No group of Israelis is more fiercely proud of their history and cultural heritage than the Bedouin, who had a profound influence on the culture of the people they encountered, and in no area was that influence felt more than in the kitchen.
The basic dining habits of the Bedouin, most of whom now live in the Negev and in the northern region of the country, have remained unchanged over time. They eat simple foods that reflect their pastoral roots. Based on uncomplicated but careful preparations, the everyday diet of those Bedouin who continue to maintain a primarily nomadic way of life relies heavily on bread and dates, lamb, mutton, goat and occasionally camel meat, and the milk of these animals, along with game and wild berries found in the desert. Despite this seeming simplicity, Bedouin cooking is often delicate, aromatic and rich with natural flavors.
The rules of courtesy and hospitality that surround traditional Bedouin dining are also rich. To dine in a Bedouin home is to accept not only the hospitality, but the protection of one's host. So formalized are the rules of hospitality that it is known that for three days after a meal, even if a guest has traveled many miles in that time, he remains under the protection of the family with which he dined. Although Bedouin rules of dining etiquette vary considerably from those of most Western homes, they are no less refined and delicate. At traditional meals, nearly all food is eaten with the fingers, a custom far more sophisticated and difficult to master than most Westerners realize. With the exception of couscous and other grain dishes, one should use only three fingers in eating - and only the right hand.
At many such meals, the very first offering is a bowl of fresh herbs - parsley, mint, chives, dill, coriander, tarragon and spring onions - with which to clean the palate and hone the appetite.
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Embassy of Israel; Israeli Foreign Ministry; Ruth's Kitchen; Manischewitz; Rogov's Ramblings- Reprinted with permission.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.