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The Many Cultures of Food in Israel

The Many Cultures of Food in Israel

Israel has always been a huge melting pot of cultures, from the many types of ethnic Jews who live there to the birthright travelers who stay after their visit, not to mention the influence from surrounding countries. This, of course, bleeds into the food (yes, including our national food: falafel) and creates a giant multicultural grub scene - especially in Tel Aviv, where cultural and vegan food is aplenty. Today, we're going over some of the most famous foods from the multitude of cultures in Israel. 

1. Ashkenazim

The Many Cultures of Food in Israel

Ashkenazim (sing: Ashkenazi) are probably what most people think of when they think "Jewish". Ashkenazim are the largest Jewish ethnogroup with around 2.8 million residing in Israel today. Ashkenazi food, aka matzo balls, gefilte fish, and so on is also one of the more recognizable images of Jewish cuisine. With so many Ashkenazim living in the homeland, there's no doubt that their food would influence Israel's overall food scene. One of the most well-known foods among Ashkenazim is matzo/matzah, the Kosher for Passover food that makes up the renowned Matzo Ball Soup. The food of the Ashkenazi people often gets a bad reputation for being "bland", but I believe the people who tell Ashkenazim their food is bland have never had a good Ashkenazi made brisket, cholent, latkes, etc. The Ashkenazi culture is full of influence from Eastern Europe, including Poland, Russia, and more. It shows when you think for a second about how much crossover there is - take cheese blintzes for example! All in all, Ashkenazi food is the most well-known Jewish cuisine - and for a good reason!

2. Sephardim

The Many Cultures of Food in Israel
The Sfardi: a lesser known than Ashkenazim but still relatively well-known Jewish ethnic group. Sephardim are also known as Hispanic Jews (often coming from Spain and/or Portugal). You may think that because the Sfardi and Ashkenazi are both Jewish ethnicities that they have the same food, rituals, customs, etc. But, you'd be wrong. Sephardim follow their own traditions, often stemming from Babylonia. When the Sfardi brought their unique traditions back to Israel from the diaspora, it big-time influenced Israel's cuisine. Dishes such as bourekas, charoset, cassola, buñuelos, and so many more have a very significant presence today in both Israel's restaurants and its street food scene.

3. Mizrahim 

The Many Cultures of Food in Israel
Mizrahim are most likely one of the larger Jewish ethnic groups a surprising amount of people haven't heard of, despite it being in the top 4 of common Jewish ethnicities. The Mizrahi and Sfardi often get confused as their customs can be similar, but make no mistake: Mizrahim and Sephardim have significant differences. The Mizrahi Jews hail from the Middle East, such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Syria. As for the Mizrahi influence on Israel's food, it's relatively extensive. Consider dishes such as kubbeh, sarma, sahlab (image), malabi, and a huge amount of others not mentioned here. Kubbeh has become so popular for Shabbos dinner in Israel, yet a large amount of people have no idea it's from Iraqi-Jewish origin! 
4. Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews)
The Many Cultures of Food in Israel
Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, are perhaps one of the most under appreciated Jewish ethnic groups. They may be a smaller population and not as well-known in mainstream Jewish culture, but their food sure packs a huge punch! Ethiopian food is some of the most delicious food you'll taste and the Beta Israel Jews that have made Aliyah from the diaspora have made sure that Israel has a small but established Ethiopian food locale (such as Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant in Tel Aviv). Some Ethiopian cuisine favorites include wat, beyaynetu, injera, tibs, etc. We have to hand it to the Beta Israel for making Israel's food selection that much more diverse!

5. Aliyah Makers, Birthright-ers, and Americans

The Many Cultures of Food in Israel
The Jewish-American Deli: classic spots for Pastrami sandwiches, pickles, matzo ball soup, and other treasures! The influence of Aliyah makers, Birthright travelers, and Americans in general on Israel's restaurants is more significant than one might think. The most prominent display of American influence on Israeli food culture might be The Elvis American Cafe, located in Neve Ilan. The Elvis American Cafe hosts a large amount of American food with an Israeli twist! While Americans may come from the diaspora to Israel partially for its food, that doesn't stop some travelers from being homesick. Thus, the need for Israeli-American food in Israel arose and stuck itself right in the middle of one of the most diverse food scenes in the world. 

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