Oscar-nominated filmmaker Roger Sherman sets his camera on Israeli culinary culture. With Israeli-American restauranteur Michael Solomonov as the on-screen narrator and guide, the film wanders throughout Israel sampling the foods prepared in the nation’s finest eateries and in the homes of several private cuisine.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Israeli food is how much of it originated elsewhere. The film gives a surplus amount of attention to meals that can be traced to the Sephardic diaspora of the Middle East and North Africa – including the spicy and colorful Shakshuka breakfast (pictured here) – with relatively little emphasis given to meals brought by the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. If there is a unique food tradition brought to Israel by the Ethiopian Jewish community or the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, it is not presented in this film. The nation’s Christian and Druze food traditions are only briefly touched upon, and Israeli wines get a perfunctory mention.
There is also the thorny issue of how much of Israeli cuisine is a repurposing – or, to be blunt, a rebranding theft – of the meals created over the centuries in Palestinian kitchens. The film tries to emphasize a love of food as the common ground in bridging the warring factions and even includes a cooking couple consisting of a Jewish woman and her Arab husband, but the notion of peace via placemats feels a bit too wishful.
But despite its omissions and wobbly attempt at diplomacy, the film succeeds as an effective introduction to a complex and – dare we say it? – delicious subject. Solomonov is a charming host and his genuine sincerity for learning about the subject helps to fuel the production at a crisp pace. This is a fascinating and engaging celebration of the tastier aspects of the Holy Land.