Advertisement Close

'Israeli American' Restaurants serving up traditional Arab dishes

posted on: Aug 31, 2016


BY: Adriana Murray/Contributing writer

Cultural appropriation seems to never go out of style, especially when it comes to food.  Los Angeles has become a nesting ground for trendy restaurants that specialize in serving renditions of traditional dishes from various cultures. In recent years, Israeli American restaurants have gained popularity in the city known for being one of the biggest spots for foodies, borrowing food from the Arab culture and tradition.

Restaurants often pride themselves on developing cutting edge dishes that entice all of the senses. This false sense of originality is created by changing minor ingredients in traditional dishes to market the meal as something shiny and new. With traditional Arab plates, such as hummus, falafel, and tabbouli becoming foodies’ top selections, Israeli American restaurants are taking advantage of the trend and opening restaurants.

Image courtesy of

In Los Angeles alone, more than ninety self-proclaimed Israeli restaurants have opened within the last eight to ten years. At any local restaurant serving Israeli food, there is sure to be an elongated list of different flavors of hummus. Non-Arab head chefs switch out ingredients in this and other traditional dish to give them new brands. Other foods like “Israeli salad,” also known as fattoush, have all found their way on to the abundant list of dishes that restaurant owners encourage their chefs to adapt as their own.

All of the restaurants share the idea that their food provides an authentic experience, while incorporating modern techniques to enhance the flavor and presentation of the dish, without considering the implications of such thinking. With minimum concern, traditional Israeli dishes are simply considered popular menu items and a cool photo to post on Instagram. Consequently, the history behind the food, as well as its importance, becomes lost in the flavor.

Food appropriation becomes a problem when the chef is not of the same culture, and also the restaurant is profiting from food they call their own.

Like traditional Israeli foods, other groups have also been “borrowed” from in order to dish out bestseller menu items. The term “borrowing” is often used loosely by a dominant culture to conceal their efforts to take something from another group and claim it as their own.

This idea of “borrowing” in America has been perpetrated since the pilgrims first encountered the Native Americans. Dishes with avocados, corn, and chocolate, taken from the Native Americans, have given American companies billions of dollars in profits. Financially benefiting from the cuisine of others is considered cultural appropriation and wrong, especially if that culture has been suppressed and unable to profit from their foods by those who took it.

It is often obscured and ignored that Ashkenazi Jews originally ate European cuisines prior to settling Israel. Traditional Jewish dishes include matzo, gefilte fish, and challah. But upon the establishment of Israel, Ashkenazi Jews were introduced to the native Arab foods of the region, which many are now claiming as “authentic Israeli food.”

Food extends beyond being used to meet nutritional needs, as it conveys a variety of cultural meanings. It expresses and provides information on social status, ethnicity, and wealth. When food is appropriated, it demonstrates a power dynamic where people who profit from the food control its narrative.

As an African proverb stated: “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter. It is essential that the restaurateurs give the necessary credit that is rightfully owed to the food’s originators. For many who suffer from oppression, like the Palestinians, culture becomes an essential factor in their identity. By taking away that Palestinian-Arab identity and calling it something else, the appropriator has changed the way Palestinians are perceived. That is not for anyone to decide but the native people themselves.

Failing to teach people about the important contributions that minority groups have made perpetuates their inferior position in American society, where white chefs still dominate kitchens serving food from Asia to Latin America. While food from other cultures is always welcomed in America, indigenous groups from whom the beloved foods originate from often have to jump through hoops just to receive a simple acknowledgement of their existence and importance in society.

It seems the only time minority groups are fully accepted is when their culture, especially their food, can be borrowed to further the socio-economic gains of the dominant group. When will the trend of Israeli cultural hunting transcend into an expression of gratitude and acknowledgement of Palestinian-Arab roots?