Life on the Other Side: An Edible Obsession

When I first moved to Israel, I had to travel to Tel Aviv to buy balsamic vinegar. Now, there are at least five varieties on an average supermarket shelf. Boy, have times changed!

Israel has become a culinary wonderland. Not just balsamic vinegar but almost every type of food can be found. We’re not quite at the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s status – but pretty close!

And while we’re on the topic of food (and when are Jews not on the topic of food?) it’s not just the variety of foods that can be bought here, it’s what’s being served in the restaurants and talked about in the news and blogged about in several languages, published by almost every chef and available in kitchen and gourmet shops that are opening in every city, town, moshav and kibbutz. Food! Books! Recipes! Ingredients! Tools! We’ve become a nation of foodies.

As an example, in the last month alone two groups of international food bloggers were brought to Israel as guests of different sponsors. They were schlepped from one end of the country to the other – tasting, sampling, marketing, dining and wining. They had private dinners in upscale restaurants and ate with their hands in the shuk. The general reaction? Wow! Israel is definitely a place for foodies!

The irony is that one really can’t say there is a definite Israeli food or style of cooking. We have people from so many countries here (something like 70) that the traditional foods run the full gamut. It’s a melting pot that’s still simmering. Around holiday time there’s gefilte fish for the Ashkenazim and chraime for the Sephardim. Some people serve dried fruits after a meal; others stuff apricots and dates and serve them before the meal. Within a half-mile of any shuk, you can probably dine on specialties from Libya, Egypt, Spain, Morocco, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Russia. And let’s not even mention the gelato possibilities!

We’ve had fusion and Thai, Mexican and molecular. Cookbooks are the most popularly sold book and new ones seem to be popping up weekly.

There’s more. The food extravaganza extends to the arts. Recently, Tel Aviv was home to a fabulous exhibition dedicated to food photography. Dan Lev, a world-class photographer based in Tel Aviv, came up with an exciting idea – to pair up the country’s most talented chefs, let them choose a food according to color and something that inspires them, bring in food stylists and shoot! The results were thrilling and captured the attention of the country’s top media.

So whether they’re serving it up in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market or an expensive restaurant in Tel Aviv or on the walls of a Jaffa warehouse, Israel has made it on the food map. I recommend that everyone come on over and have a bite!

Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit www.annekleinberg.com and www.casacaesarea.com.

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