Recently I had the chance to spend a couple of days in Chicago and made a stop at Hungarian Kosher Foods - the largest exclusively kosher grocery store in the Midwest! I found the idea of a food store where nothing is forbidden by Scripture very welcoming! While I always read labels and look for kosher certification I love the idea of a safety net, so to speak, being in place. No need to worry about surprise bacon in a deli salad or figuring out if the cheese is vegetarian or not. The kosher beef doesn't sit below the sausage. You don't have to wonder if that sushi was mislabeled. Everything in the place is certified kosher.
Ready to see the place? Grab a cart and let's go!
The first area inside is the produce section. While 'largest in the Midwest' may have given you visions of grandeur, the store is not at all enormous. Unlike big box stores this was not the size of, say, my high school. Of course, most of us aren't filling a truck trailer when we shop so there is really no need for something that size. I couldn't think of a single thing on my list that they didn't stock. And they played the Maccabeats the whole time we were inside so that totally makes up for not having something in my book.
As you can see they carried pretty much every veggie you would find in a giant store. The bakery area is to the left of the produce area. I loved the Organic Bread of Heaven All Nations Whole Grain Sourdough and discovered that braid molds for challah are a thing. Has anyone used one?
Let's take a minute to discuss "kosher." You might be surprised to learn that the word kosher doesn't appear in Scripture. Kosher translates as as fit, acceptable, and pure; as in according to the instructions of YHWH. Something Scripture assumes when it talks about eating is that you're sticking to what YHWH says is permitted. That you would eat "kosher" is a given when Yahusha or Paul speaks about food.
Organic kosher beef: is that different than regular organic beef you can find at most grocers? Yes, Scripture instructs us that meat needs to be thoroughly drained of blood and slaughtered properly. YHWH doesn't just expect us to eat only animals considered clean, he also instructs that they be processed correctly. And the certified kosher label guarantees it has.
The deli section was especially exciting since, not only were all the meats (like everything in the store) kosher, but also there was a large selection of house made dishes like chicken soup, falafel, meatloaf, egg salad, sandwiches, Israeli salad, broccoli kugel, and so on. I love any kitchen where I don't have to wonder about cross contamination with unclean foods, so I was all about this. Somehow I did not get a picture of the counter--sorry about that.
The process of 'certified kosher' involves a licensed rabbi being on hand to supervise the production and manufacturing of a certain food item. The item is then stamped with the seal of approval when the rabbi is satisfied the ingredients used don't contain any forbidden animals, that meat and dairy are not mixed, all fish had fins and scales, and in the case of meat, that it was properly slaughtered and drained of blood. Essentially kosher certification is a rabbi saying, "It does not violate the Torah to eat this."
Gefilte fish and Passover crackers and matzah. It was so fun to put my Hebrew to the test reading labels spelled with the Aleph-bet. In a sense, much of this culture was seeing YHWH's Kingdom in a very tangible way. We visited early on a Friday afternoon so people were joyfully talking about Shabbat. It was also great to patronize a store that closes for the sabbath! Kosher Hungarian is open Sunday - Friday. Fridays they close at 4:00 so their employees have time to get ready for Shabbat. Undoubtedly is that a business practice YHWH desires and one we should support as well.
As the servants of the Elohim of Justice I think we are called to examine the implications of our food choices. Were the farmers and workers treated well and compensated appropriately for their work? Am I loving my neighbor as myself when I make this purchase? I was happy to see a few fair trade items, like this coffee from The Chosen Bean and I loved that it was called Redemption.
An Israeli version of Nutella on the left, and another shopper's cart on the right in front of the wine selection. Something I'm not showing you, since I know not everyone enjoys having their face plastered on the internet, is that everyone was dressed modestly. This is a place where you won't see scantily clad women - how rare is that in our society?
The dairy section was on the opposite side of the store as the meat department. While there is a lot of debate around whether or not YHWH expects us to keep these separate or not, it was great to see a practical decision like store arrangement made with Scripture in mind.
There is a big problem in the fish industry with mislabeling. Unless I see scales or kosher certification I don't buy it. Kosher sushi is also great for someone with a shellfish allergy to be safe from cross contamination.
Does something have to be certified kosher for it to be okay to eat according to Scripture? No and yes. Firstly, nowhere in Torah are we instructed that all of our food must be inspected by a rabbi before we can eat it. If it's something that is clearly permitted by YHWH to eat, like peaches or lentils or kale, there is no reason it needs to be certified kosher. Examine it yourself to make sure it doesn't have insects but go ahead and eat it. However if you are buying a manufactured food product and it is not certified kosher there is probably a reason for that, especially if it is from a large brand. If I am buying a food that comes packaged I make sure it is certified kosher or labeled vegetarian.
You may have noticed that kosher doesn't necessarily equate to healthy, or even organic. This is an area where I believe kosher certifiers need to do a better job. Why are products that contain genetically modified organisms getting certified as acceptable to YHWH? The process of making GMO seeds involves mixing DNA from different species in a lab. Vayikra 19:19 tells us that seed should not be mixed. I personally feel that caution should be exercised when it comes to hybrids (seedless watermelon or tangerines for example), but at least these fruits are hybridized with the same species. GMO seeds contain the DNA of the grain spliced with DNA from bacteria, insects, and even fish. That's against YHWH's word and not something we should eat if our desire is to serve him wholeheartedly.
Most gelatin found in jello, instant pudding, marshmallows, candy, and even many 'yogurts' is made from pork and is obviously not something we should be eating. A few companies deceitfully put a letter K somewhere on their box--to appear that they are certified kosher when they are not. Since a letter K is not copyrighted, etc. anyone can put it on their product with no legal ramifications. Look for a certified kosher label when you're purchasing these types of things.
Lots of Israeli candy!
I was really happy to see that they offered a delivery service free of charge for the elderly and sick. That is such a valuable service for those who can't easily get out, and a gift for their families as well.
Notice anything missing from those checkout lines? No trashy magazines! The only temptation is kosher ice cream. :)
Even in the Hebrew papers, you can't escape the election. Outside they had a map of wineries in Israel, I think they carried something from each one.
This is an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the Chicago area or anywhere else with a kosher grocery store. It was a relief and a joy to find a business that honors Shabbat, sells food much more in line with YHWH's instructions, where everyone is kind and appropriately dressed, and where the music is based on the Word. It was a small taste of the Kingdom to see Hebrew writing and words like Passover and Shabbat on products, and Torah school being a topic of conversation! Thanks so much to everyone at Hungarian Kosher Foods for your hospitality!