There probably isn’t a household in Israel that doesn’t have a Ruth Sirkis
cookbook on its shelves. She is the person who pioneered the idea of introducing
different and exotic foods to Israel back in the ’60s, when every community
stuck to its own ethnic recipes and crème Bavaria was considered the height of
She and her husband, Rafi, an engineer, spent several
years abroad – first in Boston, where he completed his studies, and later in Los
Angeles, where he served in the diplomatic corps. Sirkis, who qualified as a
social worker, used the time abroad to learn about new foods and their
preparation, bowled over by the colorful magazines and books that were available
in the States but had not yet reached Israel.
“I saw it was something
interesting and intellectual,” she recalls. “I have an analytical, academic
approach to food.”
The four years spent in Los Angeles, besides nurturing
a lifelong interest in food preparation, also influenced her in the building of
that Ramat Aviv house to which the family moved 30 years ago.
California, we rented a home from a professor for a few months, and I saw how
the kitchen was the heart of the home. They even had a sofa and television in
there and the whole family would spend more time in that room than anywhere
The Sirkis kitchen is certainly the dominant place in her home, as
one would expect. It’s huge and was created by “borrowing” some space from the
dining room and incorporating a large service balcony.
One side is for
cooking while the other serves as her study, with a computer set up on a wooden
desk, a fax machine and printer perched on wooden shelves. In the middle is an
island with an extra hob and water supply.
“The builders were very
confused when I told them what I wanted,” she says. “I also insisted on
different textures, so instead of marble I put ceramic tiles on the work tops,
while the island is made from a huge piece of butcher’s block wood which we had
to have specially cut by a wholesale wood supplier in south Tel Aviv.”
the end of the island is a pull-out Carrera marble slab, which is just for
rolling out dough.
The cabinets are all slightly higher than usual, to
accommodate the fact that she is quite tall. A skylight enables plenty of
natural light, which is important, as it is here that she prepares and
photographs the food that will go into her cookbooks.
The wooden cabinets
have been supplemented by plastic containers to store all the items she needs,
so while this is hardly a show kitchen in the true sense of the word, it is
certainly practical and user-friendly.
All the furniture in the living and
dining room came from California, which is why, she suggests, there is a slight
Spanish influence to some of it – especially the sofa with its carved wooden
sides. The coffee table was built by Rafi from a carved Indian door. There is a
tiny patio off the lounge. Paved in terra cotta and secluded from the neighbors
by towering and lush vegetation, this is where they like to eat out on cooler
ALTHOUGH SHE always tries to have at least one arrangement of
fresh flowers in the house, she sees no problem in having good quality
artificial flowers as decoration.
The lounge is also full of small
souvenirs from their many travels.
“I don’t feel as though I have to make
an impression with my house,” she says.
“I just want to feel good and
comfortable in it.”
The story of how Ruth Sirkis got into cookbook
publishing is a fascinating peep into the lifestyle of Israelis back in the
“We came back from the US and I was working full-time as a social
worker at the Helen Keller Institute,” she recalls. “I used to prepare the
special foods I’d learnt to do in America for my friends, and Rafi would
actually photograph them. There was no television in those days so sometimes we
would do a slide show and I would talk about the food and then we would all eat
it. One of our friends, a publisher, said ‘you’ve got a book here.’ “We went to
Ma’ariv with our idea of a book on food and entertaining and we were told that
there was a recession and people would not have money for food, let alone a book
on food. But they sent us downstairs to where the At magazine was just being
launched – with Tommy Lapid as the editor. He had just come back from three
years in London, where he’d also been exposed to food publishing – and he gave
us the go-ahead.”
For years Ruth wrote a food column in At, and she also
a syndicated column when they went back to the States. Her first two cookbooks
were published in English, and I still consult my well-thumbed and bespattered A
Taste of Tradition when I want an uncomplicated recipe for some basic Jewish
She has come a long way since those early days – writing books on
many different exotic cuisines – and she is also updating her best-selling From
the Kitchen with Love, which came out in 1975. In the future, she feels the
emphasis is going to be more on health foods; She is determined to keep up with