The Food of Israel (April 2023)
I have waited a lifetime to travel to Israel. I was fortunate to have travelled there in the fall. The anticipation of everything I have heard, from the food, the history, culture and the various cities. Growing up Jewish how could I not be curious?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the food in Israel is linked to the history of Israeli culture. The culinary cuisine of Israel goes back about three thousand years. Pomegranates, dates, figs, olives, grapes, wheat and barley are known as the seven species to the ancient Israelites. Their meals were based on produce grown locally with various spices that were imported via the east and west trade routes.
A cooking style first developed by the Jews who fled Spain in 1492 was influenced by Ottoman cuisine and eventually became known as Jerusalem Sephardi cuisine. Stuffed vegetables, savory meat pies such as sambousek, pastels (thin pastry envelopes wrapped around assorted fillings), bourekas (cheese stuffed strudel dough or stuffed with potato) and rice/grain dishes are the result of Jewish Spanish Ottoman blend.
Immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe brought with them Ashkenazi cooking. Traditional Eastern European foods such as schnitzel and strudels, Russian borsht and herring were influenced by local produce, such as peppers, eggplant, zucchini, artichokes and of course chickpeas!
Mizarahi Jews from North Africa imported cuisine similar to Arab cooking: grilled meats, rice dishes, pita breads, salads and savory and sweet pastries.
One of my favorite foods in Israel is hummus! This food is a staple in Israel, and it doesn’t matter what time of the year. Hummus to Israeli’s is what peanut butter is to Americans. I loved trying all of the different types of hummuses and tahini’s that were all homemade and very delicious.
Chickpeas also known as garbanzo beans are also the foundations to falafel. Another delicious food I experiences in Israel. They are made from ground chickpeas and deep fried then tucked away into the homemade pita bread. Vendors offer various toppings from pickles, to pickled vegetables, tahini sauce to harif (hot sauce).
Another popular dish in Israel is labneh. It is a white cheese made from strained yogurt and is often times consumed at breakfast. Sahlah is also popular and sold on the streets which is a liquid pudding, whose base was made from powdered orchid bulbs and is not made with corn flour and usually topped with cinnamon and chopped pistachios.
The nuts and dried fruit are very popular in Israel. Pistachios are a hot topic! I learned that there have been imported bans against Iran by Israel for years, Iranian nuts still make it into Israel via Turkey or other back door routes. As Israel consumes over $20 million worth of pistachios annually, the largest per capita consume in the world, there is potentially a lot of money being funneled into enemy pockets. Iran’s biggest competitor in the exporting of pistachios is the United States. Did you know that Israel has tariffs in place against all non- US pistachios to make competition fairer. The word out is that Israeli’s prefer Iranian pistachios.
Lastly, I tried several versions of baklava. Baklava is a honey drizzled nutty treat wrapped in phyllo pastry with pistachios on top. Another delicious food.
If you have not had the opportunity to travel to Israel, I would highly recommend you put it on your list for the various experiences you will experience.