The DNA of Diaspora: Discovering Modern Israeli Cuisine

Published: January 1, 2020

One of the trendiest, most explosively popular cuisines of the international food scene today, it may be hard to imagine that—just a few short years ago—Israeli food had not yet gotten its due.

In fact, it might have even been inconceivable to imagine a chef working in the Mediterranean-Jewish tradition winning a James Beard Award at all until Mike Solomonov did exactly that in 2017, powered by the success of his iconic Philadelphia restaurant Zahav. But as culinary experimentation and changing tastes have evolved against a backdrop of increasing global diversity, cultural assimilation, and exchange of ideas, Israeli cuisine has found itself in the midst of an historic movement often compared to the quick elevation of Thai food, Japanese omakase, or even modern Korean.

A combination of literally hundreds of cooking disciplines that landed in the Eastern Mediterranean before percolating in the Holy Land and assimilating with the spices, techniques, and recipes of local Arab cooking, Israeli cuisine is built on thousands of years of history—and yet is also a new language giving voice to the country’s ever-changing diversity. To chef Eran Tibi of Bala Baya, Israeli cuisine is “food with insolence” and a “cuisine without roots, in the good sense of the word”; to chef Nir Zuk of Arba, it succeeds by “adopting new ingredients and embedding its DNA into them.” To many other chefs, including Einat Admony of Balaboosta, Israeli cuisine is driven by the comforting memories of home and family—a sense of warmth and hospitality that transcends simple nostalgia, becoming a sensory signature of community and shared humanity.

The country’s unique cultural patchwork of street food, restaurants, and open-air markets have now become both an incubator and exporter of culinary talent paralleling the great European tradition, where famous kitchens acted as proving ground for young chefs willing to experiment with new twists on age-old dishes, even as they studied up on the classic disciplines. In this case, however, the cuisine of Israel has grown into and with its region, rather than the inverse—and in its dynamism has resonated with an increasingly health-conscious audience of diners looking for freshness, simplicity, intensity, and clarity of flavors.

Time spent cooking, studying, observing, and growing overseas has also granted Israeli chefs a reprieve from their often vigilant home audience—giving them a chance to break rules, rethink traditions, and experiment with new fusions. Creative chefs have been delighted to meet this new demand, inspired and humbled by the public reception to their culinary inventions.

Is it only a matter of time before Israeli restaurants are recognized with further awards—and maybe even Michelin stars? From London to New York to Berlin, the definition of modern Israeli cuisine continues to come into focus, driven by the freedom to create, reimagine, and reconnect culinary traditions from not only across the Mediterranean, but across the broader Jewish diaspora. With signature dishes ranging from falafel encrusted salmon to eggplant carpaccio, from prawn baklava, to Jerusalem-style mixed seafood on laffa with labneh cheese and pickled lemon, it is abundantly clear that modern Israeli cuisine is finally taking its rightful place among the world’s great pillars of food culture.

Join us as we explore the landscape of modern Israeli cuisine, delving into interviews with top chefs and discovering the restaurants, dishes, and diverse traditions that define Israel’s culinary traditions—past, present, and future.