By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Occasionally I have the privilege of reviewing independent films opening in only select markets, and most of the time these films have something truly special to offer. The latest film, a documentary titled In Search of Israeli Cuisine, examines the rich culinary culture that has risen in a nation with a history of political turmoil and sometimes hostile relations between people of Jewish and Arabic backgrounds. Though the country mostly consists of people of these two faiths, there are various divisions and affiliations within both. These diverse subcultures have one main thing in common. They all love delectable food, and this film examines the vibrant and diverse restaurant scene that the nation has to offer.
Directed by Roger Sherman, the documentary follows the journey of Chef Michael Solomonov as he explores various parts of Israel, sampling the wonderful assortment of dishes while learning about their histories, ingredients and cultural significance. Solomonov was born in Israel and raised in America. He runs a restaurant in Pittsburgh named Zahav where he serves some of the best food Israel has to offer. Known as “the genius of Jewish cooking,” Michael serves as the film’s guide visiting different restaurants of both Jewish and Arabic cultures while learning about the complicated relations and politics that overshadow them.
The film is a truly fascinating and enlightening journey for anyone interested in the rich history, culture and various recipes of a nation with a troubled history, and possibly troubled future. Fans of cuisine documentaries are certain to savor and enjoy what this doc has to offer. I, for one, knew very little about the food of Israel and have always assumed that Jewish cuisine prevailed there. The food is much more diverse with more hybrids of both Jewish and Arabic recipes than I had anticipated. Perhaps if people would sit together and break bread to discuss their commonalities, rather than focus on their differences and their inability to accept them, there would be more peace in this world.
Sherman’s film addresses those issues with much subtlety, and keeps the focus mainly on the food and the love and passion that goes into it. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys learning about the cuisines of foreign lands or anyone curious about learning the fascinating histories behind some familiar foods. The film will open on March 24, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and nationwide through Menemsha Films. I am also willing to bet that it will eventually become available through streaming services and will eventually end up on PBS, the Travel Channel or Food Network.