Israeli Food After 1948

Once Israel was established in 1948, it had a daunting task on its hands: feeding hundreds of new citizens, many of whom were refugees.

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With the Golan Heights Come Wine and Grapes

When the Golan Heights were annexed in 1967, apples--one of the few fruits that the Israelis were not adept at growing--were planted there and thrived in the cold nights and the high, dry altitude. Israelis also had the same success with grapes at the Golan Heights Winery, close to the Syrian border. These new varietals were of a much higher quality than Baron de Rothschild's plantings had been at his low-lying coastal wineries a hundred years earlier. The Golan Heights Winery, jointly owned by the nearby kibbutzim that supplied the grapes, introduced its first vintage in 1983, from grapes planted ten years earlier. These kosher wines have been winning sil­ver and gold medals in international competitions ever since.

In 1973, Dr. Itzhak Adate, a scientist with the Vulcani Institute in Rehovot [an Israeli city] went on a professional tour to New Zealand where he tasted the kiwi, which had been introduced from China. Bringing a few cuttings and seeds back, he asked the kibbutzniks at Kibbutz Ammiad, located down the road from his home, to plant them. By 1980 the first kiwis had come to the market. With the abundant crop, Scottish-born Jeff Marks, a wine hobbyist and a member of the kibbutz, suggested that kiwi wine might taste as good as cordials made from pears, berries, and plums. Today, the kibbutz exports kiwi wine to countries throughout the world. Ironically, although Israel's agricultural industry is at the forefront of the global marketplace, kibbutz involvement has become proportionally less, with less than two percent of Israel's population now living on the kibbutzim.

Throughout the Middle East, where emotions run high, politics also plays a major role in the complicated global market. Since the 1980s, for example, when all trade with Iran was blocked, Israel has become the main exporter of Iranian variants of mint, parsley, and other herb seeds for Iranian-American growers.

In the past two decades, with a general rise in disposable income and the elimination of travel taxes imposed on the struggling economy, Israelis have become open to new experiences in travel and food. After their two-year mandatory ser­vice, many young Israeli soldiers go abroad, most frequently to travel in East Asia or Latin America and to spend some time working in the United States. Many of these young people return home with new culinary tastes, as did American Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s. A number of them have become chefs, schooled in international cuisine and influential in the development of modern Israeli cooking.

Biblical Foods

Despite their global lifestyles, the new Israeli chefs still cultivate a link to the foods of the Old Testament. Grapes, dates, lentils, and chickpeas are but a few of the ancient ingredients that have captured their imaginations in producing signa­ture dishes. With constant waves of immigration, Israel is rapidly incorporating the native cuisines of its new populations.

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Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan is the author of several cookbooks, contributes articles on international ethnic food and special holiday features to The New York Times, Food Arts, Gourmet, and the B'nai B'rith International Jewish Monthly. Visit her website here.