by Yael Adar
The question of whether or not there is such a thing as an Israeli cuisine depends on whose providing the answer.
In a recent discussion with Jewish food historian, Oded Schwartz, he expressed his thoughts on the subject. He believes there is such a thing as Israeli food, but conceded that we simply haven’t had enough time for a real Israeli cuisine to develop. In his mind, true Israeli cooking happens in the home, where there is often a merger between Sephardic and Ashkenazy flavors.
Food critic Daniel Rogov, writes in the introduction to his Web site, “Whether there is or is not a unique Israeli cuisine is something that critics and food writers love to disagree about.” In another section he states, “It is not enough for a dish to rely on ingredients, cooking methods or recipes traditional to a geographical area in order for it to be considered a unique part of a national cuisine. Truly national al dishes must have a unique ‘twist’, something that marks them as belonging to that and only to that nation. Happily, Israel has several talented, creative chefs who are gradually adding such dishes to the national repertoire.” Joan Nathan, author of The Foods of Israel Today, also weighs in on the issue of whether or not there is a true Israeli cuisine.
Israel is a country whose citizen’s hail from over 80 countries. It is truly a culinary and ethnic melting pot. Many of the dishes that are often thought of as Israeli, including the finely cut Israeli Salad can often be traced to the Middle East in general, Mediterranean, North Africa or the Balkan regions. I subscribe to the school of thought that believes that a real local cuisine has not yet developed. However, a visit to Israel is a wonderful opportunity to sample foods with that special local twist, that are the result of both regional influences as well as those whose origins can be found in far-flung corners of the globe.
While at home ethnic food might mean, Mexican, Indian, Chinese or Japanese, in Israel you can sample Russian, Moroccan, Yemenite, Romanian, Tunisian, Iraqi or Bukharan cuisine, to name just a few (Bukhara, by the way is province in the southwestern part of Uzbekistan and roughly 50,000 people from this region now make their home in Israel, according to Ethnologue.com).
To the casual visitor it often seems like the range of food in Israel is limited merely to Falafel, Hummus or Schwarma. These dishes are readily available at food kiosks that dot the country or Oriental restaurants (Misa’adot Mizrachiyot) that can seemingly be found at every street corner.
Cuisine in Israel has undergone a transformation, primarily in the last 10 years. The country boasts an ever-increasing variety of restaurants and dinning out has become a popular leisure activity.
In culinary terms, Israel offers an extremely varied selection. Don’t pass up the opportunity to sample some of the different and rich flavors offered by Israel’s diverse culinary background, on your next trip.