As a food editor I enjoy a good story as much as anyone. But, what I love most is getting to eavesdrop on a conversation between people who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to food.
On this week’s episode of “Taste Matters,” a podcast hosted by James Beard VP Mitchell Davis, we get to hear Israeli food expert Janna Gur and Davis joke about chopped liver becoming a trendy food in Tel Aviv and find out why so few Israelis know what a knish is. But, more importantly, Gur breaks down what is going on in the Israeli food scene and argues that the Holy Land is at the beginning of its second food revolution. But what does that mean for diners? Listen to the full podcast below to find out.
On every plane that touches down in Israel, there is inevitably a group of people who head straight to the Kotel — no matter the hour, they feel they haven’t arrived in the Holy Land until they pray at the wall. I save the Kotel for later and make a pilgrimage straight to Shuk Machaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem’s longstanding market. Here, small wooden stalls are piled high daily with fresh produce grown around the country, fluffy pitas are turned straight from the ovens into bags for shoppers and the halvah men entice shoppers with samples from their endless mountains of the sweet sesame snack. Members of diverse communities converge here, particularly in the hours before Shabbat. It’s one of the divided city’s few points of common ground. It is my Jerusalem.
When I’m away from Israel, I follow the news of the shuk as closely as an outsider can. And even 6,000 miles away, the name Assaf Granit and his restaurant Machneyuda (which shares the same name as the market, but a different spelling) has rung loud and clear.
In 2009 Granit and his partners Uri Navon and Yossi Elad opened a restaurant located just beyond the edge of the market inspired by this bustling place. The chefs change the menu twice a day — an impressive feat for any restaurant, but even more notable in a country where the import of ingredients from other corners of the earth is often challenging.
New Israeli food is taking over New York. [New York Magazine]
Planning a swanky wedding in London? Harrods is now catering kosher simchas! [Jewish Chronicle]
Three words: Smores Ice Cream. [Food52]
Incase that doesn’t suit you, here are 20 other desserts, perfect for Memorial Day celebrations. [Serious Eats]
Smithsonian Magazine just released it’s annual food issue. Check out pieces by Michael Pollan, Ruth Reichl and Mimi Sheraton. [Smithsonian Magazine]
I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, land of the constant restaurant. I once heard that Toledo was a pilot city for new restaurant ventures. Mind you, I’m not talking the latest in gastronomy or raw food, I’m talking Applebee’s, Carraba’s Italian Grill, or BW3 (now known as Buffalo Wild Wings).
Meat, potatoes and, of course, corn were the staples of my food experience. An occasional trip to a Chinese restaurant that served General Tso Chicken was adventurous for me at that time. Though Toledo has a large Lebanese population, I didn’t have Middle Eastern food until I took a job at a restaurant conveniently located down the street from my house.
There’s nothing like dining with a local when traveling. A homecooked meal is often a welcome reprieve from a week of restaurant dinners and the insider tips you can glean from someone who lives there beat any tour book. If you’re not lucky enough to have friends or family in Israel (or even if you are), a new company called EatWith is your virtual insider friend.
Part supper club and part social experiment, the idea for EatWith came to founder Guy Michlin while on vacation with his family in Greece in 2011. “We always look for the authentic places [when we travel], but we couldn’t find them and fell into every possible tourist trap,” explained Michlin in a phone interview. “On this specific trip almost by accident I managed to get us an invitation to a local family for dinner and this was by far the highlight of the trip.”
Israeli-born and a graduate of Stanford Business School, Michlin had been on the lookout for a start-up idea, and he knew he was onto something. “When I came back to Israel ,” he recalls, “we started thinking about it and brainstorming. How can we take this unique experience and turn it into a business?”
Israeli-born Chef Shlomi Biton insists his Lower East Side hotspot Mezetto, which opened in October, is not a Middle Eastern or Jewish eatery. But its small plates — meze — bear those imprints, along with Balkan, Moroccan, and Sephardic flavors. Mezetto’s menu also reveals the influence of Biton’s rigorous studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris — and a stint in the high-precision kitchen of Spoon, Alain Ducasse’s Hong Kong fusion palace. Familiar ingredients surface in smart combinations, like a halvah parfait and falafel buns, his Asian-inspired, open steamed buns filled with a falafel ball, Israeli pickle salsa and harissa aioli.
While Biton still pines for his mother’s Moroccan cooking — and even consults her on food questions — he claims his goal is nothing less than “shattering” preconceptions of Mediterranean cuisine. The Forward caught up with Biton from Mezetto’s kitchen — and even shared his hummus recipe with us below.
Take a tasty tour through New York’s Holyland Market for Israeli staples from amba to za’atar. [Serious Eats]
Healthy, fall ingredients like carrots, quinoa and caraway seeds combine to re-imagine the traditional kugel four times over. [The New York Times]
Ever tried a vegan Reuben before? Locali, a “conscious convenience store” in Los Feliz, Calif., uses tofu, pickling spices and Daiya cheese for a clever, cruelty-free copy. [LA Weekly]
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver: statistics savant, presidential pick predictor … food blogger? His Burrito Bracket blog from back in the day puts tacos from his (and President Obama’s) Chicago home in an NCAA-style bracket. [Grub Street]
I’m going to be honest with you. I signed up for Birthright mostly because I wanted to spend ten days eating Israeli food. When I found out I was chosen for a summer 2012 trip, my daydreams were filled with visions of pistachio-studded halvah, mounds of falafel, juicy shawarma, and creamy hummus. You could say I was going on the trip for all the wrong reasons, that gorging oneself on Israeli delicacies was not a moral reason to take advantage of a free 10-day trip to the Holy Land. Well sometimes karma bites you back.
I arrived in Jerusalem on a breezy July night, accompanied by my best friend and about 40 other college students, still strangers to me. Jet-lagged and exhausted from the 11-hour flight, we trudged into the hostel’s dining room. My eyes perked up at the sight of roasted chicken, hummus, and juicy watermelon. Yes, this is why I had traveled for nearly half a day. I happily ate my dinner and played the obligatory name games with the group.
Not even 12 hours after the meal, I was struck with a certain discomfort. I’d been sick from traveling before, and I assured myself this little stomach upset would pass. I sullenly skipped out on the next morning’s breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and Israeli salad.
Jamie Geller is often called the “Kosher Rachael Ray.” But she wasn’t always a domestic goddess — or even kosher! After a successful career as a journalist and television producer, Geller got married and realized that she was “a disaster on wheels in the kitchen,” as she says.
Since learning her way around a stove, she’s brought her hard-earned personal and culinary lessons to the masses through a mini culinary empire with kosher cookbooks, web cooking shows, a magazine, and the popular Joy of Kosher website.
This week Geller and her family are picking up their family and leaving behind everything they know to move to Israel, all while documenting it in a reality mini-series called the Joy of Aliyah. I caught up with Geller before she made the move to talk about how she went from zero to hero in the kitchen, what she thinks of Israeli food and what lies ahead.
When folks think of Israel’s reigning culinary monarch, they think of the falafel. While this might indeed be true, behind every good falafel ball is an equally delicious and every bit as loved food that is far easier, and far more nutritious: tahini. Oh the tried and true tub of tahini, lurking in an Israeli pantry near you, so often overlooked, but nevertheless, so deeply loved.
Pronounced “t’hina” (the “t” and the throaty “h” blend together that it almost sounds like “trina”), tahini is an ancient Middle Eastern paste or butter that comes to us from the sesame seed. Traditionally the seeds are hulled. Although, unhulled tahini, celebrated for its higher calcium content, is also readily available in Israel. Humble, distinct and delightfully diverse, tahini is perhaps comparable to the United States’ ubiquitous peanut butter, but without all the sugar. High in copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, B1 and iron, and despite its high caloric numbers, tahini is most definitely a “health food.”
Living in Tel Aviv means that I take a lot of things related to food for granted. I know that when I go to the market, veggies will be much, much cheaper than packaged foods and fresher than most places in America. I know that nearly any time of day or night I can order a latte and sit with my computer for hours, without anyone rushing me to leave. I also know that the season for tomatoes is more similar to the one I grew up with in California than the one I got used to coping with in New York. Those are everyday kinds of things that I’ve learned after more than a year of living in Israel.
But last week I had the pleasure of exploring the food landscape of Israel from a new angle as a participant on the Israel Sustainable Food Tour, sponsored by Hazon and the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership. Jeremy Benstein of the Heschel Center crafted a tasty and interesting itinerary that kept us moving and eating across the country. I was treated to meals in restaurants I never would have found on my own, visited farms where folks are doing incredible work, and met outstanding people who are invested in food issues here in Israel. We explored themes that I spend a lot of time thinking about but less time engaging hands on.
Until recently, my conception of pita was probably similar to that of most Americans: thin, dry stuff that lacks in taste… a poor translation of Israel’s version. Anyone who has been to Israel or any Israeli restaurant with house-made pita knows what I’m talking about — a thick, spongy, warm little loaf that has a perfectly sized pocket that maintains its composure as you stuff it full of falafel. It’s a staple in Israel, but a luxury in America; a phenomenon that I was completely oblivious to until moving to New York City.
So imagine my alarm last week when out of nowhere, like a pregnant woman craving pickles, I needed Israeli pita. Every day. Lunch and Dinner. Maybe for a snack in between. My go-to places in New York were draining my wallet, those cardboard-like things from the grocery store weren’t going to cut it, and, oops, landlord forgot to install the wood-fired 1000-degree oven. Crap.
It all started in 1996, when Liora Gvion first wondered why the food served at a local restaurant in an Arab-Israeli town with a primarily Arab-Israeli clientele was the same as what was on the menu of Arab-owned restaurants that catered to Jewish Israelis. The sociologist of food, who lectures at the Kibbutzim College of Education and the Hebrew University, spent the next ten years, off and on, trying to figure out why this was so.
The result was a book, “B’gova Habeten” (“Abdominal Height”) published in 2006 about the political and social aspects of Palestinian food in Israel. The book will be released in English soon. Gvion spoke to the Jew and the Carrot about a related study she recently completed: “Cooking, Food and Masculinity: Palestinian Men in Israeli Society.”
This Saturday, a long overdue concept will make its debut at Manhattan’s Hester Street Fair: Israeli schnitzel with an urban-inspired twist. Schnitz NYC, a pop-up vendor, started by three childhood friends, Allon Yosha and siblings Donna and Yoni Erlich, will launch their business with two schnitzel sandwiches topped with unconventional condiments like daikon ginger relish and caramelized onion mustard.
“There’s a big educational component with schnitzel, in general, because a lot of people don’t know what schnitzel is,” said Yosha, a businessman with a lifelong passion for food. This isn’t to say that the word “schnitzel” is completely esoteric — with trendy schnitzel trucks on both sides of the country (and even in fantasy animation land, the food’s popularity is indeed growing. But for those who are still under the impression that schnitzel is “like a sausage or whatever,” they’ll be surprised to hear that they’ve likely had something like it — though it might have been called Milanese. Or Tonkatsu. Or, dare I say, a McNugget. The bottom line is, most cultures have a fried meat tradition, and while Italian and Southern American varieties may have already earned their fame, it’s time for Israel’s comfort meat to shine.
Israelis know a thing or two about the heat. Located in the Middle East, between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, amidst desert and blazing sun, summer begins in late April and lasts well into November. A staple of the long summer season is the naturally cooling limonana.
A simple drink, limonana is an innocent combination of lemonade with mint. The Hebrew language loves to combine words for the sake of efficiency and limonana is a perfect example. It melds the words for lemon (limon) and mint (nana), creating a fun new word in the process.
Besides its playful name, limonana also has a humorous origin story that dates back just 20 years, to the early 1990s. According to Israeli food expert and writer Janna Gur, the now ubiquitous beverage was the result of a fake ad campaign by Fogel Levine, one of Israel’s leading ad agencies. They put ads on the sides of buses advertising a beverage called “limonana ” and “they managed to generate huge buzz before revealing that it was a fictitious brand.”
In the final installment of our Chosen Chefs series, we head to New Orleans to catch up with chef Alon Shaya, executive chef of Domenica. Like all of the chefs we’ve profiled, Shaya is a member of the tribe who’s worth keeping on your radar. If we were the betting type, we could some James Beard Awards in his future.
To hear chef Alon Shaya tell it, Israeli food helped get him where he is today. The acclaimed executive chef of John Besh’s Italian restaurant Domenica in New Orleans, was born in suburban Tel Aviv but moved to Philadelphia when he was just 4 years old.
The child of an Israeli mother and Romanian father, some of Shaya’s earliest memories were of coming home from school and smelling the roasting peppers his grandmother cooked on a flame. “Those are the memories that made me fall in love with food,” said Shaya, 32.
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