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!
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • 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.