November 4, 2016

A Taste of Israel

Etai Barash ‘18

Defining “Israeli food” is extremely difficult, as it is an extremely diverse and multicultural cuisine. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe and to the Iberian Peninsula, Israeli food encompasses many different regions, drawing influence from diverse cultures and histories. Jews from over 80 different countries help impact what is known today as Israeli food.
Not only is Israeli food extremely diverse, but it is also innovative. In the early years of Israel, food was scarce as the main focus of the young state was protecting itself from its surrounding Arab enemies. Ptitim, for example, also known as Ben Gurion Rice or Israeli Couscous, is a rice substitute made from wheat which first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, created during the food shortages.
Innovative Jewish foods do not stop there. The Ashkenazi Jews, those of Eastern Europe, substituted turkey for the traditional chicken in their schnitzel dishes when chicken was scarce. Additionally, many Ashkenazi dishes eaten today reflect the cold climate in which they lived, such as fish, soups and stews, further contributing to the tapestry of Israeli cuisine.
Sephardic Jews, those of Spanish and Portuguese descent, bring vibrant flavors to Israeli food, incorporating spices of the Iberian peninsula in their dishes. These spices include cumin, cilantro and turmeric.
Similar to Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, those from the Middle East, bring flavors shaped by their original environment. Their dishes are simple, yet intricate, incorporating basic ingredients with robust combinations of spices. These dishes include meat stuffed kibbeh and shakshuka – a popular breakfast option made with eggs in tomato sauce with chilli peppers, onions and Middle Eastern spices.
Not all Israeli foods are family recipes, however. Israel, just like the rest of the world, has its fair share of modern desserts and tasty snacks. Bamba peanut butter doodles, Krembo and Milki – chocolate pudding with whipped cream –  are just a few of the most popular and unique Israeli snacks.
Even more popular than these treats are Israel’s unofficial national foods: shawarma and falafel. On almost every street of Tel Aviv you can find a falafel or shawarma stand. These two foods are staples of Israeli society.
In Israel, there is conflict over the origins of falafel between Palestinians and Israelis. Some Palestinians say that Israel has “stolen” falafel from them, claiming that it was originally a Palestinian food.
This is simply a microcosm of the problem at hand today. Israeli and Palestinian cultures are so intertwined and similar as they live so close together, yet they cannot obtain peace on even such a simple topic.
Because Israel is such a small country, many of its ingredients are sourced locally. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available at supermarkets, restaurants and local markets known as shuks. It is very rare to come across an Israeli meal that does not have fresh fruits or vegetables in it.
Additionally, the dairy products produced in Israel are of high-quality, as the animals producing them are taken care of and the products they produce are fresh and delicious. One hundred twenty five thousand cows on 824 farms make up the Israeli dairy herd and each cow produces an annual average of 12,083 kg of milk. The fresh ingredients of Israel leads to a much tastier array of foods.
Because of this high-quality, healthy diet, Israelis are some of the healthiest people in the world. They have the longest life expectancy of all of the Middle East and Africa, and the 13th longest globally.
Israeli food is a way for the diverse Israeli society to express itself. Each individual living in Israel can find his or her favorite food regardless of religion, gender, social standing, or age.

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