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Israeli cuisine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Serving in Jerusalem restaurant including falafel, hummus and Israeli salad
Serving in Jerusalem restaurant including falafel, hummus and Israeli salad
Israeli breakfast with eggs, Israeli salad, bread and various accompaniments
Israeli breakfast with eggs, Israeli salad, bread and various accompaniments
Israeli eggplant salad with mayonnaise
Israeli eggplant salad with mayonnaise

Israeli cuisine (Hebrew: המטבח הישראליha-mitbaḥ ha-yisra’eli) comprises both local dishes and dishes brought to Israel by Jews from the Diaspora. Since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli Jewish fusion cuisine has developed.[1]

Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of diaspora Jewish cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ashkenazi styles of cooking.[1] It incorporates many foods traditionally included in other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, so that spices like za'atar and foods such as falafel, hummus, msabbha, shakshouka and couscous are now widely popular in Israel.[2][3]

Other influences on the cuisine are the availability of foods common to the Mediterranean region, especially certain kinds of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish; the tradition of keeping kosher; and food customs and traditions specific to Shabbat and different Jewish holidays, such as challah, jachnun, malawach, gefilte fish, hamin, me'orav yerushalmi and sufganiyot.

New dishes based on agricultural products such as oranges, avocados, dairy products and fish, and others based on world trends have been introduced over the years, and chefs trained abroad have brought in elements of other international cuisines.[4]



Spiced cracked olives
Spiced cracked olives

Israel's culinary traditions comprise foods and cooking methods that span three thousand years of history. Over that time, these traditions have been shaped by influences from Asia, Africa and Europe, and religious and ethnic influences have resulted in a culinary melting pot. Biblical and archaeological records provide insight into the culinary life of the region as far back as a thousand years BCE, in the days of the kings of ancient Israel.[5]

During the Second Temple period (516 BCE to 70 CE), Hellenistic and Roman culture heavily influenced cuisine, particularly of the priests and aristocracy of Jerusalem. Elaborate meals were served that included piquant entrées and alcoholic drinks, fish, beef, meat, pickled and fresh vegetables, olives, and tart or sweet fruits.[5]

The food of the ancient Israelites was based on several products that still play important roles in modern Israeli cuisine. These were known as the seven species: olives, figs, dates, pomegranates, wheat, barley and grapes.[6] The diet, based on locally grown produce, was enhanced by imported spices, readily available due to the country's position at the crossroads of east–west trade routes.[5]

After the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the majority of Jews from the land of Israel, Jewish cuisine continued to develop in the many countries where Jewish communities have existed since Late Antiquity, influenced by the economics, agriculture, and culinary traditions of those countries.

Old Yishuv

The Old Yishuv was the Jewish community that lived in Ottoman Syria prior to the Zionist Aliyah from the diaspora that began in 1881. The cooking style of the community was Sephardi cuisine, which developed among the Jews of Spain before their expulsion in 1492, and in the areas to which they migrated thereafter, particularly the Balkans and Ottoman Empire. Sephardim and Ashkenazim also established communities in the Old Yishuv. Particularly in Jerusalem, they continued to develop their culinary style, influenced by Ottoman cuisine, creating a style that became known as Jerusalem Sephardi cuisine.[7]

This cuisine included pies like sambousak, pastels and burekas, vegetable gratins and stuffed vegetables, and rice and bulgur pilafs, which are now considered to be Jerusalem classics.[4]

Groups of Hasidic Jews from Eastern Europe began establishing communities in the late 18th century, and brought with them their traditional Ashkenazi cuisine, developing, however, distinct local variations, notably a peppery, caramelized noodle pudding known as kugel yerushalmi.[8]

Zionist immigration

Cooking class at a girls' school in Jerusalem, c.1936
Cooking class at a girls' school in Jerusalem, c.1936

Beginning with the First Aliyah in 1881, Jews began immigrating to the area from Eastern Europe in larger numbers, particularly from Poland and Russia. These Zionist pioneers were motivated both ideologically and by the Mediterranean climate to reject the Ashkenazi cooking styles they had grown up with, and adapt by using local produce, especially vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, eggplant, artichoke and chickpeas.[4]

The first Hebrew cookbook, written by Erna Meyer, and published in the early 1930s by the Palestine Federation of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), exhorted cooks to use Mediterranean herbs and Middle Eastern spices and local vegetables in their cooking.[7]

The bread, olives, cheese and raw vegetables they adopted became the basis for the kibbutz breakfast, which in more abundant forms is served in Israeli hotels, and in various forms in most Israeli homes today.[4][7]

Early years of the State

Tel Aviv residents standing in line to buy food rations, 1954
Tel Aviv residents standing in line to buy food rations, 1954

The State of Israel faced enormous military and economic challenges in its early years, and the period from 1948 to 1958 was a time of food rationing and austerity, known as tzena. In this decade, over one million Jewish immigrants, mainly from Arab countries, but also including European Holocaust survivors, inundated the new state. They arrived when only basic foods were available and ethnic dishes had to be modified with a range of mock or simulated foods, such as chopped “liver” from eggplant, and turkey as a substitute for veal schnitzel for Ashkenazim, kubbeh made from frozen fish instead of ground meat for Iraqi Jews, and turkey in place of the lamb kebabs of the Mizrahi Jews. These adaptations remain as a legacy of that time.[4][7]

Substitutes, such as the wheat-based rice substitute, ptitim, were introduced, and versatile vegetables such as eggplant were u