A Quick History of Israeli Cuisine: 1948 to Now
Updated: May 4
Israel is internationally known for its diverse, unique, and delicious food. It's pretty crazy how such a young country's cuisine became so popular around the world so fast. Let's learn a bit about our country's food history.
Have you ever wondered why so many Israelis eat eggplant as their main meal? No, it’s not because we have the most vegans per capita in the world. Israeli cuisine is composed of many different elements, all influenced by diverse society and cultures.
In its early years, the State of Israel faced enormous military and economic challenges. Thousands of immigrants flooded to Israel, both from Europe and the Middle East and created a strain on the economy. The period between 1948 to 1958 was one of food rationing and austerity, known as the Tzena.
With each Aliyah, ethnic groups brought with them their own traditional cooking but modified them due to scarce resources.
Israeli immigrants simulated the foods from their past, but with a twist. Eggplant substituted chicken livers in the chopped liver, turkey subbed in for veal in schnitzel for Ashkenazim, or lamb kebabs for Mizrahi Jews. Later on, influences from surrounding countries brought Arab cuisine to Israel, giving us the falafel that we love so much. Another import is the Austro-Hungarian strudel, a sweet pastry that has become so famous, it's now also the name Israelis use for the @ sign!
Israel is also known to have a broad diversity in agriculture, thanks to the varying climates in different areas and the constantly changing population. The European population during the 30s and 40s was accustomed to eating apples, plums, and cherries, while the Middle Eastern population was accustomed to eating dates, grapes, and olives.
Farmers began to try new techniques to grow different types of fruits and vegetables that otherwise wouldn’t have been planted, and much later, Israeli chefs would come up with innovative recipes to reflect these.
In the past two decades, Israelis have become even more open to new food experiences, and many Israeli chefs have flown all over the world to open restaurants. After being released from their IDF service, many Israelis fly abroad to East Asia and Latin America, picking up new ideas and tastes to bring back home.
The story of Israeli food is a direct reflection of its society - from deprivation and austerity to new developments and diversity. Israeli cuisine may be hard to pinpoint as one type, but it embraces all experiences and cultures, making it both interesting and exciting.