Culture and Cuisine in the Holy Land

June 16, 2018 by Justin Tran

Individuals with no relationship with any form of organized religion rarely, if ever, choose to visit Israel. With as little relation as I have to Israel, a country majorly comprised of people from Arab and Jewish descent (and of which I am clearly neither), the greatest dilemma involves understanding a foreign culture that I have little prior interaction with.

Travel is imperfect yet exhilirating in this sense. The major question that I often ask myself while abroad applies heavily in this case: “Why the hell am I even traveling and how can I understand a culture without being a member of it in any sense?”

Why the hell am I traveling? Well, that’s a question I’m looking to discover the answer on every plane ride.

What about my attempts at understanding Israeli culture? Culture is interaction and understanding between members of society through the shared values one holds true as a group of people.

My answer? We break bread and we eat as the locals do ala the late Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain lives on.

Eat at the sit-down, tip-your-waiter and keep-the-table-spotless restaurants headed by chefs with years of experience cooking their shakshuka for the finest patrons in the world.

Eat at the neighborhood street food joints that are little more than a grill and cash register operated by a lone, weathered man that has served thousands upon thousands of layered pita along with deliciously fried falafel that could only be made with love and the care required to continue perfecting a single dish for years without going insane.

Shakshuka even Jesus would love.Mediocre shakshuka if we’re being honest

As separate as these worlds seem to operate in, the ultimate goal of the culinary result is the same: Bring people together through the joy of food. After all, we share the same taste buds even if we don’t share the same tastes.

This is not just a 10 week vacation. This is work and cultural understanding in the making. Work with the people, eat with the people, and pretty soon we can at least begin to understand how wildly distant ideas can mesh together into a hodge-podge of beautiful ideas that manifest (in one form) as food.