Israeli Cuisine is the eclectic composite of cooking techniques and foods that now span over three millennia of tradition and history. Influences from Europe, Africa and Asia have contributed largely to shaping Israeli cuisine. Also, ethnic and religious influences have done their part in what has developed into a virtual culinary “melting pot”.
Archaeological, as well as Biblical documentation gives us insight into the culinary customs of this region that go back as far back as 968 BC. Those were the famous days of the Ancient Israel Great Kings.
During the centuries ranging from 500 BC to 100 AD, the “Second Temple” period, Israeli cuisine received heavy Roman and Hellenistic influences. This was especially true for the aristocracy of Jerusalem. High priests were served elaborate, multi-course meals that would last for hours. These feasts would include piquant entrées, meats, fish, fresh and pickled vegetables, olives and fruits.
Ancient Israeli cuisine had a foundation based on seven foods. These were known as the “Seven Species” and they still have important, fundamental roles in Israeli cuisine today. The Seven Species are dates, figs, olives, grapes, pomegranates, wheat and barley. This fundamental diet was, and still is in modern times, based on locally farmed produce. It is also enhanced, due to Israel’s key location in the crossroads of east-west trade routes, with a plethora of imported and exotic spices.
Hebrew is the traditional language of Israel, and in Hebrew Israeli Cuisine is written: המטבח הישראלי, and pronounced: ha-mitbach ha-yisra’eli.
Ha-mitbach ha-yisra’eli today is largely comprised of local dishes by the native people of Israel, as well as recipes that the Jews brought with them from the Diaspora. This Israeli-Jewish fusion that is a key and notable characteristic of Israeli cuisine in modern times began about the time of the country’s establishment in 1948 of the State of Israel. The fusion gathered even more momentum during the late 1970s.
Jewish cuisine’s varying styles of cooking continues to be adopted by Israeli cuisine. Methods and techniques known as the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi, Sephardic styles of cooking are especially influential. It incorporates many Foods traditionally eaten in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Levantine cuisines are all incorporated. This results in foods like za’atar, hummus, couscous, falafel, hummus, msabbha and shakshouka, couscous, having enormous popularity nationwide.
Similar to other Mediterranean region cuisines, the cuisine of Israel relies heavily on foods that are readily available in that area of the world. This includes certain vegetables and fruits, lots of dairy products, and a wide array of fish and seafood. Kosher foods, dishes, and meals are of course in intrinsic element of Israeli cuisine, due to the many Jewish people and their religious practices. Hence, special traditional and distinctive dishes are prepared on Jewish holidays. These include dishes such hamin, sufganiyot, gefilte fish, challah, malawach and jachnun, malawach.
The cuisine of Israel continues to evolve today. With chefs traveling overseas to train, they return home with trending dishes popular the world over. Modern day trade efficiency brings with it the introduction of agricultural products that are “new” and becoming influential to the cuisine, like avocados and oranges. While Israeli cuisine remains very traditional in its fundamental makeup, it does now have hints of influence from international cuisines.
Below is a list of classic, authentic and traditional Israeli dishes. Click on the recipe of your choice and you will be taken to a print-friendly page with that recipe on it. Enjoy your trip into the ancient, marvelous world of …
Classic Hanukkah Sufganiyot (Kosher dessert, sweet rolls filled with sweet jams and fruits)
Shakshuka (Spicy tomato based sauce with eggs skillet dish)
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