Archaeology has taught us volumes about the history of food, but the best source to know how our Mediterranean forefathers ate is the Bible. Here are six popular and delicious ways to eat like an ancient Israelite.
When Boaz asked Ruth to join him in her tent, he probably tempted her the same way Israelis would tempt their friends at snack time. ‘Come and eat the bread, and dip your morsel in the hummus’ (Ruth 2:14) Translators disagree about whether it is actually the word ‘Hummus’ or hometz, which means vinegar, but for the sake of appetites, let’s go with the hummus. For the authentic hummus and pita experience, head to Tel Aviv’s delightful Kerem HaTemanim neighborhood and choose between one of the establishments such as the popular Shlomo and Doron.
Among countless scriptural appearances, Noah was described as the first man to be drunk. Wine is used throughout the bible to entice husbands and subdue enemies, traded as a primary good, and is the first miracle attributed to Jesus Christ. Modern Israeli viticulture has skyrocketed, gaining awards and accolades previously reserved for the most prestigious Italian and French vintages. Yet the grape isn’t the only great part – the leaves are wrapped around fragrant rice, meat or cracked wheat filling and appear in Greek, Arab, Persian and Bulgarian cuisine. Try the ones at Haj Khalil in Jaffa alongside your main course.
Among ancient Israelites, olive oil was ubiquitous for cooking, cosmetics, anointing kings and interior lighting. Israeli bars and restaurants will serve up various olive snacks and salads are generously dressed with the tangy oil. If you want your own bottle, skip the supermarket and buy from a local producer or outlet such as The Spice Farm, a foodie’s heaven of local products, herbs and exotic tea blends.
God wasn’t alone in enjoying the savory aromas of roasting meat from temple sacrifices – people in biblical times would prepare lamb or goat on holidays or special occasions. Meat is also the centerpiece of the first act of biblical hospitality, when Abraham sends his servant to kill and prepare a calf to feed the visiting angels (Genesis 18:8). Israel may be the nation claiming the highest percentage of vegans per capita, but there are plenty of beloved meat restaurants. These include the Galilean fixture Limousine, and Goshen in Tel Aviv, who’s house-aged entrecote will make you forget that it is kosher.
In Levant and particularly Arabic cooking, Freekeh, or Farike, is a typical form of wheat, the staple grain of the region for more than 10,000 years. Freekeh is harvested and roasted when the grains are still green, delivering high protein and a smoky nutty flavor that sends chefs into a frenzy. It is the contemporary incarnation of the green wheat or corn mentioned in biblical stories and is eaten as a snack on its own or cooked with meat and soups. Freekeh is served everywhere from Druze family restaurants like those in Daliyat Al-Carmel to high-end establishments like Tel Aviv’s landmark Catit. Early strains of wheat including spelt, einkorn, and farro are still beloved in European artisanal baking. They are best when bought from local mills like Nazareth’s beloved Elbabour. Sadly, it is increasingly difficult for farmers to justify growing these crops in the face of higher yielding GMOs.
If Jacob was able to get Esau to trade his rights as the firstborn for some lentil stew, it must have been pretty delicious (Genesis 25:34). Lentils are highly nutritious, easy to grow and have a long history across continents. In Israel, these legumes are often served as soup or the favorite Mujadera, a flavorful mix of lentils, rice, onions and spices worthy of a patriarch. Various lentil dishes appear on the menu at The Eucalyptus Restaurant, Jerusalem’s famous biblical-themed venue. All of the treats mentioned here and many more can be sampled.