Israeli food is all the rage these days in places like New York, where several restaurants and eating establishments catering to the variety of Israeli foods have opened. Popular chains like coffee shop Aroma (Israelis have learned to make coffee better than the Italians), and recently opened restaurants like Miznon and Dizengoff focused on upscale street food are always packed with hungry patrons looking for their next unique dining experience. Israel is a small market and the focus has always been on exporting to the outside world, whether through ideas, technology, or culture. Food is no different, and a rich food culture made up of a composite of various cuisines perfectly reflects the spirit of the Jewish people and country itself. For guests and locals alike, food culture is one of the highlights of experiencing Israel.
A diversity of cultures
One of the first things visitors notice upon their arrival in the country is the multitude of dining options reflected in the different regions of the world from which many of Israel’s citizens originate: places as varied as Eastern Europe, North Africa, Iran, and even Ethiopia, blending together to create a cornucopia of flavors. When many of these groups faced persecution and wanted to fulfill their dream of moving to Israel, they brought with them their native culture, adding to the culinary quilt-work.
What makes Israeli culture so unique–food culture being perhaps one of the better examples of this phenomenon–is a diversity that has strengthened the country’s identity through this mixing of people from all over the world. You’ll find Eastern European delicacies mixed in with dishes from north Africa, all tied in together with local fare from the region. And while there are places where there is a primary focus on one specific cuisine, the rule of thumb is that mixing everything together only improves it. Take, for example, the humble Israeli schnitzel, a quintessential staple of Ashkenazi cuisine stuffed in a pita, and doused with Middle Eastern ingredients including hummus, tahini, and amba (a mango chutney sauce popularized by Iraqi Jews).
Food and community – the Jewish people
Food has remained a major part of the Jewish people’s struggle. After all the suffering experienced throughout centuries of statelessness, food has remained a rare constant, a way for Jews to express themselves and connect with their family and community. Family plays a major part in food culture, and if you’re looking to enjoy a truly authentic meal there is nothing better than receiving an invitation to someone’s house for a Shabbat meal. Food and community have been interchangeable since the beginning of time, also playing a major part in Jewish ritual. In fact, when we look to remember and mourn during a Jewish holiday we often fast, as food is such a major component of our lives and we suffer so much without it.
There are many names for this emotion, this act, something that people in Israel, particularly those looking to create something in the vibrant food and restaurant culture draw from as a source of inspiration. Food represents the now, to life, to love, and to living in the moment. Neshama, or spirit is an element so pervasive in all of Israel, it defines how the food culture was created. It is the Jewish mother who dotes on her family and the cook in the army that brings his own ingredients from home because he wants to create a comfortable and more personable environment for his soldiers.
One cannot think of Israeli, and Jewish culture in general, and not consider the importance that food plays in the identity of the country. Passion and intensity are both things which are not in short supply in Israel, so when you visit next make sure part of your experience is the partaking in of this amazing food culture.