Jews arrive in Rome in the second Century B.C. and their presence there since has remained uninterrupted. It’s no surprise then that Giudaico-Roman cuisine maintained elements of the most ancient Roman culinary tradition – and furthermore consolidated by the closing of the Ghetto – with the two cookery styles virtually overlapping.
The Rome Ghetto, closed off the Roman Jews between 1555 and 1870, and the 300+ years of isolation from the rest of the city gave birth to very characteristic social dynamics. While the rest of the city was changing its customs and traditions, the segregated Roman Jews – both physically and culturally – continued, as Romans, to do the same things. Here’s an example: the Roman-Jewish dialect, like for Yiddish, is composed of the way Romans spoke in the 1500s and Hebrew words that have been “romanized”.
In terms of food, the same phenomenon appears even more pronounced. Considering how a long-naturalized population – even of a different religion – ends up blending and mixing with the wider group. Aliciotti con l’indivia, for example – fresh and butterflied anchovies layered with endive and roasted – is a classic Roman-Jewish cuisine dish, and reportedly descends from an ancient Roman method for conserving fresh, perishable fish: between two layers of vegetables.
Only the rules of the kasherut produce more or less perceptible changes in the foods, and specifically whereby elements of a recipe are prohibited according to the Torah. Pajata (veal intestines) was the object of fierce Rabbi discussion on the matter of whether it did or did not violate the prohibition of mixing meat with dairy. Actually pajata is kosher despite the intestines (meat) contain milk (dairy) that the calf feeds on. Why? Because from a Jewish standpoint, foods that have been ingested are no longer considered equal to their original state, therefore don’t create a prohibited meat-dairy mix.
That said it’s important to consider the economic aspect that allowed pajata to become a popular, affordable dish for the Jews in Rome. The Ghetto population lived in harsh conditions of extreme poverty, and managing to put food on the table was a daunting feat. Innards, scraps (even fish ones, like roe and heads), the so-called fifth quarter, represented therefore a good resource for the Jewish homemakers who made do with what they had, and were champions of recycling and re-use of food.
Talking about re-use and food recycling, next time we’ll tell you why Rome has (or rather, had) so many textile merchants and clothes stores owned by Jews.