Alongside the staples of Israeli street food – falafel, burekas, sabich – is a very trusty, if sour, sidekick: hamutzim. Like the English term “pickles,” hamutzim refers both specifically to a cucumber cured in brine or vinegar and left to ferment for some time, and to a variety of vegetables that have undergone the same process.
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At curbside stands, there are often bowls of various hamutzim lined up for your self-service enjoyment, often accompanied by jalepenos and grilled eggplant. In hummus joints, it’s common for the server to drop off a bowl of hamuztim before the meal, which can include a mixture of pickled cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, peppers and cauliflower to whet your appetite. It’s the equivalent of bread at an Italian restaurant, but with a lot more attitude and a lot less carbs. When self-service is available, don’t be shy to pile up and return for more or, when in a restaurant, to ask your server to replenish the supply.
Many regions of the world have their own version of the pickle, each bathed in its own regionally-specific concoction of vinegar, salt, and spices. The sliced, salad-like mixes of hamutzim found in Israel, which can be consumed as a finger food, came to Israel with the waves of immigration from the east, particularly Iraq and Iran – part of the Mizrahi culinary influence that also gave us kubbe, jachnun, sabich, and the fiery zkhug that spices up your meal.
So don’t confuse the hamutzim with any version of the so-called “kosher dill” pickle which is a uniquely American invention (with Eastern European roots), which isn’t actually kosher in terms of its certification but rather earned the name from New York deli-owners who distinguish this pickle’s taste from others by adding a healthy dose of garlic and dill.