Food podcaster Dan Pashman grew up in what he describes as a “food obsessed” Jewish family in New Jersey. But he had no plans to make food his career.
After he graduated from college, he worked in news radio and was frustrated by his professional instability (he was laid off six times in eight years). He decided to start his own podcast so that “nobody could cancel it but me.” And since Pashman knew that the world didn’t need another guy talking about politics, he opted to focus on a subject he loved: food.
At first blush, it seemed an odd decision. Other than waiting tables in college and making cookies with his mom as a boy, Pashman had never done anything in food. But looking back, he realized that his pivot towards food made sense.
“I was the guy in college who, when I went for breakfast with my friends, they wanted to see what I would order,” Pashman told me. “I had lots of opinions about little things that nobody even bothered to think about, like the best way to turn an omelet into a sandwich or how many ice cubes you should put in a drink depending on its temperature or where to take the first bite from a sandwich cut on an angle.”
As the founder and host of “The Sporkful,” Pashman learns about people and the world through the lens of food. He has clearly hit a chord: since the podcast launch 12 years ago, Pashman has won two James Beard Awards, a Webby Award and a Saveur Award for Best Food Podcast.
As if that didn’t keep him busy enough, during the pandemic Pashman launched a new pasta shape called the “Cascatelli,” or “little waterfall” in Italian. Time Magazine named it one of the 100 best inventions of 2021.
Pashman recently took his wife and two daughters to Italy, to do research for his upcoming book on pasta preparation. He then spent two weeks in Israel where he traveled the country taking in the diverse food scene.
He spoke to The Nosher about some of his favorite Jewish food moments while abroad.
We saw on Instagram that you tasted the Italian challah from Pasticceria Boccione in Rome’s Jewish ghetto. What brought you there?
My in-laws’ rabbi, Rabbi Buechler, is very knowledgeable and passionate about all kinds of Jewish food. He raved about the challah from the Roman bakery. And when I was interviewing people for my book, someone else told me that we “had to go!” I knew I had to get it.
I’m a big texture eater so I liked the idea of adding dried fruit to a challah, making it chewy and a little bit crispy. It had a sugar glaze, too, so it was a little bit like an Italian panettone or fruit cake. Light and fluffy but the glaze made me think of a doughnut. The kids loved it. What kid wouldn’t want a loaf of bread covered in sugar?
Were there any other Jewish food experiences while in Italy?
We ate at one of the restaurants in the ghetto and had Carciofi alla giudìa, or Jewish style artichokes, which were good. But I also learned a lot about the Jews’ contributions to Italian food more broadly and how a lot of the foods of Italy, like artichokes and eggplants, were brought to Italy by the Jews.
You left Italy for Israel. How did the food compare?
The food scene in Israel was a nice change from Italy. More vegetables. More acidic.
What was your favorite food in Israel?
Every year on my podcast I do a New Year’s food resolution. This year I resolved to eat more yogurt. I had done a poor job of it so far. I saved the whole year with two weeks in Israel. I ate yogurt 20 times in 14 days. It has so much more flavor. Tangy and savory. I had yogurt with fish at Habasta in Tel Aviv and at Uri Buri in Acco, in northern Israel. I had it for breakfast with zaatar and fresh bread. So, so good.
What was your favorite meal?
Uri Buri. Everything was perfectly balanced. Hard to find a good ceviche. This was fantastic. And the yogurt with the tuna! The flavors were 100% on point.
Was there any food in particular you were focused on eating while there?
My plan was to seek out the shawarma, and I did. I had chicken shawarma at HaKosem in Tel Aviv. It was one of the few times in life that I ordered chicken. It was super tender and very salty. I appreciated the care with which they put the shawarma together.
What was unusual or special about the eating experience in Israel?
I noticed the stress of attempting to get served at a counter. Waiting for food at a counter seems less like a line and more like a fight to the death. You have to be accustomed to that and not take it personally. It’s almost like a sport. People there are not accustomed to waiting in line and having a turn. If you do, you’re going to go hungry.
But I was also struck by the diversity of food in Israel because Jews have come there, Arabs were there and there are influences from around the world. Eastern Europe to the Middle East to North Africa. Lots of different flavors and dishes. Food travels with people.
On a different note, do you have any particular Jewish food memories that you would like to share?
Bagels and lox were my number one. When we would go to New York City, there would be a trip to Zabar’s to get lox or to H&H Bagels. We would buy three dozen bagels at a time and take them out of the store. We had a whole system: wait in line, bring the warm bagels to the trunk of the car, open the bags so the steam would escape because we didn’t want the bagels to be soggy. We would bring them home and place them in the freezer, and we did not slice before freezing. Although I have warmed up to that concept in my old age.
And finally, what do your parents think of the fact that you have become a big name in the world of food?
My parents are proud and excited. I dedicated my first book to them when it came out in 2014 because they’re the ones who instilled a love of food in me. They remain food obsessed to this day. And my mom is helping me with my cookbook.