Israeli Food Culture
Israel is a relatively young state whose cooking tradition is still evolving. As a country of immigrants, the cuisine that is considered Israeli consists of diverse foods that have crossed their borders of origin and become an integral part of the Israeli kitchen; for instance, shakshuka (from the North African Jewish ethnic group), malawach (Yemenite-Jewish), cottage cheese (North American), schnitzel (Asheknazi), humous/tahini (Mediterranean) and others.
Just like Israel has become a hi-tech superpower, it has also turned into a major culinary player in the world. The ingathering of the exiles, with their talent for innovation and daring, has created interesting, successful dishes. We cannot drive from Israel to other countries by car (due to hostile neighbors), but must fly, which has led to Israelis traveling open-mindedly throughout the great wide world and being exposed to its abundance of cultures and foods.
Israeli and Jewish culture also places a high emphasis on family and social gatherings, with food as a central feature. The multitude of get-togethers and ethnic groups translates into diversity and creativity in that food. These days, with Europe fighting terrorism and the refugee crisis, and the United States up in a flurry around Trump and Hillary’s election campaigns, it is actually tiny Israel, swamped as it is with conflicts from within and without, that is seeking some quiet comfort and finding it in food. In Israel, we eat, we feed others and we talk about food. All the time. And so Israel has turned into a culinary superpower and the Israeli kitchen has found itself in a prominent place on the world’s food map. Our chefs have become celebrities on TV and in the gossip columns, and their excellent restaurants, both local and worldwide, are prestigious, expensive and packed.
This was not always the case in Israel. The culture here used to be one of austerity, stemming mainly from Zionist ideology that was partially expressed by a modest way of life. Cooking was purely functional and economical in the past, with no flamboyance or overindulgence. Over the years, and partly due to seeing what was happening in the rest of the Western world, the need for normalcy and quality of life grew stronger in Israel. International foodies define the Israeli kitchen as “provocative-stylized.” The ingredients’ freshness, intriguing combinations and the relatively simple manner of preparation all set it apart. Israelis have succeeded in taking traditional and multicultural food and, through our characteristic innovativeness, in making it modern and, most importantly, original.
Eyal Shani is an Israeli chef known for his poetic language and straightforward, creative dishes. His unique expressiveness is evident in his appearances on various television programs as well as in the menus at his restaurants. He recently participated in the miniseries “Battle of the Chefs,” on which Chef Shani and Chef Yonatan Roshfeld fly together to Italy for close-up encounters with raw ingredients and to learn Italian production and cooking techniques. Each meeting ends with a challenge that pits the two of them head to head, and then has Italian master chefs judge the food they cook.
In the first episode of the series, Shani treats highly esteemed Neapolitan chefs to “country fish soup,” served in blue plastic bowls that he bought at the market. Shani often presents his portions non-conventionally in Israel as well, for example: bread served on brown paper at his North Abraxas and Port Said eateries in Tel Aviv; or steak and even cauliflower tucked into pita bread at his Miznon (“Diner”) restaurant chain. Eyal Shani’s food is creative cuisine that Israelis love to eat, but when the soup was served in cheap plasticware in Italy, the chefs were underwhelmed. Shani was subjected to harsh criticism for serving hot soup in plastic and of course for its inappropriateness at a restaurant with white tablecloths. After hearing them out, Chef Shani said on camera, “Italians are incapable of understanding different presentation…Israelis understand me better because in Israel we demand progress, and evolving into something new…”
Again, Israel has no longstanding culinary tradition of its own, but rather melds many different cuisines. Israeli food reflects the national culture in day-to-day life and the business world as well. And so Israeli cultural characteristics, such as informality, improvisation and entrepreneurism, are expressed in both the business approach and the fare at the wonderful Israeli restaurants at home and worldwide, where most people “in the know” marvel at the taste, appearance and innovation of the food and even its presentation “outside the box.”
Read more about the main Israeli culture characteristics in Osnat Lautman’s bestselling book on Amazon, “Israeli Business Culture”: https://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Business-Culture-Effective-Relationships-ebook/dp/B014YXXSNE/
You can also find information about Osnat Lautman and the services offered by OLM Consulting at www.olm-consulting.com.