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Amtrak's Kosher Food Option - Reviews? Comments?

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20th Century Rider

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The picture of the Boorenstein Amtrak kosher meal provided earlier sure looks a lot like a Flex Dining meal. Same concept - frozen and heated in a microwave. And that's about what you get on any airline (except El Al) when you order a kosher meal. Because El Al is all kosher, the meals are prepared however conventional in-flight meals are prepared. At the very least, the're heated in a convection oven, which might make a difference in the final meal quality and presentation.

Amtrak already serves a half-decent bagel and cream cheese on the NEC cafe cars, they could include the lox, but they'd probably need to find a manufacturer who would package it as individual sealed servings to minimize spoilage and wastage. The Flex dining should include the option of bagels, too.
Really not expecting much with the kosher meals... but after experiencing the blandness of the flex stuff I'll take what I can get and not expect too much. I will bring with me some fruit, seasonings, crackers, peanuts, PB and J, and maybe a tin of sardines to supplement things - especially on the 3 night 4 day sojourn on the Texas Eagle.

BTW, several Amtrak employees have told me they must bring their own food when I asked how they felt about those flex meals. They told me if they wanted one and there was an extra, they must pay $25. Anyone can order a kosher meal for $40... hmmm... I wonder if they priced it at that amount because 40 is a biblical number!!!

The other thing I am concerned about next January is the lack of opportunities to make friends with other travelers. The masks get really uncomfortable after a while as we all know... and the sanctity of your room allows one to be more comfortable.
 

20th Century Rider

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I get food from a local vegetarian restaurant fairly regularly. Most of what they have is really good, even some of the meat substitutes are not bad. But they also offer some of the items with a vegan option, and I have not acquired a taste for non dairy egg or cheese substitutes. I stick to the regula vegetarian offerings in those categories.
Speaking of chowing along the way... I plan to cost in the expense of grabbing healthy meals at salad places, and of course Pret a Manger which does an outstanding job of prepackaging meals to take along. Also much less expensive and healthier then food on the train.

BTW... does anyone know if that nice couple is still selling Mexican food at the El Paso station? The pandemic may have put an end to that... but I know that the train staff highly recommended them and all would cue up... they would sell out of food the line was so long!
 

MARC Rider

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The trouble with providing your own chow for a long train trip is that you have to really think hard about what will keep without refrigeration. (Unless you want to haul a cooler along, and then you have to think about draining the melted ice and getting fresh ice -- really too much bother.)

I could see bring my own dinner chow for a trip on the Capitol Limited -- The Cap leaves late enough in the afternoon/evening that sandwiches and salads purchased in either Washington or Chicago will keep until you eat them. However, for breakfast, without a cooler, you need to at least go to the cafe car for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich/bagel/pastry, whatever. But you really don't need any more, unless the train is late. (Well, on the eastbound 30, you might want to patronize the cafe car for lunch, especially if the train is running late.)

The same might be true for the Zephyr between Chicago and Denver. Westbound, you only need dinner and breakfast. Eastbound you need lunch, too. I believe the salad and sandwich options in Washington are better than those in Chicago, but maybe things have changed. I really wish someone would open a Japanese place that serves authentic Japanese-style railroad bento boxes. These contain food that's designed to keep without refrigeration and a securely packaged and doesn't make a mess when you try to eat it at your seat.
 

20th Century Rider

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The trouble with providing your own chow for a long train trip is that you have to really think hard about what will keep without refrigeration. (Unless you want to haul a cooler along, and then you have to think about draining the melted ice and getting fresh ice -- really too much bother.)

I could see bring my own dinner chow for a trip on the Capitol Limited -- The Cap leaves late enough in the afternoon/evening that sandwiches and salads purchased in either Washington or Chicago will keep until you eat them. However, for breakfast, without a cooler, you need to at least go to the cafe car for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich/bagel/pastry, whatever. But you really don't need any more, unless the train is late. (Well, on the eastbound 30, you might want to patronize the cafe car for lunch, especially if the train is running late.)

The same might be true for the Zephyr between Chicago and Denver. Westbound, you only need dinner and breakfast. Eastbound you need lunch, too. I believe the salad and sandwich options in Washington are better than those in Chicago, but maybe things have changed. I really wish someone would open a Japanese place that serves authentic Japanese-style railroad bento boxes. These contain food that's designed to keep without refrigeration and a securely packaged and doesn't make a mess when you try to eat it at your seat.
That's the major challenge... food doesn't keep for long... and the Superliner can get very hot with substandard ventilation [but never seems to be a problem on the decades newer single level eastern trains. Some plans for supplementary food for the January trip... and like you... I sure wish we had those bento box meal stores here!

Coast Starlight - EUG to LAX - [one evening & one full day] will bring apples and oranges to keep for up to 3 days. Crackers and peanut butter and jam to keep for up to 5 days.
Texas Eagle - LAX to CHI - [3 nights and 3 days] will have some fruit and crackers / PBJ from connecting trip. That's it. Will miss the fruit. The only extra food options are the cafe car. will request the fruit cup with the kosher breakfast and a dinner roll and brownie for the other meals. If he say's 'it's not included I'll make do. I'm a generous tip guy but not so much if there is an attitude issue. Will have dinner and hotel overnight in CHI.
Cardinal - CHI - WAS - [one night and one day] will provision from the Pret a Manger store at the station... they have fresh fruit and anything else you need... and it's relatively healthy food!
Regional Bus Class - WAS - BOS - [one day] will grab a bagel from Einstein's at WAS if they're open and the coffee is complementary on the train when you show your ticket.
Return on Lake Shore and EB - will do the same kind-a thing.

Really... when you're sitting all day long the three small meals are probably adequate enough! ;)
 

Skyline

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I am wondering: Do you need to certify that you are indeed Jewish, and keep Kosher, to order certified Kosher meals on Amtrak? Would there be any other reason to specify Kosher? I've eaten in Jewish delis up north, and generally liked the food but honestly know very little about this topic.

Not meaning to start a political or religious conversation, I truly don't know the answer to either question.
 

MARC Rider

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I am wondering: Do you need to certify that you are indeed Jewish, and keep Kosher, to order certified Kosher meals on Amtrak? Would there be any other reason to specify Kosher? I've eaten in Jewish delis up north, and generally liked the food but honestly know very little about this topic.

Not meaning to start a political or religious conversation, I truly don't know the answer to either question.
I can't imagine that Amtrak cares whether you're Jewish or not if you order a kosher meal. And how could they tell whether or not a person was Jewish? Anyway, there are many non-Jews who also look for kosher certification, as it gives them assurances that certain ingredients aren't going to be found in the food. For example, if it's a kosher meat meal, you can be assured that there are no dairy products in the meal because the laws of kashrut forbid mixing of milk and meat. That's kind of useful to know if you have a dairy allergy.
 

tricia

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The reason I personally would want to order a kosher meal would be to have something edible for breakfast. I just can't face the frozen hockey-puck breakfast sandwich, and there isn't any other option on the menu that doesn't have added sugar, which I need to avoid.
 

20th Century Rider

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I am wondering: Do you need to certify that you are indeed Jewish, and keep Kosher, to order certified Kosher meals on Amtrak? Would there be any other reason to specify Kosher? I've eaten in Jewish delis up north, and generally liked the food but honestly know very little about this topic.

Not meaning to start a political or religious conversation, I truly don't know the answer to either question.
Kosher is available for anyone on any mode of transportation that offers the choice... it is a dietary custom which respects humane treatment of animals including how they are raised and how they are slaughtered. It also forbids eating the milk or eggs they give us, along side of the sacrificed life they give us for consumption. Due to illnesses caused in the past from pigs and shellfish, such are excluded entirely from a kosher diet.

Most people don't realize the similarity between the Arab diet of Halal and the Jewish diet of kosher... both are almost identical although there are differences as well. This is certainly an interesting topic! See below:

 

Manny T

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Let's not forget the "wonders of modern technology" when obsessing about what foods will stay "fresh" during a longish train voyage. Of course all tinned fish and meats are good to go (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, clams, chicken), and you can open a can of baked beans or any other veggies anytime and enjoy (yum!).

Beyond that, there are numerous packaged lines of Indian meals in bags that heat up in 1 minute in the microwave. (I call it a bag; their ad calls it an "imported 4 layer retort pouch.") Here's an ad for one company; there are others:

These are fully cooked ready to eat meals. Which means that if you are not averse to eating food at room temperature, you can rip open the bag, pour out the meal and eat it. These meals keep for 1 year in the bag. If you brought a couple of these on Amtrak, you'd be good to go. Gonna try it next time I travel.

Postscript -- check the labels; most are vegetarian, many are kosher.
 

20th Century Rider

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Let's not forget the "wonders of modern technology" when obsessing about what foods will stay "fresh" during a longish train voyage. Of course all tinned fish and meats are good to go (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, clams, chicken), and you can open a can of baked beans or any other veggies anytime and enjoy (yum!).

Beyond that, there are numerous packaged lines of Indian meals in bags that heat up in 1 minute in the microwave. (I call it a bag; their ad calls it an "imported 4 layer retort pouch.") Here's an ad for one company; there are others:

These are fully cooked ready to eat meals. Which means that if you are not averse to eating food at room temperature, you can rip open the bag, pour out the meal and eat it. These meals keep for 1 year in the bag. If you brought a couple of these on Amtrak, you'd be good to go. Gonna try it next time I travel.

Postscript -- check the labels; most are vegetarian, many are kosher.
I've seen these in certain stores and they are very good... $2.50 to $3.50 each. But on Amazon they are $9 for a 10oz bag? Over the top too expensive on Amazon! When in Boston I was near a Trader Joe's and they have the same for much less; they also have ready to eat refrigerated meals in certain stores... perfect to bring along on the rails. Caution... eat within 2 hours.

BTW another take-along item which I learned from flight attendants long ago... baked potato... stays good for three days and great with any topping you want to put on it.

bf01e6572d4ac27c27396519c6293f9d.jpg

Screen Shot 2020-08-24 at 8.36.07 AM.png


Healthy-Lunchbox-Ideas-from-Trader-Joes.jpg
 

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20th Century Rider

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I would check on eggs, I believe they are classified as "Parve".
There are three classifications of Kosher food..."Milchig [dairy], Fleishig [meat], and Pareve [neutral]." Meat and dairy cannot be eaten together under Kosher law; however, Pareve - which means 'from the ground' can be eaten with other. Pareve contains all plant groups and does include eggs and fish but with restrictions. Certain laws forbid eating fish with meat. One must wait until the next meal before having dairy after meat has been eaten during the prior meal.

Below... in the first pic ara kosher meals for distribution in NYC Department of Education schools by caterer; the second pic
is for distribution in a hospital:
Screen Shot 2020-08-24 at 8.50.53 AM.png

6014-Lewis081.jpg
 

Devil's Advocate

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Kosher doesn't mean better. It means "fit" for persons observant of Jewish dietary laws.
In the past some passengers would order special meals because they believed they were higher quality than the standard meal. This was more common many years ago now but the few times I tried it I never saw any obvious improvement. On US airlines special meals were often just the regular meal with one or more items removed. In one case on United Airlines my "special" meal was literally nothing more than a roll and salad cup with no main and no dressing. That was the end of special meals for me.

[...] tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, clams [...]
[...] numerous packaged lines of Indian meals [...]
Rather than suggesting passengers bring odorous canned seafood and spicy pouch meals I'd recommend treating Amtrak travel the same way we would an office or breakroom for the benefit of fellow travelers.
 
Last edited:

tricia

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Rather than suggesting passengers bring odorous canned seafood and spicy pouch meals I'd recommend treating Amtrak travel the same way we would an office or breakroom for the benefit of fellow travelers.
Full agreement on the canned fish--and in general about avoiding offensive smells in group settings. But many of the Indian-food-in-a-pouch meals aren't particularly smelly. (I'm not a huge fan of them myself, but have donated them to folks on backwoods scouting trips who love them.)
 

MARC Rider

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Kosher ... it is a dietary custom which respects humane treatment of animals including how they are raised and how they are slaughtered. It also forbids eating the milk or eggs they give us, along side of the sacrificed life they give us for consumption. Due to illnesses caused in the past from pigs and shellfish, such are excluded entirely from a kosher diet.
This is not exactly true.

Certain types of meat are forbidden by divine fiat. These are listed in Leviticus, Chapter 11, and it's basically pork and other critters that don't have cloven hoofs and chew their cud, poultry for which the Jews don't have a tradition of eating, and seafood that doesn't have scales and fins. For practical purposes what's permitted is beef, veal, lamb, goat, venison, bison, chicken, turkey, pigeons, some kinds of duck, goose, and finfish with scales. (Catfish is a no-no.) Milk and eggs from forbidden animals are also forbidden. The only exception is honey.

Meat has to be specifically slaughtered for eating, so road kill or an animal that dies on its own is not permitted.

The rabbis in the days of the Talmud added more stuff:

The meat has to be slaughtered in a specific manner. This manner is thought to be more humane than the way people used to slaughter meat, but not everyone agrees that this is true. As far as I know, there are no rules about how the animal is raised, as long as it is a permitted animal.

The meat has to be inspected to see if there are signs that the animal wasn't healthy and might have died on its own, thus making it the equivalent of road kill, and thus not kosher. These signs were codified about 1,500-2,000 years ago and might not correlate with modern veterinary knowledge. Meat that doesn't pass this inspection is still perfectly safe to eat, and is commonly sold to the non-kosher market.

Meat (including poultry) cannot be mixed with, cooked with, or eaten together with milk or any products derived from milk. However eggs and fish can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (Some Orthodox Jews don't eat meat and fish together because a religious law code from the 16th century claimed that doing so was unhealthy.) Eggs and fish (and all vegetables) are what is known as "pareve."

Meat and dairy products need to be cooked, served and eaten on separate utensils. Thus, if someone is really strict about keeping kosher (and certainly a caterer like Boorenstein is), they will have at least two complete sets of dishes, eating utensils, and cooking utensils, one for meals containing meat (including poultry) and one for meals with dairy products. They might even have a third set that's pareve for making salads and such.

There are a few other fine points that I've omitted, but these are the basics.

The religious reason for doing all of this is strictly because "God said so." More modern rabbis have added various ritual or spiritual benefits that might derive observing these taboos. It certainly helps reinforce group identity of a minority people that might be in danger of disappearing through assimilation. I believe that few scholars now believe that these were selected for health reasons. Even back in the Bronze age, people knew that thorough cooking of pork prevented trichinosis, so there's really no health benefit to avoiding pork.

I think the selection of permitted animals comes a lot from the fact that the Jews are descended from nomadic herders from the hill country, and sheep, goat, and cattle were their customary foods. I'm not sure where the ban on mixing meat and milk comes from, aside from being an interpretation of a biblical verse banning cooking a kid in its mother's milk. Some of these may have been pagan practices that the Rabbis wanted kept out of the Jewish religion. The business about the utensils comes from the days when bowls, plates, pots, etc. were commonly made of wood or unglazed pottery, so they might retain some of the food or the flavor of the food previously cooked or served in them, so in order to keep the foods separate, you had to keep the dishes separate..

All of this is pretty complicated. Fortunately, when ordering a kosher meal on Amtrak, the person eating the food doesn't have to worry about the details.
 

PVD

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And to further complicate, different sects have subtly different traditions and interpretations, it can get very involved, (like an egg with a blood spot thrown out because of the prohibition on the consumption of the blood of the animal. or HFCS in products for Passover)
 

Mailliw

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I'm taking the Capitol Limited this July and I'm wondering if Amtrak's kosher meals are better than flex dinning. Any thoughts and opinions? Is there somewhere where it's actually possible to look at a kosher food menu?
 

pennyk

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I'm taking the Capitol Limited this July and I'm wondering if Amtrak's kosher meals are better than flex dinning. Any thoughts and opinions? Is there somewhere where it's actually possible to look at a kosher food menu?
You may need to call and talk to an agent who should be able to provide you with the options. You would need to order at least 72 hours in advance (unless that has changed recently). I seem to recall that salmon was one of the options at one time.
 

20th Century Rider

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This is not exactly true.

Certain types of meat are forbidden by divine fiat. These are listed in Leviticus, Chapter 11, and it's basically pork and other critters that don't have cloven hoofs and chew their cud, poultry for which the Jews don't have a tradition of eating, and seafood that doesn't have scales and fins. For practical purposes what's permitted is beef, veal, lamb, goat, venison, bison, chicken, turkey, pigeons, some kinds of duck, goose, and finfish with scales. (Catfish is a no-no.) Milk and eggs from forbidden animals are also forbidden. The only exception is honey.

Meat has to be specifically slaughtered for eating, so road kill or an animal that dies on its own is not permitted.

The rabbis in the days of the Talmud added more stuff:

The meat has to be slaughtered in a specific manner. This manner is thought to be more humane than the way people used to slaughter meat, but not everyone agrees that this is true. As far as I know, there are no rules about how the animal is raised, as long as it is a permitted animal.

The meat has to be inspected to see if there are signs that the animal wasn't healthy and might have died on its own, thus making it the equivalent of road kill, and thus not kosher. These signs were codified about 1,500-2,000 years ago and might not correlate with modern veterinary knowledge. Meat that doesn't pass this inspection is still perfectly safe to eat, and is commonly sold to the non-kosher market.

Meat (including poultry) cannot be mixed with, cooked with, or eaten together with milk or any products derived from milk. However eggs and fish can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (Some Orthodox Jews don't eat meat and fish together because a religious law code from the 16th century claimed that doing so was unhealthy.) Eggs and fish (and all vegetables) are what is known as "pareve."

Meat and dairy products need to be cooked, served and eaten on separate utensils. Thus, if someone is really strict about keeping kosher (and certainly a caterer like Boorenstein is), they will have at least two complete sets of dishes, eating utensils, and cooking utensils, one for meals containing meat (including poultry) and one for meals with dairy products. They might even have a third set that's pareve for making salads and such.

There are a few other fine points that I've omitted, but these are the basics.

The religious reason for doing all of this is strictly because "God said so." More modern rabbis have added various ritual or spiritual benefits that might derive observing these taboos. It certainly helps reinforce group identity of a minority people that might be in danger of disappearing through assimilation. I believe that few scholars now believe that these were selected for health reasons. Even back in the Bronze age, people knew that thorough cooking of pork prevented trichinosis, so there's really no health benefit to avoiding pork.

I think the selection of permitted animals comes a lot from the fact that the Jews are descended from nomadic herders from the hill country, and sheep, goat, and cattle were their customary foods. I'm not sure where the ban on mixing meat and milk comes from, aside from being an interpretation of a biblical verse banning cooking a kid in its mother's milk. Some of these may have been pagan practices that the Rabbis wanted kept out of the Jewish religion. The business about the utensils comes from the days when bowls, plates, pots, etc. were commonly made of wood or unglazed pottery, so they might retain some of the food or the flavor of the food previously cooked or served in them, so in order to keep the foods separate, you had to keep the dishes separate..

All of this is pretty complicated. Fortunately, when ordering a kosher meal on Amtrak, the person eating the food doesn't have to worry about the details.
Kosher ... it is a dietary custom which respects humane treatment of animals including how they are raised and how they are slaughtered. It also forbids eating the milk or eggs they give us, along side of the sacrificed life they give us for consumption. Due to illnesses caused in the past from pigs and shellfish, such are excluded entirely from a kosher diet. This is what I believe. So what's your point???
 

tricia

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Kosher ... it is a dietary custom which respects humane treatment of animals including how they are raised and how they are slaughtered. It also forbids eating the milk or eggs they give us, along side of the sacrificed life they give us for consumption. Due to illnesses caused in the past from pigs and shellfish, such are excluded entirely from a kosher diet. This is what I believe. So what's your point???
Kosher law is complicated. MARC Rider has given a good sum-up that's clearer and more accurate than your short statement. I think that's the point.
 

Maverickstation

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I'm taking the Capitol Limited this July and I'm wondering if Amtrak's kosher meals are better than flex dinning. Any thoughts and opinions? Is there somewhere where it's actually possible to look at a kosher food menu?
Why are we complicating this so much, the Amtrak site has the Kosher Options listed under the Flex Dining Menus, and Food Facts has the nutritional data.
The Kosher options are far healthier than the regular Flex Dining entrees.


You just need to order them at least 72 hours ahead, and I would order earlier than that.

Ken
 

railiner

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One of the best lunches I've ever enjoyed on Amtrak, was on one of the Autumn Excursion's...they issued each passenger a souvenir reusable insulated bag, with the particular logo from that excursion on it, and inside was a delicious turkey sandwich, an apple, a bottle of water, and some cookies, provided by Panera.
The zippered insulated bags kept them fresh all day.
I would be very happy if the 'flex meal' was as good...:)
 

OBS

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Why are we complicating this so much, the Amtrak site has the Kosher Options listed under the Flex Dining Menus, and Food Facts has the nutritional data.
The Kosher options are far healthier than the regular Flex Dining entrees.


You just need to order them at least 72 hours ahead, and I would order earlier than that.

Ken
I would just add that if you are boarding in either Chi or Was, that as soon as you board, you check with dining car LSA to make sure they have been issued to the train!
 

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Why are we complicating this so much, the Amtrak site has the Kosher Options listed under the Flex Dining Menus, and Food Facts has the nutritional data.
The Kosher options are far healthier than the regular Flex Dining entrees.


You just need to order them at least 72 hours ahead, and I would order earlier than that.

Ken
The Flex Beef has about twice as much cholesterol & sodium as the Kosher beef, and over four times the saturated fat!

This one Flex meal has 102% of the daily recommended sodium intake.
 
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