Passover, food and memory; Chocolate babka at HONEY AND CO

Passover food as depicted on the Passover seder plate

Food memories. They’re possibly the most powerful memories we have. There’s some science behind it – our perception of food is primarily streamed through our nasal olfactory system, a region of the brain closely associated with long-term memory. But beyond the biology, food memories form such a large part of our own life story, they cannot help but evoke a potent sense of longing and reminiscence. The weekend roast. Our first sip of wine. School pudding. (I didn’t say all memories had to be good, mind you!)

When we recollect a food memory, we are remembering a time in our lives that food made meaningful. Alternatively, food memories may emerge because of their association with a particular person, place or time. However they became, whatever their provenance, they’re then woven into our tapestry of experience and assimilated into our own life story. And there they remain, little nuggets that we stumble upon again and again.

For me, my fondest and most indelible food memories relate to the week-long Jewish festival of Passover. There’s a myriad of reasons for me why Passover food elicits such an emotive reaction, all of which inter-connect like an intricate dance.

Firstly, Passover food is very distinct. It’s a festival commemorating the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. So rushed were they in their epic escape, their dough had no time to rise. So instead of bread, they came out of Egypt with crackers, which if nothing else proved a handy storage solution for long-distance travel.

And so millennia later, there remains the Passover tradition of abstaining from bread and other foods that use flour as a rising agent. Instead, it’s matzah crackers all the way, plus a plethora of almond or coconut-based patisserie, whose appeal usually starts keenly enough but has pretty much waned by Day 3.

Secondly, the festival is highlighted by the seder – a family meal that includes an eclectic smorgasbord of symbolic Passover food, as well as wine, songs, prayers, and other rituals. I warmly remember these large family gatherings from my childhood. And on reflection, it’s probably where my passion for food actually began.

In particular are the various Passover food rituals that episodically pop up as the seder progresses. A glass of wine and a crunch of matzah commence the proceedings. Soon follows a sprig of parsley, symbolising, by turns: the freshness of Spring, the miracle of life reborn, and the fundamental hope of human redemption, no less. Quite a lot projected onto a humble herb, you may well ask – but hey, welcome to religion!

If that’s not already reaching symbolism overload, the parsley’s then dipped into salt-water, the tears of slavery – those of our Israelite ancestors and those wept by all humankind – past, current and future – afflicted by the heinous bonds and trauma of slavery.

As a child – and goodness knows what other child would relish a sprig of herb with such unbridled enthusiasm – I would devour the parsley so keenly, focusing intently on its refreshing grassy notes and tones, joyously raptured by the little crunch of the stalk, and finally the breezy tang of salt-water dripping from its leaves like the early morning dew. (Yep, I guess food blogging was gonna beckon at some point..)

Next up, the searing-hot slivers of horseradish: these bitter herbs symbolising the cruelty of slavery. Then the Marmite love-it-or-hate-it apple n’ nut paste of charoseth, representing the cement and mortar of arduous labour. And finally the egg, reflecting the onset of Spring and the birth of a free people.

Thirdly, these festivities are repeated year on year, layers upon layers of memory and connection. So bedded down are these memories into my own life story, that each year I celebrate, I automatically circle back to all those previous years, as though the intervening months are but passing interludes. And, in this way, it’s also a time that brings alive my family members who are no longer around.

Take my Auntie Ruth, for instance, the fierceness of her home-prepared horseradish couldn’t have contrasted more with her ebullient and infectious optimism. Then there’s gentle kind Grandpa Reuben, who’d not only lead the seder service with his customary earnestness, but invariably knock over a wine glass (or two) with such unerring regularity, that this accidental act became very much ingrained in family ritual, each time greeted with a chorus of knowing cheers. Then of course there’s Grandma Beryl, who’d continually be casting a caring eye over her family, quietly checking in with each and every one of us with a fleeting glance or gesture.

And then – and here’s the magic – there are the family stories relating to events and characters from times even before I was born, as if buried deep into the family’s collective psyche. Like how every time we get to the “Nishmas” prayer, we’d recount how great great uncle Barney would recite it as “mish-mash”. Or the time when my great uncle opened the front door – part of the seder ritual of ‘letting in the angel Elijah’ – and found a street urchin curled up in the porch.

And in recent years, it’s now a case of lovingly passing down these ancient traditions to my own kids. But these days, there’s the added benefit of some educational YouTube animations, particularly the one where a UFO descends on Moses, and the aliens help the Israelites cross the Red Sea. (I occasionally have to remind them that this was an unlikely scenario, until they ask me where God comes from, and does he have a UFO..)

Yes, Passover food will always remain special for me, and Passover always close to my heart. But why the chocolate babka, you may ask? Why make my dish for the road about the most “farbotn” food you can eat at this flourless time of year. Am I being mischievously rebellious or provocative, dangling this forbidden fruit in front of the eyes?

No, it’s because babka – or some other similar cinnamon-based kuchen – is what my family have traditionally ended Passover on. And of course endings are as an important part of any a process as beginnings and middles. It’s a farewell, a transition, and a recognition of all that has been just before.

And if there’s a babka to end all babkas, well it has to be Honey and Co’s. I first tried it without planning to – isn’t that the start of many a find? – when the in-house baker strolled past me with a whole log o’ babka in hand, a treasure chest with beguiling riches buried inside, a warm cinnamon aroma wafting alluringly behind. As it glided across my vision, my eyes were pulled across their sockets as if under a powerful magnetic force. I ordered a slice then and there.

It came still warm.. sigh.. its outer crust rough and crisp; I peeled it back in anticipation. Inside.. oh inside.. I can’t even begin to describe what delights lay inside!

Meandering through the cakey fabric were great molten rivers of dark chocolate. Atop these chocolate tributaries floated a flotsam of hazelnuts, whose crunch divinely cut through the pillowy softness. I dived headlong into those rivers – you could almost hear the splash – the chocolate running down my chin with abandon, the marshmallowy dough swaddling my tongue. It’s like being cradled by cupid masquerading as confection.

Okay, you may think I’m getting a bit carried away. And maybe I need some of that dark delicious bitter coffee, such a fine foil for the babka. But I love this confection so much. And I love Honey and Co, with its enticing blue and white geometric tiles, those magnetic cakes on the counter, that dazzling array of multi-coloured jam jars which boogie like a 70’s disco along the shelves. Not to mention the outstanding Israeli / Middle-Eastern inspired food.

So this Passover, I’ll again be joining family, going through the same songs, rituals and foods. Remembering departed family, so dearly missed. And as the week progresses, my yearning for bread will grow, and my mind will increasingly cast to my childhood days, and of ending Passover with a babka.

Happy Passover!



If you’d like to read more about Passover food, then click on ‘Ode to Charoseth’ for last year’s Passover post. Or if Jewish patisserie is your thing, then check out my post on ‘Cinnamon Buns’. And finally, here’s more about my dear late Grandma Beryl, a post I wrote shortly after she passed away last year..


Passover food

Passover food, such as charoset, are symbols of the biblical Exodus story.



Passover food - almond 'mandorle' biscuits are typical of flour-less Passover patisserie

Passover patisserie (‘mandorle’ almond biscuits)


Honey and Co

Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


Honey and Co, where a chocolate babka has me reminiscing about family meals during Passover.


  1. 10th April 2017 / 7:58 am

    What a wonderfully warm and chocolatety peice Aaron! I'm envious of your memories of people now gone. I'm reminded that they deserve more of our thoughts, words and love. Thank you.

    • 10th April 2017 / 9:21 am

      Aw thanks Tricia! I'm lucky to have such fond memories of Grandma, Grandpa, and Auntie Ruth. And with all the family gatherings, food and rituals, Passover's a particularly special and poignant time when they really come alive..

    • 10th April 2017 / 9:10 pm

      Aw, thanks Emma. Just finished our family seder just now. Really brought back some fondest memories. And mum cooked up a great stew too!..

  2. 25th April 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Your stories are so engaging Aaron – nevermind your own kiddies,I myself am learning far more about Jewish traditions reading your blog than I did in all my school RE classes put together! As for that babka, I need to get my hands on that. Interestingly, just this weekend gone, I tried out the new sister restaurant,Honey and Smoke!

    • 25th April 2017 / 9:26 pm

      Thanks so much Shikha! Have surprised myself on how much the blog delves into religion. (Particularly as I'm practically atheist!) Still, I do find it all so fascinating, not to mention the connection between religion, culture and food. Yes, do go for that babka – it really is tremendous. I'll need to try out Honey & Smoke too..

  3. 7th July 2017 / 9:47 pm

    Absolute loved this Aaron! You fully transported me to your passover meals. And that chocolate babka looks delicious.

    • 7th July 2017 / 9:59 pm

      Thanks so much, Sima! That babka really is amazing. But now I've also tried their feta + honey cheesecake, I'm overwhelmed by too much goodness at this place..

  4. Merrill
    28th March 2018 / 12:04 am

    I just read that your name is Aaron. Passover begins in three days, Friday evening. I’ve just read your post about Pesach and your fond memories and I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, remembering my Passover memories and the people no longer on this earth. Thank you for all these memories and I look forward to reading more posts from you. To be honest, the way you write, without knowing, I would attribute to a woman, because aside from my husband, I don’t know another man who could write so beautifully. It is nice to meet you and I wish you a happy Pesach and hope your Seder table is full of the earth’s bounties and that you are surrounded by love. A new fan, merrill

    • aaron
      28th March 2018 / 11:37 am

      Thank you so much for getting in touch, Merrill. I’m so glad this piece seemed to resonate with you. I really appreciate you taking the time to post your feedback – it means a lot! Thank you so much again, and Happy Pesach!

  5. Alison Sabetti
    29th March 2018 / 9:18 pm

    Wonderfully evocative, Aaron……and I can never forget your lovely Grandma Beryl. Happy Pesach to all the family from me and Giancarlo (my mouth is still watering……!)

    • aaron
      30th March 2018 / 7:37 am

      Thanks so much, Alison! Yes, Grandma remains very much in our hearts.. x

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