Yid.Dish: Iraqi Rice Milk

By Guest Post

Published October 07, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

While a Yom Kippur recipe might seem like an oxymoron, there are many food traditions surrounding the meals immediately preceding and following the 25 hours in which most Jews refrain from food. Jews in Iraq, for example, frequently break the fast with a nourishing yet easily digestible glass of rice milk.

I was surprised to find this beverage in such a traditional context, having until now chiefly associated it with vegans and the lactose intolerant. But it turns out that rice milk is popular in many parts of the world besides those places where you can order a dairy free smoothie for the cost of a meal. Take the Thai kokkoh or Mexican horchata, for instance. Cut the sugar and skip the cinnamon of the latter and you’ve got something that closely resembles both the stuff in the rectangular carton at Whole Foods and the drink made by Iraqi Jews to close the most holy day of the year.

Unfortunately I am at present unable to consult the source from which I learned this custom, and the internet is surprisingly unhelpful on the topic. However, while searching, I was surprised by yet another unexpected context for rice milk.

In a 1990 New York Times article, Iraqi doctors cite the use of rice milk as a substitute for cow’s milk as one of the sources of malnutrition that claimed the lives of 1,400 children. Iraqi medical officials, while being closely monitored by Iraqi government officials, blamed sanctions in the wake of the invasion of Kuwait for making milk scarce and prohibitively expensive. According to them, desperate mothers turned to rice milk as an inadequate substitute.

Observers outside of Saddam’s regime (including then ambassador Joe Wilson) begged to differ, saying that there was no evidence for the 1,400 deaths and that markets were full of both food and medicine. Regardless, this instance is a reminder of many things as we contemplate both a new year and the dawn of a new administration.

Iraqi Jews have chosen to cap the day of atonement with rice milk for who knows how long (if anyone knows, I’m all ears!) It is a drink popular all around the world, and one that has at least once played a pivotal part in the complex relationship we have with a region many Jews still call home. Growing up in Boca Raton, we always had bagels and lox – but this year I can’t think of a more thought provoking way to break my fast than with this history laden drink.

Iraqi Rice Milk

Cook any kind of rice, though brown is preferred, using twice as much water as you normally would. Once the rice is soft, blend it and the water. Strain and spice (cinnamon, cardamom, etc.) or sweeten (sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, etc.) if so desired. To thicken, blend again with a neutral oil (like canola).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.