Israeli cuisine exemplifies the true melting pot that is Israel. Hailing from over 80 countries, Jews have returned to their ancient land, bringing with them the foods and recipes they developed during their wanderings. These traditions have commingled with other Jewish recipes, Jewish dietary laws, and the native ingredients of the Land of Israel to create a dynamic cuisine.
All cuisines are a result of the interplay of many forces–historical, sociological, and agricultural–and Israeli cuisine is no different. Therefore, many foods that are typically considered “Israeli” originated from the wider cuisine of the Middle East–including the popular falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls in pita) and the famous “Israeli salad” of cucumbers and tomatoes in distinctively small pieces. In addition, Jewish traditions of Eastern Europe play an integral role in Israeli cuisine, with ingredients such as sour cream and dishes such as borsht (a cold soup made from beets).
As Israeli agriculture developed and new kinds of fruits and vegetables appeared on the market, cooks and chefs began to experiment and devise new dishes with them.
Since the late 1970s, there has been an increased interest in international cuisine, cooking with wine and herbs, and vegetarianism. A more sophisticated food culture in Israel began to develop and opening of restaurants serving cuisines such as Chinese, Italian and French, encouraged more Israelis to dine out.
The economic recovery of the mid-1980s and the increasing travel abroad by average citizens were factors contributing to a greater interest in food and wine. High quality, locally produced ingredients became increasingly available. The successful development of aquaculture ensured a steady supply of fresh fish, and the agricultural revolution in Israel led to an overwhelming choice and quality of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Ethnic heritage cooking, both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, has made a comeback with the growing acceptance of the heterogeneous society. Apart from home cooking, many ethnic foods are now available in street markets, supermarkets and restaurants, or are served at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and people increasingly eat foods from ethnic backgrounds other than their own. Overlap and combinations of foods from different ethnic groups is becoming standard as a multi-ethnic food culture develops.
The 1990s saw an increasing interest in international cuisines. Sushi, in particular, has taken hold as a popular style for eating out and as an entrée for events. In restaurants, fusion cuisine, with the melding of classic cuisines such as French and Japanese with local ingredients has become widespread. In the 2000s, the trend of “eating healthy” with an emphasis on organic and whole grain foods has become prominent, and medical research has led many Israelis to re-embrace the Mediterranean diet, with its touted health benefits.