Summing up the local culinary scene over the year
Haaretz’s restaurant reviewer, Saggie Cohen, sum up the last Jewish year (5782). The topic itself is of little interest to people abroad. But even committed BDSers (or lovers from afar) may find his socio-political observation of some interest in understanding the places. So here is a translation of his introduction (Translated by Sol Salbe):
The outgoing year was the year when it finally became clear that restaurant business is hard work: we left it to the Arabs. Almost all the significant restaurants that opened in the second part of the year, after the festive openings of the restaurants that were delayed due to the corona virus, were either restaurants led by Arab chefs or kosher restaurants [the majority of restaurants in Israel are not Kosher]…
Regarding kashrut [the state of being Kosher], the explanation is clear. And no, it’s not what you think. True, the Israeli public is becoming more traditional, and especially much more eager to demonstrate this traditionalism (or rather: this neo-traditionalism) in public. And it is also true that the proportion of observant Jewish tourists among all tourists into Israel has risen sharply, but the main reason for the abundance of kosher restaurants is a little more banal. Opening a restaurant today, more than ever, is a crazy financial gamble (banks, for example, have almost completely stopped lending money to restaurants). Therefore, when a restaurateur has the opportunity to open a restaurant in a hotel (whether it’s the puzzling Sereia, the decent Menara or Dvora which deserves, without a shadow of a doubt, the title of disgrace of the year) and reduce risks, they will rush to embrace the kashrut supervisor. Indeed, most of the new kosher restaurants are hotel restaurants.
The reasons for the abundance of Arab restaurants are also not very joyous. Two reasons stand out immediately. The first is evidenced by one of the best restaurants that opened this year, Omnia By Angus , in Deir al-Asad, the second is shown by another of the successful restaurants that opened, Raseef 33 in Haifa. What we can learn from Omnia teaches is that the affluent segment of the Arab community feels less and less comfortable going out to eat in restaurants in Jewish cities. After the Guardian of the Walls [2021 attack on Gaza] pogroms, the barrier that was always present but easy to ignore between Jews and Arabs became a real wall. And so, restaurants are beginning to appear in the Arab sector that target the affluent Arab diner in order to save them the stress of heading going to Jewish cities. What Raseef 33 teaches is that, similar to the scenes you have probably seen in TV series, there are quite a few Jews who do not really want to hear Arabic when they go out to restaurants. The result is that despite the drastic lack of workforce, the excellent workforce that exists in the Arab sector has difficulty finding work. In how many Jewish restaurants have you encountered an Arab waitress in the last year? Few and far between, if any. On the other hand: how many off-the-wall waiters have you come across? QED.
And so, one of the significant barriers to opening restaurants — lack of skilled personnel — hinders Arab restaurants less. They have the ability to hire excellent waiters and waitresses, they have the ability to have skilled chefs upfront (and we are addicted to open kitchens), and because of this, restaurants owned by Arabs and led by Arab chefs are better placed to overcome at least this obstacle. And why in Jewish restaurants does the Arab presence disturb the diners and in Arab restaurants it is less so? Here’s a question I’m still trying to figure out between myself and I.