It figures I’m about to start a culinary journey on Israeli cuisine while being exceptionally hungry. In my mind’s eye (and a grumbling stomach) I can see the comfort foods of my youth; foods that might make some people in the world ask, what on earth is that?
There’s no easy way to pigeon hole Israeli cuisine, a blend of cultures from Eastern Europe to the shores of Northern Africa and the far reaches of Asia. Each distinct region has brought Israel to the forefront the very best of their tasty dishes, making the act of eating in Israel a vacation all its own.
Many of you might have already heard of some traditional Israeli dishes. Ashkenazi cuisine comes from the folks from Eastern Europe. These are the same folks that give us some wonderfully sweet pastries, yet gave us borsht and gefilte fish. Go figure.
Sephardic foods come from countries like Spain and Morocco, food like the savory pastry known as bourekas, made with puff pastry filled with cheese and spinach, just to name a few.
I’m getting ahead of myself–I should’ve talked about breakfast first. It is the most important meal of the day, right? Most hotels in Israel are quite proud of their Israeli breakfast, which many promote in order to get you to stay there.
Oh no, my American friends, this isn’t your bacon-laden, side of home-fries meal. Look around, you’ll find bowls of fresh fruit, salads made with finely chopped tomatoes, fish, eggs, bread, and yogurt.
Now that I think about it, almost all of Israel’s dishes center on fresh produce. This even includes the ever popular falafel; fried ground chickpeas stuffed in a pita served with Israeli salad (tomato, cucumber, onion) and tahina.
Oh tahina, a sesame sauce that makes everything taste better. Not that the world’s best street food like falafel can’t stand on its own, mind you.
I think the only thing more popular than falafel is hummus. Made with ground chickpeas, often served with pine nuts or a smatter of olive oil, it is generally eaten with just pita. Hummus is so popular in Israeli cuisine it seems to be a culinary staple, no matter what meal it is.
Food in Israel might be fresh and tasty, but it means nothing if not shared with family and loved ones. That is, unless, you’ve gotten a Moroccan and Tunisian fighting it out over who makes better couscous, a dish made from semolina flour with lamb or chicken simmered with veggies on top.
One of the best ways to enjoy Israeli food with the family is a hafla. This is a traditional Bedouin meal of salads and kebabs with Bedouin pita (known as fatir) served as you lounge on soft pillows drinking mint infused beverages (like tea or lemonade).
Food is so ingrained in Israeli culture so that if you’ve been invited into someone’s home, they will try to feed you. And it’s an insult to refuse–so eat up.
Food even has its superstitions. One lady friend who was going to have a baby mentioned in passing that she was “craving” falafel, only to be handed an entire container of them by her Israeli neighbor soon afterwards, simply because it was “wrong” to refuse a pregnant lady any food she wished for.
You could go on forever talking about food in Israel, and spend another lifetime talking about beverages in Israel. Great, now I’m even hungrier than when I started.–someone pass the falafel, please?