March 14, 2011

Israel as a New Kosher Foods Destination -

Who would have believed that many travelers now consider Israel as featuring some of the best kosher food in the world? Israel in many respects was for many years known as the torchbearer of the traditional foods, reflecting the diverse cultures of Jews from all over the world that make up the Jewish population of Israel. If you longed for grandma’s food, there was a good chance that you would find something close in Israel. Sephardic Jews never lost a beat as they easily transgressed the bordering Arab lands they left with their cuisine intact. Ashkenazic Jews similarly brought their “heimishe” (familiar, from the old home) dishes across the ocean.

But Israel has long since graduated from its early food labels and has of late emerged as a world-class food and wine center, certainly in terms of kosher and even glatt kosher. I visited nearly a half dozen relatively new upscale glatt kosher restaurants in Jerusalem and the experience was nothing short of extraordinary. Although Jerusalem can be a bit confusing for some with its many standards of kashrus that require a bit of knowledge, for the American traveler, many of these carry the familiar OU symbol of the Orthodox Union. Many Jerusalem eateries have in recent years upgraded their hekhsher to “Mehadrin” with recognized certifications, out of practical considerations for the large Orthodox (“haredi”) population in the city and the many tourists who desire the higher standard certifications.

All of the restaurants I visited can be noted for their exquisite dishes, magnificent presentation, and themed menus but my favorite was Papagaya. Located in the historic and of late colorful neighborhood of Talpiyot, Papagaya is based on the Brazilian concept of all you can eat. Diners are served nine (9) different types of meat and poultry, beginning with sausages and including a very tasty “beer beef.” The meats are cut in front of you and depending on what color (green or red) you place a cute little plastic salt-shaker look-alike, the waiter will either continue or discontinue cutting the beef (If you’re like me, you just had to try all of the meat and poultry). Similarly, Israel’s hotels have also of late taken their dishes to the next level, not to speak of the wines, which continue to win awards all over the world. The next time you’re looking for the ultimate kosher dining experience, you might just want to call your travel agent.