Yotam Ottolenghi, perhaps Israel’s most famous chef, no longer lives in Israel. Yet from his perch in London—where he runs four hugely successful restaurants—Ottolenghi and his cooking partner, Sami Tamimi, have brought wide attention to the cuisine of this country and this region, and recently in particular to that of Jerusalem, their hometown. Ottolenghi grew up in the Jewish western part of Jerusalem and Tamimi in the Muslim eastern part. They share a deep, visceral connection to the city’s food: “The flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue. We imagine them and dream in them,” they write in their inspiring 2012 cookbook, Jerusalem.
The city is, of course, an intense crux of cultures and belief systems that, to put it mildly, have a difficult time interacting harmoniously. But, as you’ll read again and again here, that very crosscurrent has led to an expansive and variegated food culture that results in unlikely but often delightful combinations on the plate: Eastern Europe mixes with North Africa, Yemen with India, Uzbekistan with France, the United States with Iraq, and so on. Indeed, as Ottolenghi and Tamimi point out, food is one of the valuable unifying forces here: “It takes a giant leap of faith,” they say, “but we are happy to take it—what have we got to lose?—to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.