TV review: Jerusalem on a Plate

In the Holy City, they are what they eat


By Simon Round, December 22, 2011
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BBC 4

Yotam Ottolenghi in Jerusalem, a city with strong food traditions

Yotam Ottolenghi in Jerusalem, a city with strong food traditions

This may have been a food programme but you do not have to be long in Jerusalem before you taste the flavour of politics.

Falafel is, of course, the national dish of Israel - unless you happen to be a Palestinian vendor of the ubiquitous chickpea balls who feels he has a greater claim to the dish than Israeli upstarts.

Similarly, our guide to the edible delights of Jerusalem, that gentlest and most intellectual of chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi, was soon told by a Palestinian hummus seller that what the Israelis thought of as hummus was not really hummus at all. Disputes aside, what came across in this engaging documentary was how the food reflected the city.

It was, in turns, vibrant, diverse, rooted in history but ever-changing. Ottolenghi, a native Jerusalemite who left 20 years ago to revolutionise London's cafe culture, found that, for the Palestinians, tradition was all. Bakers were proud of the fact that their pastries were identical to those of their grandparents - and adhering to an ancient recipe had an honour attached to it.

However, the Jews of Jerusalem did not feel so bound by their own traditions. As Ottolenghi said: "We always think we can do better".

But while the trend a few years ago was to adopt European and American cuisine, young Jewish chefs were now returning to Middle Eastern dishes and reinterpreting them.

But, at one famous patisserie, Ashkenazi traditions were being observed in the form of magnificent Viennese confections, all baked of course by the cafe's Sephardi owner.

Only in Jerusalem.

    Last updated: 11:38am, December 22 2011