December 17, 2004

Winter + Shabat = Cholent

It's winter now. The rains fall. The wind blows. The fire burns in the stove. And in my household, it means that it's time to eat cholent on Shabat. Cholent is not so much a type of food as a type of cooking. It can be anything, as long as its cooked for at least, say, 12 hours. Every Jewish community has some kind of cholent tradition, because Jews aren't allowed to cook on Shabbat, but something that is already cooked can be left on the stove, or in the oven.

The word 'cholent' is itself interesting, though it's Yiddish, it's origins are in Vulgar Latin:

The word cholent itself derives from the Vulgar Latin calente, which in turn gives us the Spanish caliente as well as the Catalan calent, and French chaud from the Old French chauld. They all mean "warm". Allowing the meal to cook over the Sabbath comes from a phrase in the Commentaries. In preparation for the Sabbath there is the phrase tamen et hachamin, "hide, or bury the hot things". It has come to mean "cover the hot food." In every language used, Yiddish, Hebrew, Jewish/Arabic or the Arabic spoken in Calcutta, Baghdad or Ethiopia the two basic words of the phrase, refer not to the food, but to the method of cooking. The word for hot in Hebrew is chamin, and it has become the name of this Sabbath food itself. Amongst Jews in Calcutta it shows up as hameen. The other word "hidden", is found all over the Middle East in different forms of the same word; tfina, adafina, dfina, adefina. They all mean covered or buried. This concept of unattended cooking on the Sabbath produced a popular Spanish dish: cocido madrileno, a boiled dinner with chick peas. It is known to Spanish Jews as adafina. No doubt emigres must have spread this dish. We find a similar dish in the Jewish populations of Cuba and in Egypt, both groups calling it dfina. When Jewish pied noirs came to France after Algerian independence, they brought adafina with them. French speaking Jews have shortened it to daf. In Morocco the same dish is called sefrina or schina, which means hot.

The Hebrew and Sefardi word for cholent is hamin (חמין) from the word ham (חם) - hot. More here (including recipes).

UPDATE: Amritas links and (among other things) gives these English cognates to cholent: cauldron, chowder, scald.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at December 17, 2004 12:50 AM
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