Why Is Pork Disappearing From Tel Aviv Restaurants?

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Pork rib with bacon and Manchego at Hotel Montefiore. A rare sight at Tel Aviv restaurants.
Pork rib with bacon and Manchego at Hotel Montefiore. A rare sight at Tel Aviv restaurants.Credit: Shiran Carmel

Whether it’s been a deliberate trend or just a coincidence, over the last couple of years a lot of Tel Aviv restaurants have taken pork off their menu. This has occurred at upscale establishments like Hamizlala and Toto, popular spots like Mifgash Hasteak and Pundak Ayalon, and trendy eateries like Zozobra.

At other places, pork isn’t always listed on the menu, but has become a secret item, or appears only very occasionally in the list of specials. Da Peppe has bid goodbye to non-kosher sausage and now uses only the kosher kind (only to put in on the pizza with cheese). Mel & Michelle, which was known for years for its menu featuring all kinds of pork dishes, has nearly gotten rid of it entirely, and the Bulgarian restaurants in Jaffa haven’t gone kosher, but you won’t find pork there anymore.

Chef restaurants like Raphael, Catit and Messa are not kosher, but there are no pork dishes there either. As chef Meir Adoni of Catit explains: “The way I understand it, there’s no place for it in the Israeli culinary scene.”

Pork sausage at the Minzar.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“We used to be the biggest pork restaurant in Tel Aviv,” says Nir Weiman, chef and owner of Mel & Michelle. “But over time, more and more diners were telling us that although they enjoyed their meal, they wouldn’t be coming back. When asked why, the answer was always the same: ‘Because there’s pork in the kitchen.’” He says that Jewish tourists from France, Russia and America also call before coming to inquire if the restaurant serves pork.

“They don’t mind if there’s seafood, but they don’t want there to be any pork in the kitchen. I’ve had people tell me: ‘Take away the pork, and we’ll come.’” So at first he reduced the number of pork dishes on the menu from five to three, then last year it was down to two, and on the current menu there is just one. And Weiman says it’s possible that will be gone soon too.

Zviki Eshet, owner of Greenberg Bistro and Greco restaurants, both of which are non-kosher, decided prior to opening both places that there would be no pork on the menu. “In Israel in 2016, pork is taboo. Even people who aren’t religious and don’t really keep kosher still consider the pig an unclean and untouchable animal,” he says. “Greek cuisine uses a lot of pork, but we had to adapt our menu to the Israeli climate because a lot of people won’t come near a place if they see that pork is served there.”

Spare ribs in Track de Lux. Credit: Anatoly Michalo

From the first Hebrew city’s beginnings, pork was a regular feature in restaurants and delis, even when it was considered totally off-limits in the rest of the country. Pork was thought to be the ideal accompaniment to a cold beer, a white wine spritzer or a sweet Romanian wine. The secular immigrants who came from Europe didn’t harbor any religious sensitivities toward it. In early-20th-century Jaffa and Tel Aviv, pork was a very popular item in local restaurants. So why is it that a century or so later, a growing number of restaurants are refusing to serve it, even if they aren’t kosher?

Some restaurants figured they’d do better if they turned kosher. Other restaurant owners saw that customers were not ordering pork, so they decided not to spend money on it any longer. Butchers and deli owners who used to sell pork say they took it away because the public didn’t like seeing it there with the other meat. But lately the whole trend seems to have reached a new extreme.

Chef Amir Ilan, head of the cooking program at the Dan Gourmet culinary school, offers an interesting linguistic explanation for pork’s disappearance from the scene. “There is no word in the Hebrew language for pork as a food [the word hazir means “pig”], because the Academy of the Hebrew Language doesn’t give Hebrew names to non-kosher foods,” he says. Tarnegolet is chicken the animal, but ohf (rhymes with “loaf”) is the chicken you eat. Para is a cow, but beef is bakar. "Hazir, though, is always hazir, which can be off-putting. It hasn't undergone the same kind of symbolization that other foods have.”

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