Israel's Diverse Cuisine
Israel has such a diverse culture, and it has become even more so in recent decades. It makes sense that the cuisine is also diverse. At one time, there were over 70 different countries being represented in the population, which is incredible because Israel is rather small. So we see many different foods, and customs throughout the country. Back in 1948, many Jews began to arrive from different parts of Eastern Europe. They brought with them, many traditional but different dishes to Israel. These dishes were Jewish recipes from Russia, Poland and Hungary for the most part. This brought a whole new richness to Israel's cuisine.
Herbs of course play a big part in any cuisine, and some grow well even in the deserts. For instance, in the Negev desert, you can grow mint, parsley, sage, basil and oregano. You will find these and more in Israeli cuisine.
Some typical foods in Israel
Israel like much of the Middle East has typical foods that you will find throughout. Flat breads, fresh fruits and nuts, lentils, vegetables (raw, often), lamb, beef, and many dairy products are part of the cuisine. Goat cheese, and yogurt are big dairy items. Grilled meats, fish, traditional spicy salads, and vegetables will often be featured in a meal. Fava, is the name of a bean spread often used.
There are some typical dishes you will find, like schnitzel, which is turkey, veal or chicken cutlets, and matzo balls which are a type of dumpling served with chicken soup. Latkes or potato pancakes are no surprise at all, but you will also find cheese filled crepes or blintzes once in a while.
Those that have read the Bible are not unfamiliar with Israel being called the land of milk and honey. From this have grown some fun sweets that children love to eat (adults too I am sure!), like candy made with honey and sesame seeds.
Chicken Matzo Ball Soup
Food during holidays and celebrations
A large majority of Israel's population is Jewish. Of those, a few follow the dietary laws that are called kashruth. This means "keeping kosher", and while the percentage of people that strictly follow these dietary laws is relatively few, it has had a great impact. I think its neat that they observe their and remember the heritage that they came from. All I have learned about it over time, has been very interesting.
As many know, the rules include things like not having meat and dairy products together in a meal, as well as not allowing certain kinds of animals, as they are seen as unclean. The meat they do eat, needs to come from animals with hooves and that chew their cud. Pork isn't allowed, and if an animal is to be eaten, the killing of it must be done quickly and under religious supervision. There are other restrictions as well, like no shellfish or carrion.
Meat must come from animals that have cleft (divided) hooves and chew their cud. Pork and other products that come from pigs are not to be eaten. Also, an animal must be slaughtered quickly and under supervision of religious authorities for its meat to be considered kosher.
Meat and dairy are to be kept so separate from each other, they often have whole different sets of dishes or silverware for each one. They must be kept apart from each other as well. In certain homes, you can even find different sinks to wash each.
Passover time, which happens in the Spring, has its own set of rules. All bread containing leaven is not allowed. This is where matzo comes in. I love a good matzo ball soup, and have fond memories of my grandmother taking me to the local little Jewish Restaurant in California. We enjoyed the chicken soup with matzo ball, very much. It was one big matzo ball. I fell in love with this soup!
At Seder, you will find more elaborate meals being cooked and served, and its a neat time for the families to get together.
Many have said that if Israel had a national dish, that it may be Felafel, which is made from seasoned chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans. These garbanzo beans are made into balls and then fried. Many eat their felafel in a pita bread sandwich, covered with tahini. Tahini is a lemon flavored sauce that includes sesame. Many vendors sell felafel sandwiches throughout Israel.
I have never been to Israel, but I have enjoyed learning about it and its amazing history. I think it would be great to go one day, and experience first hand the culture there, and try all that the diverse cuisine has to offer.