MINGLING FLAVORS IN A MELTING POT
THE ISRAELI PORT OF ASHDOD BRINGS TOGETHER DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS AND UNIQUE, DELICIOUS DISHES.
Once mostly known as the gateway to Jerusalem, the port city of Ashdod has become a destination in its own right — not just for travelers, but for new Israelis as well. In 1955, the city didn’t exist — merely a village called “Isdud.” In 1983, Ashdod had a population of around 75,000. Today, this immigrant-rich city is Israel’s sixth largest, with 225,000 residents, a reputation as a center for arts and one of the most complex, varied and delectable food cultures in the Middle East.
Of course, the chefs of Ashdod serve a wealth of traditional Israeli foods, including bourekas (sesame-sprinkled cheese pastries), falafel (luscious deep-fried chickpea balls) and the diced cucumbers and tomatoes of a customary Israeli salad (drizzled in lemon and olive oil, if you please). In fact, Ashdod’s shuk, or open-air market, is famous throughout the country. It opens every Wednesday (or on Monday when there’s a Jewish holiday on Wednesday) on the wide boardwalk of the Lido Beach. Here you can find loads of fresh fruit and vegetables that are fresher and more reasonably priced than in the supermarkets. There are also baked goods, spices, nuts, seeds and dried fruits.
Ashdod’s olim (new immigrants) enjoy all of these, but have also found ways to bring their own traditional cuisines into the city, using local ingredients like eggplant, olives, pomegranates, figs, dates, fresh fish and lamb to make dishes that are uniquely tayim — that’s Hebrew for delicious!
A FIRST TASTE
On the heels of the Holocaust, many Ashkenazi Jews from Europe had located to the Ashdod area, and in 1956 they welcomed another group of newcomers. The Moroccan Jewish olim at first stayed in primitive ma’abarot (camps) outside the port town. Surrounded by sand dunes, these small plots of land were often quite primitive, where a new immigrant could keep an eye on roaming chickens and maybe one or two goats, and perhaps plant a garden. By the ‘70s, medium-