UAE hotels are being told to cater to kosher customers, but what does that mean?

Published: 14 September 2020 - 9:45 a.m.
Circular 65, which was released this week by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), advised all hoteliers to include kosher food options within their menus in readiness for the anticipated new inbound tourism trade.

But are F&B businesses here equipped and knowledgeable enough to be able to provide a truly kosher menu?

The rules of kosher are extensive and intricate, and indeed there are varying levels of kosher observation and certification. The supply of kosher commodities and ingredients is readily available in the UAE and keeping a kosher kitchen at home is relatively easy today.

But in our busy industrial hotel and restaurant kitchens compiling a dish from what we consider to be a list of kosher ingredients does not constitute a kosher meal and certainly, for many orthodox visitors they would require a much higher level of certainty around the provision of the food and drinks that they consume.

The Abu Dhabi DCT has announced that OU the Orthodox Union (a kashrut authority from New York) will be the recognised kashrut (kosher supervision) in the UAE, but what exactly does that mean?

The kashrut authority (in this case OU) is responsible for guiding, supervising, inspecting, and providing certification for all food that is produced in a kosher kitchen. It ensures that the kitchen uses only sanctioned ingredients, follows the correct principles of preparation whilst ensuring the correct segregation of various categories of unaccepted food or drink combinations. And it goes a little further…

The laws and rules of kosher cover everything, from where/when fresh ingredients are sourced, the selection and cleaning and preparation of fruit and veg, the slaughter, cut and preparation of the meat, the fish, the avoidance of mixing meat and dairy, the drinks and wines and of course the preparation and serving equipment. It would even matter who lights the stovetops. Additionally, holidays and the Sabbath need to be respected for when work can and cannot be carried out, all of which would need to be strictly followed to ascertain true kosher accreditation.

So the big question is with all this process and need for regulation – how can hotels and restaurants ensure they can provide a fully kosher meal?

One solution is to buy in chilled/frozen, fully sealed meals. These meals are prepared within a supervised environment sealed and labelled to authentic the process. Typically, these meals are reheated and presented to the guest with the wrapping and labelling intact for the guest to unwrap. At the moment this service is only available from outside the country, but soon Elli’s Kitchen in Dubai will be providing this service under OU certification.

The second solution which would only make sense for large events or to provide fresh kosher food for a period of time is to have the kitchen ‘koshered’ and to invite/employ kashrut supervision within the kitchen, but the process, requirements and training needed should not be underestimated.

The challenge for now in the UAE is to ensure we are able to plan with confidence and that our teams have the right knowledge and understanding to meet the demands. And whilst the orthodox will require certified kosher meals there will be many that will seek comfort in ‘kosher friendly’ where the food is prepared closely observing the guiding principles of kosher.

Matt Rickard was previously the managing director of London-based luxury kosher caterer Food Story until 2019.

He is now in Dubai with Absolute Taste and offers catering and consultancy throughout the region.

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