment that no work be done during the weekly sabbath, including any cooking or reheating, per Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Gefilte fish can be prepared in advance, allowing it to be served as a cold first-course during either Friday night's dinner or Saturday afternoon's lunch, or both. Once prepared, gefilte fish can be enjoyed without the need to pick out the bones, which is also considered work under Jewish law and forbidden on Shabbat. 

With its mild taste and pleasing texture, gefilte fish went from Shabbat necessity to Shabbat tradition, per The New Yorker. The dish became such a fixture on many a Jewish holiday table that even those who can't stand it still expect to see it on the table. That includes on Passover, an eight-day period during which the consumption of leavened bread products is forbidden. For that reason, Passover's version of gefilte fish swaps matzoh meal for the usual breadcrumbs. Of course, the ultimate test of how beloved gefilte fish actually is might be whether it turns upon on Passover tables now that food price increases have launched the item's price into the stratosphere, as Hamodia reported.