Sushi and shwarma on the menu at festival

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Since food is a central part of any Jewish event, and the wafting smell of grilling meat is a staple at street fairs, the folks at the Albert L. Schultz JCC are ramping up the food choices at this year’s To Life! to bring festivalgoers the highest quality food choices.

As always, the food will be kosher, with lots of vegetarian options. This year Yes Kosher Catering of Palo Alto will serve up shwarma and barbecue, as well as Chinese food, a cuisine that will remind many Jews of Christmas Eve. They’ll also offer something less commonly seen at street fairs but equally as delectable: sushi.

Yes Catering was started three years ago by Israeli-born Meni Peretz and his American wife, Margarita. They describe their catering selection as an eclectic mix of ethnic cuisines.

“At the festival we will be serving honey chicken, stir-fried and brown rice, and beef with snow peas. Our other booth will be shwarma and barbecue, which are the most popular things we sell,” said Margarita.

Last year To Life! had only one kosher food vendor. This year there will be three. For the sweet tooth, there will also be kosher cotton candy and kosher gourmet ice cream, offered in unusual Persian-inspired flavors such as saffron walnut, and sherbet with noodles.

Event organizers say that serving kosher food is important for more reasons than just religious practice and inclusion of everyone. Even though many people in the Jewish community don’t keep kosher, To Life! artist and food coordinator Dina Jacobson says people appreciate having kosher choices at Jewish events.

Margarita says that many of their catering clients don’t keep strictly kosher but gravitate to kosher food because of the stringent laws of cleanliness involved in its preparation. She believes that people see kosher meat as cleaner and safer, especially in light of recent food scares.

“Kosher food has many strict standards above and beyond the health code. We soak herbs and inspect each salad leaf for bugs because eating an insect is as unkosher as eating pork,” she added.

Other food vendors include Mama’s kosher baked goods, Tante’s knishes and other delectable entrees, and the ever-popular Jewish Study Network’s kosher burgers and hot dogs, fired up on the grill; the cooks include local JSN rabbis as well as volunteers.