Director-producer Roger Sherman (longtime colleague of Ken Burns) serves up a tasty snack with In Search of Israeli Cuisine, though he’s under the misconception it is a banquet. While this documentary does, at times, investigate the nature of Israeli culture, its true purpose is to encourage immediate departure on the next El Al flight to eat your way through the land of milk and honey.
Israeli-American restaurateur Michael Solomonov is our guide from the Golan Heights’ wineries up north, the Negev’s irrigated farms down south, and every locally sourced restaurant in between. There’s a likable, Food Network quality to these encounters, and ample evidence that Israel’s foodie cred is legit. Additionally, some of the celebrated chefs, like bearded Uri Jeremias, who walks ancient marketplaces tasting raw fish, are quite camera-ready.
However, nothing is simple in the Middle East, not even describing what you had for breakfast. One need not be an Edward Said–type scholar to question the roots of all these gorgeously photographed olive trees. These issues are only briefly addressed, but the mainly secular subjects’ acknowledging their country’s religious obstructions offers more insight into what makes Israel tick than all the swooning over chopped salads and shakshuka.
Elements imported from throughout the Sephardic Jewish experience (Yemen, Iraq, Morocco) flavor what all concede are appropriated Palestinian dishes. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) food is still considered “old world,” so don’t look for too many New York–style delis in Tel Aviv. History and politics are present in this film, but over at the kids table.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine
Directed by Roger Sherman
Opens March 24, Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas