The Israeli Way: Dining & Wine(ing)

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With the Eurovision upon us and summer blossoming in Israel, it is a vibrant and inspiring time to indulge in all the fruits that Israel has to offer. Perfectly pair all the cultural happenings on hand with some local wining and dining

The year 2019 marks a high point for Israeli cuisine. The French Foreign Ministry’s list of the world’s 1,000 finest restaurants includes no less than 11 from Israel, while Israeli chefs deliver the message about their country’s fine food to the world’s culinary capitals. Fresh agricultural produce, balanced and healthy nutrition, and the influence of cultures from the East and West come together on the plate making a gastronomic experience that’s joyful, colorful, and surprising – and it is sweeping the world. 

The roots of Israeli cuisine precede the founding of the modern state in 1948. With the birth of the country, immigrants from all over the world – especially from post WWII Eastern Europe after World War II, from Yemen, Iraq, Persia (Iran), and North Africa – each brought their culinary heritage stretching back generations to this tiny strip of Middle Eastern land. The local population added to the mix, with food from Arab-Galilean kitchens, and from Jerusalem.   

The early years of the state were characterized by war, the shadow of war, and a constant struggle for economic survival. There was little time, much less energy or resources, for any heed towards creative food. It’s not surprising, therefore, that during the first decades of the country’s existence, the separate cuisines brought by the ingathering of exiles existed in parallel isolation, each within its own community – gefilte fish and sofrito, strudel and malawah. The varied options rarely met.

Haim Yossef

It was only when Israel had established itself that restaurants opened and served as an integral part of the texture of life. In the 1970s and early 80s, Israeli dining focused on ethnicity – there were French restaurants, Balkan coffee shops, Middle Eastern grilled meat, even Chinese food.  

If there’s a turning point in the story of Israel cuisine, one can point to 1985, when Keren opened in Tel Aviv in 1985. Haim Cohen, today one of the pillars of contemporary Israeli cuisine, but then a young chef, brought together his gastronomic experience garnered in France with the Syrian-Turkish influences and flavors of his childhood. The Israeli public was captivated with dishes like goose liver in tehina and other fusion creations of the talented and thriving chef. When its first quarters became too small, Keren moved to a beautiful wooden building in Jaffa’s American Colony, where Cohen continued to develop his repertoire with offerings like crab burekas or a fan of beef fillet and goose liver on Muskat wine gel, together with vintages from an extensive wine cellar.

The year 1985 marked another revolutionary moment in Israeli gastronomy with the emergence of Israeli wines. The Golan Heights Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, only in its second vintage, was awarded the Israeli industry’s first gold medal; the world discovered that Israel was able to produce wine of high quality, worthy of any fine palate.

The wealth of raw materials, creativity, and the openness of the local community, hungry for culinary innovation, laid the foundations for the golden age of Israeli restaurants in the 1990s. Among those emerging during this period were Eyal Shani, one of the most successful Israeli chefs of all time, who placed tomatoes from Hebron, fresh herbs gathered by hand in the Jerusalem Hills, and fish caught directly from the sea to his Oceanus restaurant in Jerusalem, where they were served with simple genius as tomato sashimi and fish carpaccio. The restaurant’s high prices didn’t faze customers, many of whom made the pilgrimage from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to experience the innovative, promising cuisine. Today, Shani is one of the owners of Tel Aviv’s successful HaSalon, a branch of which opened a few weeks ago in New York, and of HaMiznon, a chain of pita eateries that has spread from Tel Aviv to New York, Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne. In parallel, the field of artisanal baking has also opened up; chef-baker Erez Komarovsky’s Lehem Erez chain represents the upgrade with its handmade, sourdough bread.  

Tel Aviv Eurovision wine map, Golan Heights Winery © Avner Elkaras

The 1990s were marked by significant progress by the Golan Heights Winery. The approach to cultivating vineyards changed direction: instead of developing large expansive vineyards in a green and pleasant landscape, the winery began to emphasizing a more precise approach, and a slender appearance of the vines, which in the final analysis, produced more intensely flavored wines. The winery began taking advice from international experts on the proper care of vineyards and on modern wines, leading the industry ahead into the 21st century.

The boutique winery revolution began in Israel in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. Hundreds of small wineries sprouted up, pouring surprisingly good wines onto the market, building a stable base for the continued flourishing of the industry. The Golan Heights Winery took the boutique idea to the vineyard, producing concentrated and powerful single-vineyard wines, which remain the main force behind today’s premium and super-premium wines. 

Israeli cuisine has taken on a more popular visage in advance of the next decade, without making concessions on creativity and tradition. Chefs have incorporated techniques from French and Italian kitchens with cooking based on their grandmothers’ and communal recipes to create an interesting and stimulating mix. Machneyuda, the Jerusalem restaurant, has defined the next stage in Israeli cuisine with bold new dishes in original presentations including polenta and creamed porcini mushrooms in a glass jar. Additionally, Middle Eastern music, customers who climb onto the tables to dance, generous chasers, waitstaff and cooks who join in the festivities, have become synonymous with Israeli dining. Largely, Machneyuda is a defining expression of contemporary Israeli cuisine, its color and vitality, a landmark for Israeli chefs in 2019 – talented professionals who are aware of international culinary trends but at the same time are dedicated to local cooking and tradition. Modern Israeli cuisine does not fear looking outside the box. It connects to the past, the present, and the future, with prime local ingredients, a warm and open spirit, and an optimistic vision, creating food bringing happiness to the body and soul.

Where Culture Meets Food:

Indulge in the top Eurovision songs of all time with the best local restaurants and wine by Golan Heights Winery. Celebrate Eurovision in style; take a look at this special menu of options at various Tel Aviv hotspots combining prior Eurovision song winners with a fitting wining and dining experience. Eurovision is an ideal way to live it up with the best of all worlds. 

Mezizim, Mezizim Beach

Gamla Sauvignon Blanc Reserve: The coolest wine, perfectly fitting this weird name for an equally cool song

France Gall – Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son (1965)

La Mer, Bograshov Beach

Gamla Chardonnay: Chardonnay that has it all: fruit, body, and texture.

Dana  All Kinds of Everything (1970)

HaKovshim, 48 HaKovshim St 

Yarden Pinot Gris: We’ve been waiting for this wine for so long!

Gali Atari & The Milk and Honey  Hallelujah (1978)

Leyla Bar, 55 HaKovshim St 

Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon-MerlotReserve: This wine rocks!

Riva - Rock Me (1989)

Lalaland, Gordon Beach 

Gamla Brut Reserve: N.V - Because it’s on the water(loo)

ABBA - Waterloo (1974)

Gazoz, Jerusalem Beach 

Yarden Gewürztraminer: Drink this wine all night long 
Secret Garden - Nocturne (1995)

Masada, Jerusalem Beach 

Yarden Chardonnay: Never leave without this bottle in hand

Céline Dion - Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi (1988)

Goldman Court, 6 Nahum Goldman St

Gamla Viognier-Chardonnay Reserve: For a wine that is a true celebration of life

Sandra Kim - J’aime La Vie (1986)

Beach Club, 5 Herbert Samuel St 

Yarden Sauvignon Blanc: I love you Sauvignon Blanc

Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta - A-Ba-Ni-Bi

Hilton Beach 

Gamla Syrah Reserve: This wine gives you a big boom and a bang

Lulu – Boom Bang A Bang (1969) 

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