"In Search of Israeli Cuisine" provides captivating take on Israeli culture
Take one of the most up and coming culinary hubs in the world with bright, ethnic flavors and colors and put it in front of the backdrop of a major political hot topic, and you get “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.” This modern food documentary follows James Beard award winning chef Michael Solomonov to answer the one question he has always pondered; what is Israeli cuisine? But what the audience really walks away with is a new perspective on the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of peace through cooking.
Solomonov is known for his award winning Israeli Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav, among other smaller eateries in Philadelphia and New York City. Born in Israel, and later moving to Pittsburgh as a young boy, he found himself between the United States and Israel throughout his life. His younger brother was killed while serving in the Israeli Defense Force, just three days before the end of his service. Solomonov often dedicates his cooking and work to his brother’s memory.
The film follows Solomonov as he tastes the flavors and smells the spices of Israel through cooking demonstrations, interviews and market trips. He explores the deserts of the Negev in the south, the waters of the Galilee in the north, the fresh food markets of traditional Jerusalem and the bustling streets of modern Tel Aviv. Solomonov is able to truly experience the deep culture that Israel has built in its almost 69 years of existence.
The beauty of the documentary is that Solomonov treats every type of person he interacts with the same way. Jews, Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike talk about their culinary heritage, their family linergy and their hope that food can be a way to bring people together despite their diverging religious or political beliefs. The crux of the film is the idea that there really is no “Israeli” cuisine. A country so young hasn’t had the historical backing to have its own cuisine, like older nations such as Italy and France, both known for their culinary expertise.
What’s done so beautifully is the representation of how diverse the country is. The story subtly explains the history of Israel and the Jewish people, Jewish traditions and the ways that Israelis are trying to modernize these traditions. Viewers also get an inside look at the gorgeous country, which varies greatly from north to south despite its small size.
I found the movie to be completely captivating. The colors of the countryside and the food are rich and draw you in. The passion that comes from every chef talking about their own creations and their personal histories is heartwarming. The film expertly discusses tough questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, intermarriage, eating local and keeping to tradition while opening the conversation in such a satisfying way. This story does a masterful job of tackling these tricky questions head on, but cushioning them with a delicious take on Israeli cuisine.
But what really is Israeli cuisine? The documentary touches on some classics like shakshuka, a peppery tomato sauce with eggs baked in, and hummus, but it also travels to speak with people of Moroccan, Polish, Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian backgrounds. You watch as a man sells spices from a shop his family has owned in Israel for 400 years while a first generation Israeli man cooks a traditional dish with his mother who was born and raised in Morocco. It’s a beautiful story of understanding tradition and appreciating incredible local cuisine, while also naturally discussing the conflict. If you in any way want to learn more about Israeli or Jewish heritage or even just love a great food documentary, this is the film for you.
“In Search of Israeli Cuisine” opens on April 21 at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema.
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