In Israel, there is something called “Kashrut”, a Jewish dietary law that “forbids” some Jewish-Israelis from eating many different types of food including pork, shrimp, lobster, and crab.
Although only a small percentage of Israel’s population strictly observes these laws, since the majority of Israelis are Jewish, the laws affect both food preparation and availability of certain foods throughout the country.
The world “Kashrut” comes from the Hebrew root Kaf-Shin-Reish, meaning fit, proper or correct. According to traditional Jewish practice, certain varieties of animals may not be eaten at all, and even for the animals that are allowed to be consumed, all blood must be drained from meat and poultry or boiled out before it can be eaten. There are also more specific rules such as meat cannot be eaten with dairy, grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten, and for more details about the tradition -> Judaism 101
There is a video on YouTube that explains which animals are declared kosher and not kosher in Leviticus 9:1-11:47:
Because of all the restrictions, does it means the food in Israel won’t be tasty?
While Israel only became a nation in 1948, its culinary traditions actually root back thousands of years, with influences from Asia, Africa and Europe, and various religions and ethnicities, resulting in a culinary melting pot.
When the Jewish immigration began at the end of the 19th century, they also brought the traditional Jewish dishes to Israel that they had prepared in countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Russia. Foods that are traditionally eaten in Levantine, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisines, and foods such as falafel, hummus, msabbha, shakshouka, couscous, and za’atar are now widely popular in Israel. (Wikipedia, Israeli cuisine.)
However, what I love the most is the freshness of the ingredients in Israel.
Located in the Middle East along the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel is slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Although it is a small country, it has a wide variety of climates due to the country’s diverse topography.
Mild temperatures by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River allow citrus trees to grow fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Other areas grow figs, pomegranates, and olives. Israel is home to a wide variety of plants and animals.
Therefore, you’ll see vegetable salads paired with most meals, including the traditional Israeli breakfast, which usually includes eggs, bread, and dairy products such as yogurt or cottage cheese.
Apparently, they also eat hummus for breakfast. And, trust me. This bowl of hummus with pine nuts is delicious!
Although the selections of shellfish are limited, fresh fish is often readily available.
Most of the time, fish is served whole, in the Mediterranean style, grilled, or fried, dressed with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Furthermore, because pork is banned in many places, restaurants are using goose meat to replace the pork. In fact, goose meat is packed with flavor, and it is much leaner than chicken or pork. You’ll be surprised how well the chewy and flavorful goose meat matches with varied cuisines.
Last but not least, Israel has a very vibrant coffee culture. You won’t find Starbucks in Israel.
Israeli coffee is famous for its rich aroma and unique taste. If you simply ask for “coffee” in Israel, you may get the popular drink called Turkish coffee or botz (which literally translates to “mud”).
It is prepared in a special pot called a finjan, with water, ground coffee, and sugar
After bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer until it foams up, it is often served with cardamom and milk in small cups. The flavor is very strong, and be aware of the grounds that are still in it—that’s the “mud” that settles to the bottom as you drink.
I was in Israel for less than a week, therefore, what I know about the food culture there only scratches the surface. But, if possible, I seriously recommend you make the trip there and try the food yourself!