Breaking the fast has its own set of traditions. Ashkenazim usually break the fast with something sweet rather than salty, like herring, because they believe fish restores salt lost by the body while fasting. Herring also was the cheapest fish in Eastern Europe, where the custom originated.
Egg and cheese dishes — dairy products in general — are popular among the Ashkenazim for the first foods after Yom Kippur.
Some Eastern European Jews break the fast with a German sweet roll called shnekem, from the German word for snails, because of its coiled shape. The yeast dough containing milk and sour cream is rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon sugar, raisin and nut filling then rolled up, cut into slices and baked.
Gil Marks writes in The World of Jewish Desserts that Central European Jews ate cheese kuchen, a coffee cake, for the meal following Yom Kippur. German Jews also ate erstesternen, a cinnamon star cookie, so called because stars were the sign of the end of the fast day.
Zimbabwe Jews break the fast with juice, traditional rolls with oil called rusks, oil biscuits, and cheese. Sweets include almond and honey turnovers and sponge cake. Later they dine on a meal of cold chicken, fried fish, chicken soup, and other sweets.
The Jews of South Africa, whose origins were in Europe, have babke, a sweet milk bread with almonds and raisins originating in Poland. They also drink soda water, milk, or lemon tea. Later they have a meal starting with pickled herring and lemon fish.
Typical among South African Jews whose ancestors came from the island of Rhodes is breaking the fast with melon pip milk, bread with olive oil, sponge cake, honey and almond turnovers, and rusks.
Others break the fast with cold chicken, chicken soup, and sesame biscuits, followed by almond sponge cake with syrup or marzipan. (Marzipan is a sweet mixture of almond paste, sugar, and egg whites often tinted with food coloring and molded into forms such as fruits and animals.) Layered phyllo pastry with almonds and honey also may be served.
Among Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews, a light snack is followed by a heavier meal. For example, some Syrian, Iraqi, and Egyptian Jews break the fast with cardamom coffee cake. Some Iraqis drink milk, then have the cake or a cardamom-almond cookie called hagadi bada, Marks writes in The World of Jewish Desserts. Afterward they have a big meal that includes teebeet, a stuffed whole chicken with rice that has been left to cook over a low flame all Yom Kippur day.
Pan dulce, a sweet yeast bread in loaf form or rolls, is served by some Sephardim before and after the fast, Marks notes in his book. Marks also writes that the Jews of India for the meal following Yom Kippur have a semolina-filled turnover called singara or kushli, and sutlach, a Middle Eastern rice flour pudding.
Some Yemenites break the fast with ginger cake or watermelon, then drink coffee and eat cookies. Afterward they have more of the broth from before the fast or another Yemenite soup.
Edda Servi Machlin, author of the cookbook Classic Italian Jewish Cooking, among others, recounts that her Italian family drinks vermouth and then eats a special, oval-shaped bread to break the fast. They then enjoy a meal with soup and pasta, chicken, fish, stewed fennel, cold noodles with sauce, sweet cakes, and fruit.
Marks writes that Italians typically break the fast with il bolio, an Italian sweet yeast bread.
Nicholas Stavroulakis, who wrote The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, relates that Greek Jews prepare interesting drinks to break the fast. One is made with grenadine; another with almonds; another with lemons; and one has melon seeds, water, sugar, and almond extract or rosewater.
Rachel Dalvin, who has researched the Jews of Ioannina, Greece, shares the fact that these Jews broke the fast with avgolemono, chicken-lemon soup, and a variety of stuffed vegetables that were common in Turkish cookery and acquired because Turkey occupied that part of Greece for centuries.
Some Moroccan Jews break the fast with fijuelas, a deep-fried pastry soaked in sweet syrup. They may also drink arak, an anise-flavored liqueur. Later they have coffee with milk, cake, and cookies. Still later they have harera, a special thick soup with chicken and ground vegetables.
Here are some special recipes to break the fast from Olive Trees and Honey by Marks, a cookbook of traditional Jewish vegetarian dishes from Jews around the world that can be prepared ahead.