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Meet Amit Raz, our chef in Tel Aviv

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A common question amongst Israelis is, what is your origin? This is in no way impolite and can often function as an ice breaker that reveals the multi-cultural aspect of the people of this land. In Jewish culture there is a division of two main groups: Ashkenazi Jews whose origin is from eastern European countries and Sephardic Jews whose origin is from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. In my family tree, my maternal grandparents came from Yemen and Syria, and my paternal grandparents from Paraguay and Israel. This is just one concoction out of many interesting mixes here.

This makes for an Israeli culinary scene that is diverse and tantalizing. It is a mix of different cuisines from the world and a strong base in the Arab kitchen. Some classically Arab dishes have been adopted here and have become our bread and butter, bread being pita and butter being hummus. There’s an argument though, that suggests that you can trace the infamous hummus to the biblical love story of Boaz and Ruth when he offered her to dip some pita in hummus though he probably wanted a whole lot more. Another classic dish is the falafel, which has been adopted as our national dish, though its roots believed to have come from Egypt where fava beans replaced the chickpeas. This dish can add more politics to the table amongst our neighbors who like to claim it as their own. But before anyone gets into a heated argument, it is important to understand that food culture has always been borrowed, adapted, and fused. What would spaghetti Bolognese be without the noodles that came from China and the tomatoes that came for the Americas in the 16th century? The falafel in Israel has fused into a dish with more complex flavor notes and additions. One bald example is “amba” which is a variation of the Indian green mango chutney or achar, brought by Iraqi Jews who had much trade with India. Other additions are chili-based relishes from the Yemenite and Turkish Kitchen.

The Iraqi Jews are also responsible for the popularity of the street food Sabich consisting of humble ingredients of hard-slow-cooked-egg, eggplant and salad (which were typically eaten on the Sabbath and pre-prepared ) and from the 50s became a fast food in a pita. Another fusion delight of the Middle East and West is chicken schnitzel with hummus and salad in a pita. Nowadays schnitzel features in every household, Ashkenazi and Sephardic alike and typifies Israeli Cuisine.

If you are not sure where to find these dishes, walk down the bustling Carmel Market and it will be shouted by one of the vendors. This colorful and chaotic market offers fresh produce, spices, and delectable food stalls. Amongst the chaos are gems of flavors and fascinating stories that I have researched over the years and take pride sharing not just as a chef but as a storyteller.

After owning a restaurant for 11 years to a point when I lost the passion for hosting and kept as far away from the kitchen as I could, I sold it and took a long break of soul searching. Just when I thought that I would change direction in life I had a calling, and it came from the kitchen again. I found inspiration once more in the intimate quality of cooking, storytelling, and connecting with people. This amalgamated to Food Tours in Israel, cooking workshops, and historical tours around Tel Aviv. Clients can customize their tours though OUTstanding Travel and select from a number of delicious options. In Jerusalem I take them for a market tasting tour in Mahane Yehuda and in Tel Aviv, The Carmel, and Levinsky Market. All three markets are unique and tell a different story of Israel’s history and its people. We also offer a half-day market tour with a cooking workshop called Shuk and Cook, which combines a tasting tour with a cooking workshop in my kitchen. We will learn how to cook classic local dishes and some secret recipes from my grandmother’s kitchen. If you are a wine lover, take a relaxing tour through old Jaffa by night and learn about its four-thousand-year-old history while sampling local boutique wines.

Our tours invite you to experience the multi-faceted culture of Israel with your senses and you’re your heart. They create a direct connection to the people of this land and the aromas and flavors that permeate from its kitchen.
 

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