Israeli food — the next big thing
Anthea Gerrie discovers that UK supermarkets are looking to breads and dips from Israel for inspiration
SAINSBURY’S IS selli ng f al af el by t he dozen. Tahini is flying off the shelves in Waitrose. Even Burger King is touti n g a b r a n d - n e w f l a t b r e a d f i l l e d with kofta-style lamb — a long-time favourite snack for late-night noshers in Israel.
So it is no surprise food developers from M&S have visited Israel to try and get one up on their competitors in the bread and dip categories — foods aroundwhich I s r aeli l i f e revolves.
“T h e r e is an enormous interest i n food f r o m t h e eastern Mediterranean, and bread is at the heart of it,” says Marianne Lumb, who researches bread for M&S and is passionate about the Israeli bakeries where her work has taken her.
“Israel, with its influences from North Africa and Georgia as well the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is at the heart of where food is at now. We feel it is the next big thing after Italian — and with our customers getting more difficult to please, we decided to go straight to the melting pot to make sure we had all bases covered. It was a first for us at M&S.”
Lumb visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with colleague Julia Bradley, who was looking for more authentic hummus and other dips. The pair were dazzled by the sheer diversity of the offerings. “We found Yemenite, Iraqi and Georgian bakeries in a land where bread is central to everything. These delicious flat loaves might be stuffed with everything from chard to cheese to mallow, but the bread itself was always the star of the show,” says Lumb.
The result of a trip, which took the duo to the well-known known Lechamin and Bar Lechem eat-in n bakeries in Tel Aviv, and numerous bake-houses in the back streets of Jerusalem, rusalem, will be launched on May y 6. There will be two kinds of oval flatbread enriched with extra virgin olive oil — one plain, the other r topped with a seed eed mix of poppy, y, nigella, pumpkin, sunflower and linseed. seed. And the happy accident of stumbling across a Georg i a n - J e wi s h b a k e r y i n Jerusalem has also brought the first massp r o d u c e d khachapuri to the UK. This national favouri t e , s e r v e d i n every cafe and restaurant in Tbilisi, is Georgia’s answer to pizza — served boatshape to accommodate a pool of cheese in the middle. Its name has been anglicised for M&S custom- ers, who will have to look for “cheese flatbread” — and the cheese in this bread has been Mediterraneanised with basil, thyme and rose rosemary. Visits to Jerusalem’s Ma Mahane Yehuda market and the countl less ess shops p producing humm hummus — Abu Sh Shukri is the fam famous one in th the Old City — prompted a r a d i c a l r rethink. e t h M&S a l r e a d y h a s a smooth hummus enriched with olive oil, but i is s now also making on one topped with whole chickpeas, as favoured by the Arab purveyors o of I s r a e l ’ s favourite snack. If Lumb and Bradley missed mi a trick, it was in the tahini department; Israelis thin and flavour this native sesame seed paste (a key ingredient of hummus) to make fantastic dips and dressings.
Visitors to Israel must have caused a surge in tahini sales at Waitrose, where buyer Lydia Gerratt says: “We have seen a real trend in shoppers looking for a taste of the Middle East in their home-cooked dishes, and tahini is our strongest seller.”
Waitrose sell a ready-made tahini dressing, but it is easy to make one at home by diluting tahini with yogurt or olive oil and lemon.
Flat bread, hummus and falafel: Israeli staples set to take off here