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The Shulhan 'Arukh (Orah Hayim 271:4) states (my translation):

אסור לטעום כלום קודם שיקדש אפילו מים

Is it forbidden to taste anything, before reciting Qiddush, even water

This is also brought as Halakhah LeMa'aseh in the Mishnah Berurah as well as Qizur Shulhan 'Arukh - Yalqut Yosef.

Why is eating (and drinking) forbidden before Qiddush?

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See first Bet Yosef and Bach in the cited siman. They are based on Gemara Arve Pesachim 105-106.

If I understand your question as "I understand that for a meal we need kiddush, but why is it forbidden to eat or drink a small quantity?"

The answer is in Bet Yosef in name of the Gemara folio 106b. This question is discussed and we follow the stringent opinion. Shabbat gives an importance of seuda to each eating, this property of Shabbat applies also to the duty to make maasser for a very little amount of fruits on Shabbat before eating them (see mishna Teruma 8, 3) .

It seems that the Rambam allows to drink water before kiddush based on the Gemara 105a, but perhaps, according to the Bet Yosef, Rambam (and the Gemara which is his source) did not allow before kiddush but before havdala. The Bach is convinced that the last is the pshat in Rambam.

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Originally, there was no issur to eat or drink before kiddush. It was done in Shul right after Maariv. The issur is for the Day Kiddush, which is De'Rabanan: The Rambam says you shouldn't eat before kiddush, the Raavad says you can.
See here

  • Originally? What do you mean, "originally?" – ezra Jan 10 '17 at 0:16
  • You could say Deoraysa (from the Torah). – Aryeh Beitz Jan 11 '17 at 6:29
  • It's always important to see where each halacha started to get proper understanding and perspective. Basically there's a mitzva to mekadesh Shabat - the Rambam explains 'with words', which is already done in shul during prayer. In Gemara, kiddush is said in shul by night since people would eat their meals there; the kiddush in the evening is eikar, the main time for kiddush. Then it was instituted to say by day, but people would belittle it saying it's only rabinnical, so the sages instituted you shouldn't taste anything before kiddush to strengthen their ruling. – Aryeh Beitz Jan 11 '17 at 6:36

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