October 21, 2013

Israel — A Dynamic Kosher Nation

TEL AVIV — Last week I sat down with Michal Neeman (image at left) of the Israel Export Institute to discuss Israel’s increasingly dynamic food and predominantly kosher industry. She was preparing once again to lead an impressive group of Israeli food manufacturers at next week’s Kosherfest. They had just returned from a very successful appearance at the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne, Germany. She spoke of the $240 million in food exports to North America, much of it to the kosher community in the US and Canada. But for me, there is nothing like experiencing kosher in Israel with visits to some of the upscale supermarkets (i.e. Rami Levi, Shufersal this time), the Mahne Yehuda market in Jerusalem, the upscale Scala Restaurant in Jerusalem Citadel and the Red Hefer Restaurant (just two of many), the kosher breakfasts at major hotels (a new Waldorf Astoria is to open in Jerusalem soon), the food pages in major newspapers, the cooking shows on Cable TV and more. It is perhaps discussions that I had with a few chefs that was most telling. They all claimed that to them kosher was incidental. There are ample ingredients and with proper rabbinic supervision, any world class dish could be prepared. When I walked in Mahne Yehuda, I met one of the chefs literally filling up a van with fresh ingredients, including spices and vegetables. I still make it my business to have a falafel at Shlomo’s in the Geula section of Jerusalem, a practice I first initiated more than 45 years ago. Somehow, the pita, hummus, falafel balls, salad and tehini don’t taste as good anywhere in the world. Israel may be a melting pot, having absorbed Jews from all over the world. But with each visit, I am becoming more convinced that there really is an Israeli cuisine.