From the Passover Seder plate to the apples and honey of Rosh Hashanah, food and symbolism are bound together in Jewish tradition. But India’s Bene Israel Jews have brought edible ritual to a new level. The community, which maintains a special connection with the prophet Elijah, created a ceremony that echoes the deity offerings found in Hinduism. The focal point of the ceremony is malida, a sweet porridge made from flattened rice flakes called poha, which get flavored with jaggery and cardamom pods, and festively decorated with fresh fruit and flowers, dried dates, almonds, and shredded coconut. Bene Israel Jews hold malida ceremonies on auspicious occasions—births and brises, engagements, graduations, recovery from sickness, even housewarming parties—gathering together to pray and offering the platter of malida to Elijah in thanksgiving. After the ceremony, the malida is passed around for guests to nibble—spreading the good fortune around via fork.
Leah Koenig is the author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen and The Little Book of Jewish Appetizers.