For the latest in my ongoing series on Great Israeli Food People, I’m pleased to spotlight Gil Hovav, one of Israel’s top culinary journalists who has played a major role in developing a greater appreciation of Israeli cuisine. Through his writing, TV and radio programs, cookbooks and seminars, Gil is a widely respected food authority and a highly influential figure on the country’s culinary scene. He’s contributed considerably to the change Israel has undergone in recent years, from a country of basic traditional foods into a ‘gourmet nation.’
Born in Jerusalem in 1962, Gil grew up in the city’s Old Katamon neighborhood where I, too, spent my youth. I’ve long admired his work ever since I first began reading his articles in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper and later his books.
Since moving to Toronto, I’ve had the pleasure of twice hosting Gil for sold out events for the local Jewish and Canadian-Israeli community. At the first event, he ran a workshop in the culinary studio at the Prosserman JCC where his passion for and rich knowledge of Israeli cuisine were clearly evident. A few years later, while on a visit to Toronto, he was the special guest of honor at the kick-off event at the Schwartz Reisman Centre for a new season of Israeli cultural programming in Toronto.
During the time I spent with Gil on these two occasions, I found him a real people person, who’s intelligent and has a good sense of humor.
Gil, who today lives in Tel Aviv, began his career as a restaurant critic at age 24. After working as an editor at an Israeli newspaper, he became involved in creating, producing and presenting some of the country’s most viewed cooking and food shows on TV, some of which became bestselling cookbooks.
To gain Gil’s perspective on Israeli food, I recently asked him several questions to which he responded with the following answers:
What does Israeli food mean to you?
It’s home. It’s how I remember my childhood and family in Jerusalem and what I long for when I am away. I travel a lot and usually don’t eat Israeli food while away (even in the many fine Israeli establishments that have opened in Europe and the US in recent years.) But I crave the hummus served on El Al flights as it means that I’m on my way back to Israel! And once home, first things first – a big, fresh Israeli chopped salad.
What makes Israeli food stand out?
Just like us Israelis, our food is bold, ruthless, direct, happy and spicy. It’s Eastern Mediterranean which means it has similarities with Italian or Greek food, but with more sunshine and spice.
Why do you think Israeli food has become so popular outside Israel in recent years?
There are many reasons – healthy, fresh, vegetarian and vegan-friendly but I think the main reason is that it is colorful and looks great on Instagram.
What Israeli dish do you love most to prepare, and why?
I love making hummus from scratch. It’s simple, local and always good
What Israeli dish do you love most to eat, and why?
Kubaneh is a traditional Yemenite-Jewish bread, baked all night in a pot and served for brunch on Shabbat. This is what we ate at my grandma’s every Saturday morning. I still make it and always have tears in my eyes when we have it.
What is your favourite ingredient to use when preparing an Israeli dish?
What is your favorite restaurant that serves Israeli food?
Mom’s Kitchen, a working class restaurant serving Jewish Tripolitan and Iraqi dishes in Or Yehuda.