In defining ancient Israeli cuisine, one can simply look to the Bible at the ancient Israelite’s diet and food culture. This includes wine drinking, the presence of bread and pastries, the use of olive oil, and more. Looking back at the abundance of the Promised Land, there are several key foods that shaped the cuisine. We know some of them today as the seven species: grapevine, wheat, barley, fig, pomegranate, olive, and dates. These are some of the key ingredients to Israel’s traditional food. Neighboring countries also influenced Israeli cuisine and its food culture along with the several ruling empires throughout history. Indeed, its rich history made it a culinary melting pot where dishes and cooking styles, infused from other countries. This is what is now known as the popular food in Israel.
The Ancient Times
History plays a role in shaping Israeli cuisine which spans much longer than the country’s modern history. The Bible would be a good gauge of how Israeli traditional food originated. The Bible’s dietary laws literally shaped the foundation of ancient Israeli cuisine. It determines what is good for eating and what is not. The majority of the permissible ingredients are healthy foods and still a key component of Israeli cuisine today.
Furthermore, cooking in ancient times meant no modern kitchen. Instead, the Israelites usually cooked in the open using iron plate, hot stones, hearth, and other earthenware. Their diet included vegetables, as well as meat boiled in a stew or roasted in an open fire. Bread made from wheat and barley were typically fried in olive oil or baked on hot stones in the open.
In addition, cooking vegetables, fish, and eggs in olive oil was common. Honey was a natural sweetener, adding flavor to cakes. Salt was also an important seasoning as mentioned in Leviticus 2:13 (NIV). “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.”
These simple cooking techniques developed over the years. As the land progresses, its people competently coped with the changing world while preserving their culture and traditions. The same goes for its food.
Modern Israeli Cuisine
At present, Israeli cuisine draws more attention on a global scale. As the Jewish people return home, new dishes become integrated into the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Yet, popular foods in Israel such as hummus, falafel, shawarma, shakshuka, and couscous remain unique.
Traditional cooking techniques are still evident with some modifications using modern cooking tools. It is continuously adapting particularly to the Jewish Mizrahi, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi traditions brought by the diaspora. Just like the Bible, grapes, dates, lentils, chickpeas, lamb, fish, milk, and honey Israelis still use them in their dishes. Today’s culinary trends are vegan and vegetarian-friendly due to their health benefits. So, Israeli cuisine becomes universally appealing.
Like any other cuisines today, Israeli cuisine continues to evolve but some things do remain the same. You can taste some of these foods from the Bible when you join our community. “The Seven Species” package gives you a taste of the ancient Israelite diet. Check out our other Bible-inspired packages featuring different Israeli artisanal food.