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!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • 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.