The Israeli food revolution - opinion

ABOVE THE FOLD: In other words, Israeli food has come of age internationally. The people, the products, and the places have exploded. And to that I say: Enjoy! Be’tayavon!

 Corks in wine bottles (photo credit: WALLPAPER FLARE)
Corks in wine bottles
(photo credit: WALLPAPER FLARE)

Kosher wine, long relegated to clawingly super sweet, super-sized bottles of the nectar of the gods, has been replaced by a host of nuanced, sophisticated, reds and whites, dry wines fit to occupy shelf space in wine stores and listings in fine dining establishments around the world. Kosher wines have even made it to Costco, the destination mecca for foodies across America.

Many – by no means all, come from Israel. Others hail from France, Chile, Spain, California, Australia and even New York. A good glass of kosher wine can be had by anyone willing to pay the price. And many of those who imbibe are unaware that the wine they are sipping, enjoying and purchasing again, is even kosher.

And now comes the Israeli food revolution.

Turn on any of the very many cooking shows flooding American TV audiences with new trends and recipes, and among the top chefs showing off their creativity and skill will be identifiably Israeli chefs. Check the listings for top restaurants – even those with long waiting lists for reservations and among them will be Israeli chefs and Israeli chef-owners.

Perennial favorites Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay move over. Michael Solomonov, Yotam Ottolenghi, Einat Admony and Ron Ben-Israel are coming up fast on your heels. They are competing with the best and they are winning. They are writing cookbooks, hosting their own shows and earning Michelin stars. In Amsterdam, there is Moshik Roth; in Paris, Assaf Granit and in Berlin, Gal Ben Moshe.

Now, of course, and to the chagrin of many kosher diners, Israeli does not mean kosher.

 AT TRADER Joe’s, Bamba also comes dipped in dark chocolate. (credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS)
AT TRADER Joe’s, Bamba also comes dipped in dark chocolate. (credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS)

With a name like Balaboosta, one would think that Admony’s New York restaurant would surely be kosher. Bursting with Persian and Yemenite tastes, written up in the quintessential New York magazine, alas, it is not.

But fear not, kosher clientele. Admony has written a cookbook named Balaboosta, as well. And there, you can find several of her favorite recipes that neither feature bacon nor mix meat and milk. So, too, with chef Ronit Stern’s Michelin Star restaurant La Balabusta in Barcelona. Acclaimed, not kosher.

And that’s okay.

ISRAEL HAS made it to the world map in so many arenas: sports, music, science, medicine. It is nice to know that Israeli food artisans are making it in the culinary arts, as well.

Once upon a time the best place to buy falafel – almost the only place to buy falafel – was in Israel, or in an Israeli-owned falafel store in a major metropolitan city. And if that city was in the United States, that store offered you a choice, falafel or pizza. Today, they’ve expanded to a third choice – sushi.

Since the Israeli food revolution began, you can now buy falafel mix in Trader Joe’s – one of the most popular food stores for foodies across the US. According to their own public relations, it is a store full of unique and interesting products where buyers travel the world searching for products they think are exceptional. Like Dill Pickle Mini Falafel, 40 balls for $4.29. Buyer beware, not kosher.

But their Bamba is. And nothing says Israeli snack food better than Bamba. And at Trader Joe’s, Bamba also comes dipped in dark chocolate.

Certain foods, like olives, dates and almonds were long considered to be of Middle Eastern origin. Courageous chefs experimented with them in their everyday cooking. And then, along came hummus. And Sabra Humus, with its Israeli-sounding name, lit up the market.

Founded in Queens and then bought by the Israeli Strauss food company. Today, Sabra alone sells 16 varieties of hummus and they have spawned countless other competitors and copycats. They are by far the largest hummus provider in the US.

As for Pereg – fierce Pereg fans no longer need to travel to Mahaneh Yehudah to purchase the delectable spices. In ubiquitous circular bottles, Pereg spices can be found not just in kosher food establishments, but in supermarkets and in specialty food shops. Chefs and wannabe chefs pluck those bottles off the shelves without even noticing that they are made in Israel.

And then, there is za’atar, the spice blend that is featured in so much Israeli cooking and now, in international cooking, as well. While there is a claim that za’atar is not truly Israeli, that Israel expropriated the spice blend, that claim is born out of ignorance.

What these naysayers do not understand is that the majority of Israelis are descendants of Jews who fled Arab lands. And with them came the culture and the cooking of those lands. Today, za’atar is so widely used in cooking, that even McCormick, a global leader in the spice market, sells an organic version.

In other words, Israeli food has come of age internationally. The people, the products, and the places have exploded. And to that I say: Enjoy! Be’tayavon!

The writer is a columnist and social and political commentator. Watch his TV show Thinking Out Loud on the Jewish Broadcasting Service. His latest book is Thugs.