Israeli food became too middle-class
Israeli food became too middle-class. It’s all very well flaunting the latest French cuisine, but if I wanted to eat it, I would head to Paris and not Tel Aviv. With everything from patisseries to boulangeries now on offer, it is hard to know which way to turn without crossing a croissant or bumping into a baguette.
The covered market in the harbour (Shuk Hanamal) has become bourgeois in the extreme. The fromagerie stocks cheeses from Brest to Camembert, and it sits between a butcher offering the choicest charcuterie, and a liquor store that contains the finest French wines. This is not only to the great satisfaction of the large wave of French immigrants, but also to the delight of the Israeli middle-classes, keen to spend their hi-tech shekels on the finest food the world can offer, as Francophiles everywhere would agree.
It is not that I am not a lover of French food, and indeed Fall things French, I just don’t want to eat it in Israel. And I object to its wide-ranging influence throughout the country’s restaurants. Nor is it my only complaint. There are now far too many Italian-style restaurants dotted along the boulevards of the White City. If I wanted to eat pasta I would eat it in Rome. Not sitting outside a kiosk, where my options consist of penne or ravioli, in some kind of limpid sauce. This was not the reason why the Palmach stormed the Latrun; even Dizengoff’s stomach would be turning in his grave.
I am too young to have experienced the nadir of Israeli cooking, those dark days from the Early State when an over-cooked schnitzel and a boiled potato represented a lunch for which to be grateful. Rather my notion of Israeli cooking is a veritable pot-pourri of exciting flavours from the Orient and North Africa, be it Libyan Chraime chez Guetta in Jaffa, a stodgy Tunisian pkaila in an old kitchen parlour, or the citric perfumes and rice of any Persian dish at a rat-infested but kosher restaurant near the Old Bus Station. To taste the tangy aroma of a Hamustan soup, or the gelatinous Hilbe amid a Marak Regel (Cow’s Foot Soup) – this is why I am a Jew, and a gastronomically Sephardi Jew at that.
For those of us who live in the Diaspora, and especially for those like me who feel bound by the laws of Kashrut, Israel is a gastronomical adventure. I have been lucky enough to have received a full education in street-food, both in the narrow lanes of Jerusalem, and the wider, straighter boulevards of Tel Aviv. I know what means hummus. Those of you who did not taste both Ali Caravan’s and Abu Tayir’s chick-peas, can neither understand that statement, nor truly comprehend the phenomenon of a country where the search for the finest hummus is a popular show on national television. Once you have tried a real hummus – you will never touch a supermarket tub ever again.
Israel has gathered Jews from all around the world, and never forced anyone to leave their cooking ladels at the immigration gate at Ben Gurion. I have tasted injera with the Ethiopians, Indian sambousek and Turkish bourekas – resplendent with eggs – on the market stalls of Ramla. Moroccan meat-balls, Kurdish kubbeh, Egyptian ful – not every food alliterates but it sure goes down a treat.
So Israelis, please listen. No more sushi bars, where the fish is not fresh and the rice somewhat soggy. No more pizzerias – with plastic cheese and those too classical toppings. And please, no more French petits restos, ca ne me plait pas la haute cuisine! Vive la revolution – reclaim the streets ! Next year in Jerusalem, I want to enjoy a knafe not a vol-au-vent, to follow my nose sur la rue, not keep it high in the air!