26 April 2012
Celebrity chef Aharoni talks to Divya Kaushik about the roots of Israeli cuisine, sharing how mango chutney travelled from India to Israel, and became a hit.
When I see a dish on my plate, I think about its origins first. Not the taste. There is always a history behind it,” says the renowned chef Aharoni from Israel.
He writes about Israeli cuisine in a popular magazines. And often features on Israeli cookery shows.
Aharoni is in the country for the sixth time. He has regularly been going to Chandni Chowk, sometimes at five in the morning, to see the area awake.
“It is hypnotic. I stand at the spice market and watch the entire section. Within half an hour, it buzzes with activity. Flavours, sounds and aromas. Everything is mystic.
“Delhi is the only city where one can clearly feel the past, present and future,” states Aharoni, who has had the “best samosas” and delicacies at Karim’s. Gulab jamuns are his favourite.
This time, he is a part of the Israeli food festival at The Imperial.
Aharoni jumps straight to the origin of Israeli cuisine, explaining, “Israel is young. About 64-years-old. We do not have classic cuisine like the French and Italian. But as a nation, we are old. Ethnic groups from Morocco, Poland, Turkey and Arab countries settled in Israel after years of exile. All brought along food culture and traditions. They might belong to different regions and have nothing to do with each other. But all are Jewish, and need to follow strict religious orders relating to food.”
He pauses, “As an example, Moroccans have good local food. But Moroccan Jews can’t have all of it. And Jews are not allowed to mix dairy with meat. Nor can they have dairy for six hours after eating non-veg. The popular Khus Khus is usually had with butter. Jews replaced this with olive oil.”
He says there is an endless debate over Hummus.
Palestinians claim that Israelis took it from them, but forget they in turn, adopted it from the Ottoman Empire. “It is like a chain. Food never belongs to one particular region. For instance, I was at an eatery in Kochi. I found a dish called Khoobe, semolina dumplings in tomato sauce with okra. I had had that dish in Israel. I researched and found that during the late 19th century, large communities of Jewish Iraqis settled in Cochin to trade in spices.
“Similarly, few people know that Indian mango chutney travelled from here to Israel. It is one of our relished savouries. Most exchanges that happened, were owing to the trade in early history.”
Jews eat particular types of food on holidays.
“One major event occurs in April. For seven days, we are not allowed to eat bread, apart from a thin, tasteless slice. It is said that 2000 years ago, when getting freedom from Egypt, we were so excited, we had no time to wait for the bread dough to rise.” So, Aharoni tells us, “Our forefathers had flat bread. To mark that freedom and pain, for seven days, we do not have bread. We sit for evening prayers and listen to the old story.”
Another tradition is that Saturdays are non-working days. Jews rest and are not permitted to cook. But they are supposed to have good, rich food.
Special dishes were designed which cook for almost 16 hours. They should be prepared before Saturday.
Current Israeli cuisine is modern, but traditional. “One dish I have here are the stuffed vegetables in pomegranate juice. I used beetroot, zucchini and eggplant. According to the Bible, Israel is blessed with seven crops. Pomegranate is one. Iraqi Syrian Jews use it frequently for a sweet-sour taste.”
Desserts in Israeli are tricky as they can’t use dairy.
“But still there is Malabi with pomegranate syrup and pistachios. It is cooked with cream, saffron, cornstarch and garnished with pomegranate seeds.