Kashrut is the system of Jewish dietary laws. Food permitted under Kashrut is called kosher.
Laws of Kashrut
There are only a few major rules of kashrut, but they have many applications.
- Meat and fowl must be from specific types of animals, and slaughtered by a Jew in a very precise way. The most important point being that no blood can remain in the meat; a point where Islamic halal rules are broadly similar
- Insects are categorically forbidden (with the exception of locusts, which are kosher only according to Yemenite interpretations of kashrut), even small insects found in/on fruit or vegetables. Some produce must be checked thoroughly.
- All non-fish seafood, and fish without scales (such as sharks) are forbidden.
- Meat and milk may not be consumed together, or even at the same meal.
- Wine, grape juice, and other grape products must be made by Jews and production must follow some additional rules, though grapes in the form of fruit are inherently kosher.
- The food must have been prepared in a kosher kitchen.
During Passover (Pesach) no leavened bread may be consumed. The rules on this are rather strict and any flour that has been in contact with water for over 18 minutes is considered leavened and mustn't be used during Pesach. Products that are kosher for Pesach are often specially certified saying so.
Obtaining kosher food
While not as difficult as it once was, finding kosher food while traveling can still be a challenge. The website Shamash.org features a comprehensive database of kosher restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments around the world for those who find keeping kosher while traveling a concern. However, not every listing is up-to-date, and travelers should make an effort to do additional research on what options are available for them.
Bring your own
One possibility is just to bring your own kosher food from home. While this may seem to be the easiest way, it is often not. For even modestly long journeys, it may be difficult to carry the requisite amount of food. It is often impractical to refrigerate perishables (although food can be kept frozen in an airplane, as long as the plane is not delayed on the ground for too long), and while non-perishable food items will travel more easily, you will need extra space to pack them. It is sometimes illegal to move fruit and the like across country borders. Kosher self-heating meal kits are an increasingly popular food item for Jewish travelers, and are something to consider for in a pinch. Good non-perishable, calorie-dense, non-fragile foods to bring include dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, rice cakes, and canned goods.
Food sold in grocery stores is usually packaged, and is sometimes kosher. You will need to look for the kosher certification label or seal on the package to verify that the food item is actually kosher. While at least some kosher packaged food is readily available in most grocery stores in North America and Europe, it may be more difficult to find elsewhere, and will almost always be imported from another country.
Synagogues and outreach centers
Some synagogues and Jewish outreach centers (such as Chabad Houses) offer packaged or frozen food items, prepared foods, and even a selection of meats for sale for kosher travelers. You will need to contact the synagogue or outreach center directly to find out about what is available, how to purchase, and how to obtain the food. This can be especially helpful in cities or countries where a Jewish community presence is limited. If visiting around a major Jewish holiday or on the Sabbath, you may also be able to partake in a full meal at the synagogue or outreach center, usually at no charge (though a donation to the center may be requested).
Kosher food was one of the first "special foods" to be introduced on commercial airplanes and it is widely available today. You will usually have to specify a kosher meal in advance to get one. Israeli flag carrier El Al only offers kosher meals on all flights, a tradition that dates back to the founding of the airline.
Israel is the most welcoming country in the world for kosher travelers. Thousands of kosher restaurants, dining establishments, and grocery stores can be found throughout the country, most notably in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A novelty for most Jewish travelers are Israel's all-kosher adaptations of famous American fast-food chains, including McDonald's and KFC.
Parts of the United States are on par with Israel in the number of kosher dining options and establishments that are available. Major cities such as New York, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles have a particularly notable variety of kosher restaurants in operation, and at least some kosher-certified packaged foods or non-perishable items can typically be found in all but the most remote grocery stores of the country.
England (London in particular) has a decent variety of kosher establishments, mostly situated in the North London neighborhoods of Golders Green, Hendon, Edgware, and Stamford Hill. In most of continental Europe, kosher dining options are often few and far between and where they exist, they sadly are sometimes target of anti-Jewish violence, so additional safety precautions may have to be taken (e.g. a police guard or metal detectors at the entrance). In order to find the next kosher store, inquiring at the local synagogue is always a good idea. One of the European countries with a surprisingly high number of Jews live (and, hence, kosher dining options exist) is Germany. As many German Jews are or are descended from recent emigrants from the former Soviet Union, kosher food options may sometimes be found in "Russian" stores as well. Kosher restaurants also exist, but they are rather few and far between.
Very few kosher establishments are located in Asian countries (with the obvious exception of Israel). Most likely, you will need to bring/find your own food or contact a local Jewish organization at your destination for assistance.
McDonald's in Argentina have fully kosher items.
South Africa is generally the best place on the continent to find reliably kosher food.
Australia has some kosher restaurants and establishments in the larger cities.