Page 1


What’s cooking in the melting pot? with local ingredients, they embellish their menus with dishes adapted from their family heritage, be it Moroccan, Persian, Hungarian or Turkish. In less than thirty years Israeli society has graduated from Spartan austerity to a true gastronomic haven. The Roots Israel is a young state but its roots go back thousands of years. The first place to look for the origins of local food culture is the Bible. Right from the outset, in Genesis, the Bible is brimming with food, used for welcoming friends and appeasing enemies, for seduction and bribery, for comfort and religious rituals. Food (or the lack of it) often played a pivotal role in Jewish history, such as when famine in Canaan drove the Hebrews down to Egypt. But what exactly was this food? What was the red stew for which Esau sold his birthright to Jacob? What were the mysterious flagons that Shulamite, beloved of King Solomon, craved in the Song of Songs? What was the magical manna that sustained the Hebrews in the desert? Scientific research has few definite answers and plenty of suppositions. There was a clear distinction in ancient Israel between two rival societies: shepherds and farmers. The former were nomads who roved the desert with their herds, the latter were permanent dwellers in the mountains and valleys and on the plains. The first hint of their age-old animosity was recorded in the story of Cain (the shepherd) and Abel (the farmer). Ancient Palestine was a harsh place to grow food, with poor soil and unpredictable rainfall that often resulted in drought and famine. Meat, especially prevalent in shepherd tribes, was a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy or reserved for feasts. It usually came from goats and sheep. The mainstay of the diet was grains and legumes (broad beans and lentils). Simple flatbreads were prepared from wheat or barley and baked on hot stones over fire by the nomadic shepherds, while farmers favored leavened breads. Grains were also toasted, cracked and used for stews and porridges, similarly to modern-day bulgur. Milk, usually goat and sheep, was used to make butter, cheese and sour-milk products. Vegetables such as turnips, leeks and cucumbers were eaten raw or cooked, although a vegetable garden required irrigation and was considered a luxury. Wild herbs (parsley, coriander, mustard, garlic and hyssop) were used to enrich and spice up food. ›

They say nobody comes to Israel for the food. There are so many reasons to visit this unique land, food is certainly not at the top of the list. Twenty to thirty years ago the only memorable culinary experiences tourists might have had was a good hummus in the Old City of Jerusalem or a hearty Israeli breakfast at a hotel. If they come back today they’re in for a big surprise. They can savor world-class wines, sip a perfect cup of cappuccino at a seaside café, nibble delectable goat cheeses at a dairy farm in the Galilee, and sample authentic and varied street food. They can wander through open-air markets brimming with fresh produce and exotic goods by day and hang out at trendy bars by night. They can buy almost any conceivable ingredient anywhere in the country, find a vast array of Hebrew language cookbooks in the bookstores, and have a choice of food shows and cooking classes given by professional chefs and amateur food and wine aficionados. Above all, they will discover a vibrant sophisticated restaurant scene where young, internationally trained chefs fuse classic cooking techniques with those of the Middle East. Working 6


The Book of New Israeil Food  

introduction 23 6 ›