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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The taste of home: What foods do foodies miss in Israel?

1940s b&w image showing Lena Horne demonstrating a "modern" gas stove.  Israeli flag superimposed on oven door.

What foods do foodies miss most when they move to Israel?

Maybe they dream about sitting down to a plate of nachos with tangy cheddar cheese… or a fruity flan with tons of fresh berries?

When I first started thinking about aliyah, in the early 1990s, reports out of Israel were dire.  There were no chocolate chips - you had to chop up chocolate bars and hope for the best.  Also, no canned tuna.  Also, though perhaps unrelated, the toilet paper was really, really bad.

Today, things are different.  Israel prides itself on being a haven for kosher foodies.  (You can even visit them at the Israeli Foodies facebook group.)

Depending on where you're from, there are still many local treats and delicacies that you'll either not be able to find, or will have to reserve as a special treat. 

Take graham cracker pie crusts, for example.  Graham crackers don't exist here, and stores don't usually sell ready-made crusts.  That doesn't mean you can't find them.  This is the year 2015, and almost everything can be had - for a price.

If you want the authentic flavour of a graham cracker pie crust, you'll have to hunt down a specialty store that carries import grocery products.  You'll probably need to find more than one, because different stores carry a different variety.  For us, the store that carries pie crusts isn't the same store that carries frozen blueberries - which isn't the same one that carries canned pumpkin or cherry pie filling.

Yup, all those things are available, but even if you can track something down, be prepared to pay triple the price.

When I asked a bunch of real Israeli foodies, they eagerly – hungrily, even – shared some of the foods that they miss most:

Dairy:

Israel has a terrific variety of local dairy products.  You can get much more goat and sheep cheeses here, for example, at almost any grocery store.  And if you’ve ever had fried Halloumi cheese, you know we have it pretty good here.  But that doesn’t stop you from sometimes craving the taste of home.

  • Mature cheddar cheese
  • American cheese,
  • whipped low fat cream cheese,
  • creamed cottage cheese
  • strong cheddar
  • Muenster cheese
  • Monterrey Jack cheese (and other tex-mex ingred)
  • strong sharp cheddar cheese.(tho that's getting better)
  • milk that comes in smaller than liter packaging!!
  • Evaporated milk

Soup:

Soups really struck a common chord with the foodies.  Maybe that’s because ready-made soups are such a staple for anyone who’s serious about infusing their food with flavour without adding a ton of salt and weird additives.

  • Imagine Soups,
  • Really miss imagine soups.
  • Chicken broth. I hate the consomme crap
  • Ready-made (boxed) broth/stock was a big time-saver.
  • Telma beef cubes,
  • I buy broth/Bouillon, cubes when I am overseas. One of the few things I do.
  • no canned soups here
  • Tabachnick Soups,
  • (another person says “I've seen Imagine soups here in places that appeal to Americans.”)

Pantry:

This is such a huge range of items, but still, a couple of common threads emerged.

  • Coconut Milk Beverage,
  • less pricey maple syrup,
  • Bridge Seitan,
  • more interesting tempeh offerings ,
  • Secret love for morningstar veggie bacon strips.
  • morningstar veggie bacon!!!
  • Morningstar farm products,
  • Vans Waffles,
  • Aunt Jennie's Kick n'Butt Sauce.
  • salad cream,  (I think this is British for “salad dressing”?)
  • powdered milk,
  • creamed corn,
  • canned beans
  • French style string beans,
  • English muffins,
  • Golden syrup
  • Icing sugar. I was used to "icing snow" sugar so fine that I could make proper butter icing that melted in your mouth. Here butter icing is gritty.
  • Relish – no such thing here, that I can tell
  • Flour and salt!!! But got used to it
  • I think the local salt is damper than the salt back home
  • Powdered sugar that comes in larger bags are much finer. You can find it at stores that carry baking supplies

Meat, Fish, Veg:

  • Parsnips (lots of people said parsnips!)
  • Fowl for making chicken soup !! Don't know what they do with them but there ain't none here
  • Smoked haddock
  • Dover sole
  • burdock (can you find this in Israel?)
  • water chestnuts & bamboo shoots
  • sliced water chestnuts,
  • fowls and I know it's not a cooking ingredient but I really miss Brillo pads
  • As I have always cooked with fresh ingredients my cooking has not changed much except for lack of cheap fresh raspberries and blueberries
  • Corn on the cob
  • Limes
  • Jicama. one of my favorite veggies, probably will never be available in israel.
  • I miss Japanese sweet potatoes, chickpea miso and heirloom tomatoes .

That doesn't mean there aren't pluses of living in Israel.  Like of high quality chocolate, and the fact that it's much easier to find real kosher gelatin than it was back in Canada.  And, of course, lots of incredible, seasonal fresh fruit.

Other perks:

  • The brown sugar is moist here and works better than the more granulated one in the U.S. for making cookies
  • Carmit dark chocolate chips are the best. They make my cookies happy. (She’s right – I use these, too.)
  • Omg the Carmit choc chips are so good my mom wants me to bring some to the states when I visit!
  • I have found myself substituting silan [cheap, nutritious, locally available date honey] for maple syrup in recipes.
  • Most store-brand (no-name) products are kosher by default

Oh, yeah; just the fact that you can walk into almost any grocery store in the country and come out with bags and bags of kosher cooking and baking ingredients for a very reasonable price… utterly, utterly priceless.

Many people – including long-time olim who had to chop up their own chocolate bars to make chips – say that we olim shouldn’t complain, we should adapt.  When in Rome, they say, eat hummous instead of Skippy, replace your sour cream with shamenet and your Kit Kat with Pesek Zman.  Plus, they’ll point out, things used to be a lot worse.

I agree, to a point. 

There’s no question that when you live somewhere, you should make a habit of buying and using local ingredients.  You’ll save money and discover great new tastes and ways of eating.

I love the fact that fruits are so delicious and flavourful when they’re in season.  Certainly, we eat them like crazy when we have them, but it doesn’t stop me from kvetching that I can’t make a strawberry smoothie in the summertime when I need one most.

But I also still love my graham pie crusts, and yes, I did pay too much to import a bag of milk powder so I could make a special dessert for Shavuot.

Hunting down our favourite flavours – and even paying extra for them – isn’t a sign that we’re less well-adjusted as Israelis, or even that we’re trying to make Israel over in some distorted “anglo” image.

It’s actually not that complicated at all.  For all of us, Israel is now home… and some days, we really, really want it to taste like home, too.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


10 comments:

  1. B"H

    My Eretz Yisroel born daughter lives in the States. She has a steady stream of visitors bringing her Tnuva shoko b'sakit (no bottles, please), and other weird things, when she has the greatest food supply at her corner grocery! I guess that childhood tastes are hard to give up (and my kids never had shoko b'sakit except for the rare day camp season!)

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    1. I can totally understand! I do love the food here (maybe not shoko b'sakit - "chocolate milk in a bag" for any English speakers reading this). Perhaps as an antidote to any kvetching that might be implied by this post, Friday's post will be all about awesome gifts of food you can bring back from Israel to American friends and family. :-)

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  2. Your list is a very close match with my kids. There is much reminiscing about Morning Star Farm products. Also a lot of complaining about much they miss powdered sugar/frosting made with powdered sugar. Where are the baking supply stores??? I find the flour a lot "weaker" than back in the States and Canada. I have found one that I have learned to live with, but find that stores have hard time keeping things consistently stocked unlike in the States. But perhaps that is another topic . . . .

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    Replies
    1. Great point about the stores keeping stocked. I have no idea why something like curry powder or chili is "seasonal," but that's life, right? :-) We actually do have a decent baking store in a nearby mall (the Kiryon, if you're north), so maybe ask around on the Israel Foodies group on facebook for something close to you.

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    2. Powdered sugar has always been available. I bake bread regularly and have no problem, but in the last few years various bread flours have been available. I find that many Americans won't let go of America, and too many won't learn Hebrew. When you make aliyah, you do so without reserve. However, I will admit to getting my dander up by poor service and people cutting in line - which has also improved in the last 35 years.

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    3. Henry, I agree that there are too many people complaining about life here. Just so nobody would say that, I paired this with a post on 12 awesome unique foodie gifts from Israel that will hopefully help Israelis and tourists share the amazing tastes that are so special here. :-)

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  3. Sorry, but I think you're exaggerating. I've been in Israel since 1979 and always ate canned tuna. I bake as a hobby and have never had trouble finding chocolate chips. Dover sole is readily available and has been for many years. Corn on the cob, both canned and fresh have always been available. Dry spices like curry and chili have also always been readily available. I don't know what you're complaining about, you should have lived in Israel in the 50s, when they had nothing and visitors would bring suitcases full of instant coffee for their relatives here. I don't know where you live, but I live in Maale Adumim, not exactly a centre for culinary excellence, but I've never suffered.

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    1. First of all - I'm TOTALLY not complaining. And second, I still have the books here that I read in the 90s that told me what things were absent or in short supply. So I know I'm not making it up. Maybe those writers were, but I'm not.
      As for the current situation, I am most definitely not exaggerating. The things I mention that are scarce or expensive (like pie crusts) are - but they're also minor priorities, definitely not essential for a happy, healthy life in Israel. (I would absolutely love for you to come here and show us chili powder during one of the six-month stretches when it's simply not on the store shelves. That would be some trick.)
      While Maale Adumim may not be a "centre for culinary excellence," it is in the merkaz of the country, and well within the sanctified foodie circle of Yerushalayim. North of Hadera, or wherever you want to draw the North/Merkaz line, things really are a little different.

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  4. I miss McCormick Italian Seasoning, onion powder, chili powder, and Ceylon cinnamon. There's also no peanut flour to be found. And no coconut aminos.

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  5. I haven't found steel cut oats (aka Irish oatmeal) anywhere. Ain davar kazeh. Most fresh corn on the cob is killed by overcooking in water. Try the corn from Chubeza organic farm (summer only.) They have a super sweet variety that's very good. When fresh try it raw or cooked in water for one minute, no more.

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I'd love to hear what you have to say.

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