I knew that I would be asked what the food was like in Israel, so this time I was prepared and even took pictures! We ate all of our breakfasts and suppers at our hotels while lunches were enjoyed in restaurants wherever we happened to be at the time. I can say without hesitation that the food was delicious, nutritious and kosher!
So what does it mean to eat kosher? Essentially, it means eating according to the dietary laws given in the Old Testament, or Torah. I was already aware that this meant only eating meat from animals that both have cloven hooves and chew their cud, avoiding all seafood except fish with fins and scales, and avoiding eating meat and dairy together. I’ve learned, however, that eating kosher is much more complicated than that and that even amongst Jews, there are many different ways of interpreting and following the dietary rules.
For example, when it comes to meat, it isn’t only a matter of which animals are eaten, but also how the animal is slaughtered and how the carcass is prepared for butchering. Some birds are kosher, while others are not. The eggs of kosher birds may be eaten, but only if they contain no blood which means that each egg should be examined individually. All dairy products must be derived from the milk of kosher animals. Hard cheeses pose a problem because an essential ingredient in their production is an enzyme called rennet, which is normally derived from the stomach of an animal. Some rabbinic authorities maintain that the enzyme is so separated from its original source, that it should not even be considered a meat product. Therefore, these authorities believe that it is permissible to eat cheese that was made with rennet. Others, however, believe that rennet still constitutes a part of an animal, and thus cannot be mixed with milk. Eating processed food is particularly troublesome because one must be sure that every ingredient, no matter how much or how little the product contains, is kosher.
Generally, all fruits and vegetables are kosher, but again, we learned, in Israel, that it isn’t quite that simple. There, these products are only considered kosher if 10% of the crop is left on the plants, bushes or trees around the perimeter of the field or orchard at harvest time for the use of the poor in the community and if the land is left to rest every 7th year. Fruits and vegetables must also be very carefully checked for insects as they are not kosher. Drinking wine or grape juice that has been produced by non-Jews is also forbidden.
There are those who claim that God established the dietary laws to protect the health of His people and that, for this reason, we would be wise to follow them. I don’t believe this to be true. Though there may have been some health advantages to some of the laws in the days before refrigeration, there is nothing less healthy about eating camel or rabbit than eating beef or chicken. I believe that it was simply God’s intent to distinguish His people from those around them and to teach them obedience. I am, therefore, in agreement with those Jews who say that they eat kosher simply because God told them to and for no other reason. How thankful I am that as New Testament believers, we are not subject to the Old Testament dietary laws. God made that very clear to the apostle Peter in a vision while he was staying at the house of Simon the Tanner in Joppa. (Acts 10:9-16)
All meals served in the hotels where we stayed were kosher. Each hotel is under the supervision of its local rabbinical council and should they ever be caught serving anything non-kosher, the penalty would be severe.
So, what did we eat? The meals were similar at all four of our hotels. Breakfasts and dinners were sumptuous buffets with a myriad of wonderful choices. It’s only in the west that breakfast is an entirely different meal from lunch and supper. For example, when we lived in Japan, if we asked our students what they ate for breakfast, the answer would most often be fish and rice. If we asked what they ate for dinner, the answer would usually be the same. This appeared to be true in Israel as well. Though cereal and toast were available at breakfast time and our last hotel had a station where yummy looking omelettes were made to order, breakfast also included a complete salad bar! Cottage cheese, yogurt, various cheeses, buns and breads were also part of the breakfast menu, but so were fish, olives and a variety of hot dishes. Coffee and a variety of teas were also available.
I think I could have lived off the salad bars alone. I started each day with a plate filled with salad, a dollop of cottage cheese, a few slices of cheese and a bun or a slice of hearty bread. When that was done, I finished off with a taste of a one or two of the hot dishes.
We were thankful for the hearty breakfasts as our days were full and we did lots of walking and climbing. Lunch was most often a pita filled with either falafel (spiced mashed chickpeas formed into balls and deep-fried) or schawarma (roasted, shaved meat) and vegetables. Simple, but tasty and filling.
Dinner was usually fairly late. After a busy day, we were ready to load up our plates again!
Again, I filled a plate at the salad bar and then went back for a smaller serving from the many hot food choices. Meats most often included fish, chicken and beef. The dessert selections looked absolutely amazing, but I didn’t take any pictures as I didn’t want to linger over them too long! I managed to stick to my low sugar diet most of the trip. Three of our four hotels offered sugar free dessert options which was nice. When I didn’t see any on offer at our last hotel, I asked, and after a long wait, I was brought a piece of very dry, plain cake that was still slightly frozen in the centre. After that, I didn’t ask! I did break my diet twice, once when we celebrated our youngest group member’s 16th birthday with a lovely cake and once when I tried a teeny, tiny chocolate eclair because everyone else was raving about them. It was well worth it!
Though the reason for my diet is the fact that I’m pre-diabetic, I was pleased to discover that in spite of eating so well, I didn’t gain any weight while we were away!