A lot has changed in Israel over the last 75 years, and that even includes food.
“When Israeli started, it was very basic. First of all, Israel was a very poor state, and secondly, Israel was socialist so dealing with food was almost impolite,” said Gil Hovav, an Israeli celebrity chef who is to visit Milwaukee. “You weren’t supposed to enjoy it. You were just supposed to survive by eating it. In the eighties, things changed.”
Israeli grew wealthier and Israelis became interested in travel and, then, in bringing home the food they experienced, while also sharing the foods of those who emigrate to the Jewish state. With that, food has continued to evolve. Israel has become not just a Jewish state, but also an international foodie’s delight.
Hovav has appeared on Israeli TV, written food reviews and written text for exhibitions on Israeli food. He is an unofficial spokesman for Israel’s changing food culture.
Now, Hovav is to visit Milwaukee with this perspective in mind, for Israel Independence Day. The big day, known as Ha’atzmaut, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Jewish state – from 1948 to 2023.
On Sunday, April 30, Hovav will be on hand with samples of Israeli ethnic food, after the 2 p.m. Israel Independence Day opening ceremony at Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd.,
Whitefish Bay, and the Walk for Israel that is to follow. At the post-walk celebration at the JCC, where there is to be a DJ, Israeli dancing, crafts and games, in addition to Hovav and his food.
“Right now Israeli cuisine is having a moment,” Hovav said. “It has become something very colorful, very creative. I would say it’s eastern Mediterranean, so think of Italian and Greek but with more sunshine and spice. And it’s very adventurous and like us, Israelis, it disrespects any rule you can think of. It’s a fun thing.”
Hovav has written several books; his three bestselling books are called the “Jerusalem Trilogy.” They are memoirs about growing up in the Jerusalem of the sixties and Seventies. “It’s short, funny stories about my family, and each story ends with a very simple, basic recipe of what we ate when the story happened,” he said.
Hovav is aware that American Jews will sometimes think of Ashkenazi food as Israeli food, but the truth is it can be hard to find Ashkenazi food in Israeli restaurants, he said.
“The dishes will be Persian and Yemenite and Iraqi and Polish,” he said. “So it’s going to be very colorful, and I hope it’s going to be fun.”
In Milwaukee, he said, “I’m going to give my ‘famous’ workshop about hummus and politics,” he said with a wry smile. “It’s a funny workshop. It’s not heavy stuff. And people can learn how to make hummus.”
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How to go
What: Celebration and Walk for Israel, with Israeli celebrity chef Gil Hovav.
When: Sunday, April 30, 2 p.m.
Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay
Questions: AllisonH@MilwaukeeJewish.org or 414-390-5724.