Biblically described as flowing with milk and honey, Israel’s food has its roots in both Jewish and Arab cuisine. However, there is much more to this cuisine than where it began. The impact of Jewish immigration is paramount, and is a reflection of the many different countries where the Jews have lived and the recipes they have developed during their wandering. Influences from the Mediterranean, Germany, Spain, and the Middle East all form part of the cuisine. In general, the influences can be divided into two different cuisines: that of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic.
Ashkenazic refers to Jewish immigrants from east and west Europe. The food culture has a strong Spanish and Portuguese influence and is somewhat sweeter than its counterpart. Sephardic refers to the Jewish people from originating from the Middle Eastern countries. This food tends to be spicier and is characterised by the use of aromatic herbs and spices. The impact of these different cultures has fluctuated over time, as the population of both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic people have ebbed and flowed in Israel. There have been periods when one cuisine is definitely stronger, however now it would be fair to say that the culinary culture is a mix of the two.
Popular dishes in Israel include felafel, which finds its culinary roots in Egypt; stuffed cabbage, which is found all over Eastern Europe; and couscous, which originated in Northern Africa. There are some dishes, however, that are world-renowned Jewish specialties, that are found all over Israel. Breads such as bagels, that have featured in Jewish cuisine for over 400 years, and the challa, a sweet, eggy bread that is often plaited and is traditionally served during Jewish holidays. Matzoh ball soup, a thin chicken broth enhanced with matzoh balls, is another favourite. It is often referred to as Jewish penicillin, for its restorative properties.
The dietary law of Kashrut is observed throughout much of Israel. This dictates that meat and dairy products should not be served, or even prepared together, in a single meal. Many restaurants in Israel abide by this rule keeping a separate Kosher kitchen for this purpose. Chamin, the Jewish Sabbath, is also widely observed across Israel. According to Jewish law no work or cooking can be done on the Sabbath. It is also possible to find non-kosher food in Israel. The impact of non-Jewish residents, including Muslim and Christian Arabs and the Bedouin means that the culinary culture remains quite broad.