This afternoon I read a magazine article which lovingly described the preparation and presentation of a magnificently cooked pig served up in the Italian style as porchetta. Very nice I’m sure, I hear you say, but what’s the big deal? A common enough meal in Italy and thousands of Italian restaurants and kitchens around the world. Agreed. However this particular pig was served up in a wine bar in Jaffa, Israel, and prepared to celebrate the launch of a new book, in Hebrew, of Israeli pork recipes by the Israeli cardiac surgeon, Dr. Eli Landau. His groundbreaking book is called “The White Book” – a play on words derived from the euphemistic Israeli term for pork, the “white meat”.
Judaism’s food proscriptions play a very important role in the observance of the religion – indeed, for strict observers of the Jewish faith, the food rules are as important as any of the other religious requirements. For various reasons – not all of them related to hygiene, as the ancient Hebrews were not in possession of sophisticated medical knowledge – pork has come to be the most proscribed meat of all. For secular Israelis this made pork difficult, though not impossible, to procure and, when good beef was scarce, at certain butchers a request for the “white meat” was all that was needed to make a successful purchase.
Since the 1950’s, various Israeli local authorities have passed bylaws restricting the raising of pigs and the sale of pork products and in 1962 The Pork Law, which banned the raising and slaughter of pigs, except in a very few Christian localities and scientific research facilities, had a stormy, but successful passage through the Knesset. For some, these laws were not strict enough and in the late 1970’s pressure from a violent minority brought about demonstrations and, in some cases, arson attacks on stores that sold pork.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s saw an influx of Russian immigrants to Israel, many of whom had become distanced from their Jewish traditions, were in the habit of eating pork and proceeded to open up a rash of non-kosher delicatessens. This brought about another flurry of political activity as religious political parties sought to ban the sale of pork and shut down the delicatessens, but merely succeeded in prohibiting the sale of imported non-kosher meats. Thus, while locally made pork sausages are available in some outlets in Israel, the joys of proscuitto, jamon and Italian salami are only available to local foodies if illegally smuggled in.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1949, to Polish-Jewish parents, Dr. Eli Landau is a cardiologist in a leading Israeli hospital who studied medicine in Italy and moonlights as a food writer. As a young child who was struggling to thrive, he was fed a weekly ration of a mysterious sausage provided by a grateful Holocaust survivor who was saved by Landau’s mother. The flavours of the sausage, which he subsequently discovered was ham-based, embedded themselves in his palate sending the adult Eli on a search for the “white meat”.
In partnership with popular Israeli chef Haim Cohen, he has written two bestselling kosher cookbooks and also writes a weekly feature for a newspaper. With a small, but growing number of pork eaters in Israel, Dr. Landau felt it was time to make it easier for home cooks to prepare a meat that they have little experience in cooking. This first ever collection of pork recipes published in Hebrew was not easy to get into print as Israel’s major publishers refused to to produce it, so Dr. Landau published it himself earlier this year. He says his book, which would not have been possible 20 years ago and has now sold over half of it’s original 2,000 print run, is “a whisper … not some sort of provocative defiance” and is based on his own fondness for pork and love of meat.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]