Skip to content

Why Are There No Jewish Delis in Israel?

  • by
why are there no Jewish delis in Israel

Visiting Israel is an incredible experience for foreigners, especially Americans who want to try Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. They expect to find pastrami, corned beef, bagels, smoked salmon, and more Jewish deli items in Israeli food establishments, but they are disappointed.

Jewish food in Israel is different from the cuisine Americans are fond of, so the shock often leads them to ask why there are no Jewish delis in Israel?

Tel Aviv has many places that serve international cuisine and are as popular as the local neighborhood shawarma joints. However, the lack of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine makes tourists question why there is no quintessentially Jewish food in a place with a majority Jewish population.

No matter how weird it seems to the visitors, Israelis are okay with their local cuisine, and here’s why they do not have ‘Jewish food’ in their local eateries.

Israeli Food Establishments Sans Jewish Delis

With the arrival of Eastern European Jews in America, the preserved meat sensation began. However, the Jewish immigrants who moved from Europe to the Middle East were not given the liberty to introduce their food to the new Jewish statehood. The early years, after 1948, under the new Israeli government, were severe and required people to ration their food in light of the rapidly growing population.

Imported ingredients were extremely expensive due to the unstable currency, and Israelis had difficulty finding food staples like sugar, oil, and meat. The short supply of natural gas and electricity did not help the situation either. So, instead of using their limited resources to bake bagels or preserve meat for later use, they satisfied their hunger with aubergine and helped themselves with dishes like sabich (pita sandwich stuffed with aubergine).

Initially, lack of resources is mainly why Israeli Jewish cuisine differs from American Jewish cuisine. Israelis easily adapted to their surrounding environment and created fusion dishes that reflect their Jewish heritage and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean traditions. Despite doing it out of necessity, Israelis became fond of dishes like hummus, shawarma, and falafel. As the nation developed, they were more inclined to introduce diversified dishes that went beyond Middle Eastern cuisine.

However, the country never really adapted to Ashkenazi Jewish food, which still remains scarce in Israel. Although scarcity was the reason, many Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to this region set aside their traditional dishes for the sake of the national narrative. Israel was a developing country in the early 1950s, and there was no time or reason to experiment with traditional cuisines, especially when the overall nation’s stability was at risk.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by idainviaggio (@idainviaggio)

It was a deliberate choice to stick to local ingredients and adapt quickly to Arab kitchens. Whatever grew in the local region and Mediterranean coastline was considered more beneficial for the national narrative. In fact, there were advertisements that encouraged people to eat locally grown food.

See also  Best Polish Delis in the United States

When Jewish immigrants from other countries arrived, people had already forgone their traditional dishes and were becoming accustomed to Middle Eastern cuisine. The new arrival brought a new wave of unique cooking styles, so Israelis started focusing on creating their national cuisine that incorporated the essence of all Jewish immigrants’ cultures and traditions.

Even though it was challenging to bring everyone together in the name of Israel, it eventually created a national identity that tied them to their Jewish heritage. Unfortunately, there was no place for the entire Ashkenazi cuisine. Today, you can find deli counters in supermarkets in Israel that serve salami, beef, or turkey slices, but you won’t find pastrami or corned beef easily.

Reasons for Limited Ashkenazi Jewish Food in Israel

To further understand why are there no Jewish delis in Israel, here are a few reasons that explain the situation in Israel.

The Minority Factor

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel, residents with fathers and grandfathers who migrated from Europe comprise 19% of the total population. Those who came from Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, and Egypt are at least 30%, and the Ashkenazi Jews make up 32% of the total Israeli population. Ashkenazim are a minority in Israel, so imposing their culinary dominance is a far-reaching concept.

Cultural Dominance

Israel has spent decades developing the culture and tradition widely-accepted and appreciated across the world. So, it was easier for Ashkenazi Jews to adapt to the established way of living than to introduce something new. They were part of the changing world when Israel’s culture was being developed, and during that transformation, Ashkenazi culture did not persist. In fact, people had to forsake their cultural and linguistic ties to stay native to the country after migration. They adopted native names for their kids, mass-produced food, widely-accepted music, and much more.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by OCD Tel Aviv (@ocd_tlv)

Production Challenges

Israel was facing food deficiency from the beginning, so they adapted regional practices to sustain themselves. Even after gaining stability in the region, they could not revive old food practices like serving chopped liver as a home delivery food. Production and distribution problems significantly affect the popularity of a certain cuisine in the country. For example, serving shawarma and other popular dishes in Israel is not difficult due to the nature of the ingredients. Healthy consumption is ensured by freshness and warmth.

See also  Top Jewish Delis in Los Angeles

Better Opportunities

There are many cities in America with a substantial Jewish population, yet not all of them have Jewish delis. Similarly, despite the population of Ashkenazi Jews in Israel, they were not attracted to Deli Arts because of better opportunities in IT, healthcare, and other industries. Also, there’s the factor of palatable food for the young Jewish population. If most of them do not like the taste of Ashkenazi delicacies, there’s no point in serving such dishes to the masses. Therefore, Israelis stick to their grilled meats and salads that attract customers.

Places in Israel Serving Ashkenazi Food

The Israeli market lacks Ashkenazi cuisine, but there are still some places that serve good Ashkenazi food, though it won’t be mouthwatering pastrami sandwiches or palatable matzo ball soup. If you are visiting Israel and searching for Ashkenazi food, here are some places that can accommodate you:

Kedma Mamila, Jerusalem

Kedma is a fine-dining kosher brasserie in Jerusalem with a fusion of cuisines. You can find lamb tagines, chopped liver, eggplant biladi, Spätzle, and corned beef. The corned beef is sliced in front of diners to satisfy their preserved meat cravings in Israel. During the day, one can dine out on the balcony and enjoy their deli-style lunch.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kedma (@kedmamamila)

Deutch Restaurant, Jerusalem

As you move further towards the north side of town, you can find Ashkenazi traditional offerings like food, clothes, and language. Deutch is a place that proudly showcases its Ashkenazi culture with iconic service and authentic Shabbat food. It’s located next to Shabbat Square in Mea She’arim, and once you eat Deutch’s traditional food, you will forget about the other popular Israeli dishes.

New Deli, Jerusalem

New Deli is a Jerusalem favorite with its close to American-style deli food. The deli business stacks sliced meat of all sorts, including turkey, corned beef, and roast beef. You can also find sauerkraut in this restaurant, but there won’t be any rye bread or dill pickles. Let’s not forget it’s still Israel!

See also  Top Jewish Delis in Seattle

JERUSALEM STREET FOOD | Jewish Street Food at MAHANE YEHUDA MARKET – Street Food in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city full of some of the best street food from all around the world. In this episode, we visit the Mahane Yehuda Market to go shopping and buy all kinds of food before all restaurants and markets close for Shabbat. We go on a mission for some insanely fresh street foods, local specialty dishes from Iraq, Georgia, and more, fresh fruits, juices, bread, and olives. We even scored some delicious, freshly baked desserts. The market was Amazing & bustling!

Summary

Israel may have started with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, but now you can find a more diversified palate than ever. You can find Thai, Mexican, and other restaurants serving international cuisine in Tel Aviv, but if you are searching for American-style Jewish food, you might be out of luck.

A handful of Tel Aviv restaurants serve food close to the Jewish food in the States, but finding a new version of a pastrami sandwich in Israel won’t be possible. Not yet, anyway.

Given how receptive Israel is to new cuisines, maybe they will adapt the American-style Jewish food and one day serve more pastrami sandwiches in their markets than any other popular food like shawarma!

Why Are There No Jewish Delis in Israel – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why Are There No Bagels in Israel?

Bagels require an extra step during production, which is energy-extensive. When Jews first moved to Israel, they could not afford to burn fuel irresponsibly, so bagels never became a part of their cuisine.

Why Do Jews Eat Salmon?

Eating fish is part of Jewish culture because it does not break the kosher laws. It can be a dairy meal or a meat meal and can be preserved for later use.

Can Jews Eat Reuben Sandwiches?

Reuben sandwiches commingle meat and dairy, which goes against the Kosher law. If Jewish person wants to follow their kosher guidelines, they cannot eat a Reuben sandwich.

Related Articles

Why Are Jewish Delis Disappearing in America?

What Pairs Well with a Pastrami Sandwich?

Best Pastrami Brands to Try