Food Guide to Israel
Israel is a fabulous country to visit. You can see all of your favourite sights from the Bible and Quoran, and then go for a relaxing float in the Dead Sea. After feasting your eyes on the birthplace of the world’s major religions, and gaping at the juxtaposition of rabbis heading to prayer followed by a group of gun toting police, you’ll probably be feeling peckish.
Forget all of your preconceptions about Israel: they don’t call it the land of milk and honey for nothing. There has been a lot of turmoil in the Promised Land for as long as anyone can care to remember, but by all accounts you shouldn’t let it put you off visiting. I mean, London has high crime rates: but that doesn’t stop people going to Luton Airport.
And hey, when it comes to food, Israel’s chefs can perform real miracles. Of course there are a number of scholarly debates about whether or not Israel actually does have its own cuisine: the country has passed through so many hands and been at civil war for so long that it’s difficult to know.
That doesn’t detract from the fact that there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there: a combination of Jewish dietary laws, European diaspora influence, and fine Middle Eastern produce all combine to make the food served in Israel unique and intriguing.
Middle Eastern favourite falafel (crispy balls of spiced chickpea served in a pitta bread with hummus) features on Israeli menus. The Israeli salad (chopped tomato and cucumber) is very Middle Eastern both in taste and texture. The magic starts with the addition of new European flavours: Eastern European sour cream and borscht, for example, are popular in Israel.
During the winter expect to see lots of avocado, chopped into a simple salad with lemon juice or decadently smeared on a slice of bread. Avocados were first planted by farmers in the 1920s and are now an integral part of the winter diet.
Stuffed veggies (memula’im) are very popular with all ethnic backgrounds in Israel: and originally made it onto the dinner table as a way to make cheap ingredients go further. Zucchini, aubergine, and vine leaves (an introduction from the Ottoman Turks) are all stuffed with herbs, spices and meat. Keep an eye out for artichoke bottoms stuffed with meat: a wonderful delicacy of the Jerusalem style.
Kosher laws mean that you are unlikely to see pork or shellfish on any menus, and as for cheeseburgers? Forget about it: Jewish diet forbids combining meat and milk. You’re unlikely to miss it, though. Chicken, turkey and lamb are all abundant: on Israel Independence Day each year you’ll find barbeques in the park.
Dairy farming has been part of Israeli agriculture since the state was founded, and as such milk is abundant. When you’re in Israel be sure to try some of the local cheeses; most are soft and curd based. Cottage cheese is popular, as well as tzfat cheese (similar to feta). Again, you won’t be allowed to add the cheese to a kebab, but you can enjoy it smeared on the local challa (braided) bread.
As a new country, Israel is still figuring out its own traditions. But in the meantime, Israeli food is a great example of when West and East collide.
James writes for Skyscanner.net, a flight comparison company who compare flights to Israel, Egypt and hundreds of other destinations throughout the Middle East and worldwide.