The Affects of a Culture on Local Cuisine

Recently I was reading a journalistic paper for an assignment at college, and stumbled upon how this works in Israel. The article was about how the effects of local culture on the local cuisine. So what is Israeli cuisine? How does the culture affect the food and wine in Israel?

So to answer these questions we need to take a look back at what has happened in this country before it became a state. The state has been around for 67 years, and it has been ruled by so many regimes before we won it back. That is when it all started for the Jewish nation in Israel. Thousands of immigrants came off the boats from countries like: Poland, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, France, Italy, Iraq, Iran, Germany and many more. This is when we started creating an identity for the new state. All at once everyone brought the tastes they love from their countries to here.

so 67 years later, has all this defined what Israeli cuisine is today? In my opinion, no. We are still a young state trying to find its identity so there is no real Israeli cuisine. But, there are all of those dishes that really represents what every immigrant that moved here has brought with them and basically has created a fusion of foods that everyone in the this country eats. Whether it’s Ashkenazi Jews eating Sfardic food and Sfardi Jews eating Italian cuisine. Things like Cholent or Chamin, same dish different interpretation. Same for a big doughy ball in your soup whether it’s Kibbeh or Kneidels. Different types of stuffed vegetables, is another great example. Sadly what is called Israeli Salad is really an Arab salad and Israeli couscous is really little balls of pasta.

So what are those dishes that I’m referring to?

  • Kibbeh, Matbucha, Felafel, Tehini- All over the Middle East
  • Shakshukah, Chraimeh-  Tunisia
  • Hummus, Tabooleh-  Lebanon
  • Shwarma, Bourekas- Turkey
  • Croissants- France
  • Couscous, Tajine- Morooco
  • Kneidelach, Kugel, Deli meat, Goulash-Eastern Europe
  • Schug, Jachnun- Yemen
  • Sabich, Sambusak, Kebab-Iraq
  • Pasta, Pizza, Bolognese, Meatballs- Italy
  • Feta- Greece
  • Yellow rice- Iran
  • Hamburgers- USA

All of these things have become part of the mainstream cuisine in Israel, and I feel that we can all agree that all of these dishes and food items is what affects the local cuisine in Israel. By mixing and combining and interpretation of all of these great foods is what really makes up a great foundation that will one day be defined as Israeli cuisine.

Enjoy!

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My trip down to the Bodega

 

 

This is my blog post that was published on yeahthatskosher.com! Enjoy!
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If any of you have visited Gush Etzion lately, you will notice that the culinary scene has had a change, after many20141113_220948 years of only having coffee shops and dairy eateries. People demanded meat restaurants and Menachem Katz delivered. An Efrat native, who wanted to be a lawyer but ended up in the food industry for many years, and eventually fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant. He got his culinary education under renowned Israeli chef Yossi ben Dayan at the Hadassah college. His passions are food and music and that’s what brought him to open the Bodega.

20141113_211814Menachem decided to call the place the Bodega because at a bodega you can get your daily fix. Originally wanted to call it Avocado but “Bodega” was catchier because the abstract to the east coast. Located in the Efrat shopping mall where a supermarket used to be (ironicly), the Bodega offers a unique fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. You can order sushi and a burrito in the same place. The main crowd that we met at the Bodega was a young and hip crowd, whether singles or young couples, everyone came to enjoy not only a good meal but also a live show. When I was there, there was a live jazz band scatting away while playing great music. It was a bit loud for the size of the place but still nice to get live entertainment in an area where it never existed.

We started with a Saki sour that was delicious, after that we moved on a beer taster. They hold many beers that are made in locally in Israel on tap: Dancing camel, Shapira and more.20141113_212523 All the beers were really good, from the IPA to the lagers. The rest of the alcohol menu is also great, from different bottled beers to cocktails.

The food menu at the restaurant is different than your regular menu because of the cuisine fusion. We ordered chili fries, sushi and hot wings. The hot wings where deep fried to perfection and coated with a sauce that was spicy, but in the right manner. When you feel the heat at the back of your throat and doesn’t burn your tongue so you can’t enjoy the rest of your meal. The sushi was very good. I liked the way he put a jalapeño chili on top of one of the rolls to really get the fusion vibe. The chili fries were different than just any fries. They are seasoned battered French fries, which by concept is a great idea. The chili topping was nice but a bit under seasoned and the fries turned into one big chunk of fries.

20141113_221256For the mains we ordered many different items: Steak salad that was cooked to a perfect medium rare; Chicken salad that was seasoned nicely. The tortilla chips were a very nice addition to make the salad crunchy.  The burritos are made from premium cuts of beef and wrapped nicely with rice and beans. I personally ordered a burger done medium and a beef hot dog.  The hamburger I ordered wasn’t the greatest, it was well done which dried out the20141113_220941 hamburger. On the other hand the hot dog was on point. Covered with pico de gallo and sauerkraut it was the highlight of my night. The service was a bit slow but they were swamped that night.

The Bodega is a one of a kind concept that fits the Gush Etzion crowd. Live music, good food, what else do you need to enjoy a great night out?!

Is Bardak the best pizza in Jerusalem?

20150105_145902Pizza, simple, right? You take some dough, tomato sauce, cheese, some toppings and bake it in an oven, or grill until it turns brown on the bottom, right?
WRONG! Pizza today is a much more elaborate dish than just putting sauce, cheese and some canned toppings on the dough. The dough needs the right flour that has high gluten content and can stretch without tearing. The sauce can be a red sauce or a white sauce, the tomatoes used in the sauce and most importantly the sauce to dough ratio. This will tell if the pizza will get crisp and firm or become soggy and fall apart. The cheese, it needs to be mozzarella cheese in any type of form (fresh or grated) for the base of any good pizza. Why mozzarella? It is a very neutral cheese flavor wise; 20150105_145850it lets you taste the sauce without overpowering everything else. And last but not least, the toppings. The toppings combination is what separates a good pizza from a great pizza. Having the right combination, like the classic fresh tomatoes, basil and olives with parmesan cheese.
How is this related to Bardak Bar & Pizza? They are rated #1 on trip advisor as Jerusalem’s best restaurant. That is some feat beating 485 other restaurants in the process. But is that true? So I went to find out myself.
First walking in to the place, it has a good vibe to it. It’s a place where you can hang out with friends drink a beer and get a slice of pizza. The menu has many different options of pizza pies while the prices are very decent for a high-end 20150105_145855pizza pie. An occurrence that was on the menu was hard-boiled eggs? The waitress said that the clientele really like it. The variety of beers is amazing there (40 beers on tap). I don’t get it but if the customers keep on coming for it, keep it on the menu. So me and my friends ordered a pie (69-75 shekels) and went half and half with the toppings, half a Nachlaot pie(eggplant and fresh mozzarella) and half Cheese Bar pie (4 types of cheese). It took a bit long to get the pie and the results were mixed. The crust on the pie was not crunchy, it was chewy the sauce ratio was 20150105_151530excellent but there wasn’t much cheese to go on top. The eggplant topping was nice but the cheese topping was disappointing. I couldn’t taste any of the other cheeses, and to make it worse, I had to add more parmesan cheese to the cheese slice to get more flavor. The variety of pies though is very large and I can understand why people love the place. Me personally though, I don’t think this is the best pizza I have ever had or the best pizza in Jerusalem but I feel that I will go back and try it again and maybe they can change my mind!

The Burrito King is not King

20150101_220525 (1)For a long time there has not been a Mexican restaurant in Jerusalem. For those who remember, there was a place called Amigo’s on Yoel Moshe Salomon st. that closed down about 15 years ago. The reason it shut down was because the Israeli crowd is not familiar with the Mexican flavors or cuisine. Which is weird because, Sefardic cooking and Mexican cooking have almost identical flavor profiles. Coriander, cumin, chili peppers and so on. So it really doesn’t make sense why Mexican cuisine never caught on. I feel that the reason it never caught on is because back then, people where afraid to try different cuisines. Asian, Mexican and even American cuisines have only caught on in the past 10 years around Israel. The reason for this is because of TV shows, more people travelling the world and also a demand for something different.

20150101_220514 (1)As you can imagine, I was very excited to hear that someone opened up a kosher Mexican restaurant in Jerusalem (I mean Mike’s place serves Mexican dishes, but it’s not a Mexican restaurant, or the Bodega in Efrat). I went to the Burrito King on a Thursday night with my good friend Mitch and went to Emek Refaim street where it’s located. Upon entering the place it really represents Mexico at it’s finest. The colors of the place are the colors of the flag and the menu is printed on the wall. I asked the manager what was good on the menu, and he ordered for us a chili con carne burrito, a chicken fajita, chili fries and the beer was half off so we also got two beers.

Sadly, the cook doesn’t understand how to cook Mexican food. There was no Mexican flavors in the food we ordered. The heat source of dishes came from black pepper and not jalapeno peppers, the chili tasted more like a bolognese sauce with beans and not like chili, and the fajita was just very messy, the burrito was mushy. A burrito is supposed to be like a shwarma, firm and able to hold not mushy. The flavors weren’t bad it just didn’t taste like Mexican food. The prices are reasonable and affordable, but if you are looking for an authentic Mexican meal, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

It’s such a shame because all they need to do is swap out a couple of ingredients, do a better presentation and they really can be on the path to success.

 

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Mizi is a name of a cat, but here it’s all about the beef!

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I was doing research in the Machane Yehuda shuk for my next article for theculturetrip.com, and it was really hard not to get hungry quickly while walking down the alleyways of fresh food goodness. From the beautiful fresh vegetables to the fresh fish and beef, my mouth was watering from the second I got off the bus.

20141231_135114I was able to hold off for an hour before I felt that I needed to get some of the goodness surrounding me into my stomach. So, where do I go and sit down to eat? Too many different options! In the end I remembered that a friend of mine had mentioned a cool joint that sell great sandwiches called Mizi. I have heard also from different sources that the place was off the hook so I went in and talked to Itamar, the guy behind the counter. I asked him what was so special about i, and he answered that everything is purchased locally and all the meat is cooked fresh and from scratch, starting from the ground beef for the burgers to the roast-beef made of Rib eye and sirloin steak.

20141231_13502320141231_135951After schmoozing with Itamar for a little longer, my mouth turned to a waterfall, with all the cooking going behind the counter. I told Itamar to make me a burger and to top it off with some roast beef. I got to tell you, the burger was just spot on. A perfect medium rare cooked on a flat-top?! Perfection! Getting that crust on the outside and medium rare on the inside? That’s how all burgers in Israel should be made and not on the grill, especially if you are using fresh ground beef. It was one of the best burgers I have had, and I have eaten my share of burgers! To top it all off the roast beef was perfect as a topping, and also cooked medium rare. It was a great burger.
Anyone going to the shuk and needs his carnivoricale fix, Mizi is a must for you.