Israeli Cuisine was divided into Ashkenazim and Sephardi cuisines, at the time of the Birth of the new country.
The Ashkenazim cuisine came from immigrant Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and the Sephardi cuisine was related to those who came from the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries as well as Northern Africa countries.
An Array of Mediterranean Salads is the first you see in a restaurant
Israel is an Ethnic Melting Pot
Israel is an ethnic melting pot of cultures; therefore, Israel Food is extraordinarily diverse. Of the Israelis today 80% are Jews of whom more than half are Sabras, the name given to Israelis born here.
But their parents came from more than 120 countries and brought with them their recipes and their customs many of them very archaic. They adapted their customs to the new country and the Israeli Cuisine was born.
The other 20% of Non-Jews Israelis also have their food which is in its majority Mediterranean and Middle Eastern with the influence of the Arab Countries that most of them came from.
None of these cuisines were originally Jewish. They were adopted by Jews after living for centuries in the above-mentioned areas.
Jewish Gefilte Fish is a sample of Ashkenazim Cuisine
Israeli Cuisine of Today
Today we have an Israeli cuisine that combines both trends into one modern cooking. Even though I come from and Ashkenazi family and love “Gefilte Fish” and “Lokshn Kugel”, I must admit that the influence of the Sephardic food together with the influence of the Middle East where we live is much stronger in the food Israelis eat on a daily basis.
Being Israel such a modern and avant-garde country anything that becomes a trend in any part of the world arrives in Israel in weeks if not days and becomes Israeli Food.
To give a few examples, years ago Pizza became one of the favorites. Mc Donald’s opened up in the 1990’s
And is part of us. Sushi became very famous years ago and today you’ll discover that there are more Sushi Restaurants in Tel Aviv per capita than in Tokyo.
Israeli Barbecue is called "Mangal" is a national pastime
Nothing beats Falafel and Shawarma
But one thing is sure; the loyalty to the old Israeli food is undisputed. You walk the streets of the cities and towns and in each corner, you’ll find a Falafel or Shawarma stand.
Meat was not so available when I first came in the 1950’s but now it’s abundant at home and in restaurants. It is very Israeli to eat grilled meat in Hebrew “Basar Al Haesh” and many businesses cater to this branch of food like Shishlik, Kebab, and Schwarma.
It is also a rule that on these restaurants you are “bombarded” by little plates of Middle Eastern Salads, accompanied by Pita Bread, before the main dish comes. These salads are so varied and delicious that sometimes you wonder why I ordered meat in the first place.
A delicious serving of Falafel inside a Pita Bread and salads
What is Falafel
Falafel is a ball or patty made from ground chickpeas. Falafel is usually served in a pita, which acts as a pocket, or wrapped in a flat bread known as lafa. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces. Falafel balls may also be eaten alone as a snack.
Shawarma has become the # 1 item of Israeli Cuisine
What is Shawarma
Shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a food staple across the Middle East, Europe, the Caucasus, and North Africa.
In Israel Shawarma is eaten with pita bread, lafa or baguette, salad of tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus and pickles.
Shawarma is shared by many country variations. In Greece, it is called gyros, meaning "turned". In Armenian, it is "Tarna", literally meaning "to turn", and in Turkish it is called döner kebab, which in turn means "turning kebab".
Typical Israeli Buffet Breakfast a staple in all Hotels
Israeli Food at Hotels
The hotels understand that visitors come from all countries of the world and carefully offer food that is accepted by all. The famous Israeli Buffet Breakfast is known worldwide for its variety of fruits, cheeses, cereals, eggs in all forms, juices, breads of all types and coffee or tea.
Lunch or dinner is also prepared to be accepted by all, but always with a little Mediterranean taste, like chicken, turkey meats accompanied by vegetables, rice, and couscous and one thing that never misses an Israeli table, the salads, tomatoes and cucumbers being in the first place.
The Challah Bread is a must on every Shabbat Dinner
Many Israelis, not necessarily the religious one, like to eat Kosher. The Kosher Food is prepared based on Jewish Dietary Laws that are very clear.
Some of the most important ones are not mixing meat food with dairy food; certain animals are totally forbidden being the most known the pig and its derivatives like bacon and ham; and very important the meat has to come from animals that were killed and prepared according to certain rituals.
That said I can tell you that there are many places in Israel that do not care about kosher rules and will sell you any of the food you like.
Israeli Wines are world renowned
The Ministry or Religion and particularly the Israeli Rabbinate issues certificates to restaurants and all kind of eateries when they abide by the laws of Kashrut. Most of the hotels and important restaurants have this certificate.
The exception is that many restaurants that keep kosher open on Shabbat for pure business reasons and they are denied the certificate.
I hope you have an idea of what to expect of Israeli Food when visiting the country.
images for israeli cuisine
courtesy of wikimedia commons