It seems like Jewish communities from around the world have some level of tradition of stuffed foods inherent in their cuisine, but the presence of stuffed items is most keenly felt during Sukkot. Have you ever wondered why that is? Apparently, the tradition of eating stuffed foods on Sukkot reflects the holiday’s celebration of harvest and plenty.
In “Succulence for Sukkot and Simchat Torah”, the late Gil Marks writes that filled foods symbolize bounty. “Stuffed vegetables – a most ancient Sukkot dish, probably having its genesis with the grape leaves remaining on the vine after the harvest that were then filled and simmered until tender – are common sights on holiday tables in all communities. As there were few or no grapes in much of Northern and Eastern Europe, the prevalent cabbage became a handy substitute.” But we certainly cannot forget stuffed items of the carbohydrate family- kreplach, mafrum, empanadas, etc. However, as is the way with so much of Jewish culinary custom, the tradition of stuffed vegetables did not begin with Jews: “Dolma” (stuffed grape leaves) traces its roots back to the ancient town of Thebes on the Nile River.
There is something fitting about this nomadic dish (originating in Egypt) occupying a place of honor on the holiday which also commemorates the trek through the wilderness following our exodus from Egypt. Indeed there is something magical in general about Sukkot, something about taking your life outside of its daily routine, communing in the sukkah, engaging in the age-old tradition of eating a simple (and stuffed) meal.