An editorial in the Gulf News (complete with the requisite stereotypical caricature of the hook-nosed, greedy Jew) accuses those crafty Zionists of stealing Arab recipes. Titled, “The undeclared war on Arab cuisine,” George S. Hishmeh writes:
My niece, Irene, called me a few days ago indignant that some of her American friends, including some Jews, keep describing typical Arab foods such as falafel, hummus and shawarma, among others, as Israeli.
She wanted to know how she can convince them this is not the case.
My first impulse was to tell my niece that Israel was almost 60 year old and these food items have obviously existed long before then. My curiosity prompted me to “google” Israeli foods. The internet yielded tens of references, including the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website which carried a feature on Israeli foods.
I couldn’t believe my eyes and wished the Arab governments would do the same, but knowing their ineptitude at explaining more life-and-death issues I doubted they will tackle this quiet Israeli attempt at usurping Arab foods. So I did not bother to check but I would like to be proven wrong.
To cite but one of many distortions and claims about the authenticity of Israeli cuisine, Joan Nathan, author of The Foods of Israel and whose writings and recipes appear on MyJewishLearning.com, maintains that falafel is “the ultimate Israeli food”.
This editorial prompted one reader to comment: “You have rightly set the records straight about the Arabic food and cuisine, but who is listening? In fact, the Jewish influence in the US is so deep rooted and intensive that feeble, trifle and insignificant people like you and I could hardly make any difference for calling spade a spade. Nevertheless, keep it up and hang on tough.”
Yes, the “Israel Lobby” has penetrated the culinary world as well. (Is nobody safe?!?)
Actually, if Hishmeh had bothered to read more of Nathan’s articles on MyJewishLearning.com, he would have seen this quote: “All cuisines are a result of the interplay of many forces–historical, sociological, agricultural–and Israeli cuisine is no different. Therefore, many foods that are typically considered ‘Israeli’ originated from the wider cuisine of the Middle East–including the popular falafel (deep-fried chick pea balls in pita) and the famous ‘Israeli salad’ of cucumbers and tomatoes in distinctively small pieces.”
(Interestingly, Nathan notes a uniquely Israeli embellishment of felafel: “[It] was made in two ways: either as it is in Egypt today, from crushed, soaked fava beans or fava beans combined with chickpeas, spices, and bulgur; or, as Yemenite Jews and the Arabs of Jerusalem did, from chickpeas alone. But favism, an inherited enzymatic deficiency occurring among some Jews–mainly those of Kurdish and Iraqi ancestry, many of whom came to Israel during the mid 1900s–proved potentially lethal, so all felafel makers in Israel ultimately stopped using fava beans, and chickpea felafel became an Israeli dish.”)
There is, in fact, a heated debate in Israel and the U.S. on whether there is really such a think as “Israeli cuisine.” I think Daniel Rogov, the restaurant critic for Haaretz, says it best:
Although several food writers (mostly American) have praised what they call “Israeli cuisine”, the truth is that the country has not developed a unique cuisine. What those visitors are praising are the varied styles of Mediterranean cookery, many of which have reached high points within Israel but none of which have come together to form what one might call a “true” cuisine.
This is not a point of shame. In fact, thinking that a country less than 100 years old might have developed a unique cuisine is somewhat silly. The more important point is that whether at private homes or at restaurants ranging in price from the ridiculously inexpensive to the outrageously dear, those who live in or visit Israel can dine very well indeed. That they may be dining on French, Moroccan, Algerian, Polish, Italian, Ethiopian, American or Turkish cuisine merely adds to the marvelous flavors of the country. Personally, I so highly value the ethnic and social inputs to the local table and I find so many options for fine and fun dining that I almost hope that those will survive and NOT make way for a more unified culinary style.
In my view, the best food in the world is always cooked in a melting pot.
Meanwhile, Hishmeh should have bigger worries to occupy himself with: Bagel restaurants are appearing in downtown Beirut. The Zionist plan for conquest through culinary expansion is well underway…