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Research on Shaping Foodways and Food Decisions

Home Cooking National Cuisine: How Jewish-Israeli Middle-Class Women Savour Home [i]

  • Hadas Ore

Corps de l’article

Introduction

What is there in the Ashkenazi kitchen [east and central European Jewish cuisine] anyway? Gefilte fish and chicken soup with matzo balls…? It’s all bland foods and overcooked cheap vegetables that end up looking grey like your typical chopped liver pâté. In comparison, any Mizrahi kitchen [North African and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisines] is better. Take for example, my Moroccan mum’s kitchen, especially her couscous, it is amazing. Once, I invited a friend to eat the couscous I made, which is only half as good as my mum’s or my grandmothers’ couscous. She could not get enough, thinking to this day that my couscous is the best food she’d ever eaten in her life. The warm flavours, the smells, the textures, all blend in beautifully … there is nothing like it!  [ii]

Nellie

Nellie’s passionate manifesto is a snippet paraphrased from a conversation we held as part of my PhD research in social anthropology. In my fieldwork I examined the everyday experiences of 25 Jewish-Israeli women who immigrated to New Zealand with their families and settled in Auckland since the early 2000s. The study focussed on why and how they changed home cooking following migration, reformulating the everyday practice that produces meals and snacks on daily basis with the intention of non-commercial consumption. As such, home cooking remains one of the domains most associated with the lives of middle-class women; an everyday practice that is a gendered representation of the familial home, despite the influence of second-wave feminism in many western countries. [iii]

Considering that Nellie is married to an Ashkenazi husband, her short manifesto above makes clear the powerful significance of her Moroccan (Mizrahi) descent. She is idealising the memory of her own home cooked couscous and the couscous of her Moroccan female kin, mother and grandmothers, while denigrating iconic Ashkenazi food. In is important to note that while Ashkenazim and Mizrahim are the two main ethnic groups in the Jewish-Israeli population, Zionist ideologues and policy-makers perceived the Ashkenazim as the elite. [iv]

I contemplated my conversation with Nellie and compared her experience with those of the other women in my study group. I then realised that following their migration to New Zealand, the longing and nostalgic memories of the women drove them to begin recreating dishes that epitomise the memories of their close female kin and remind them of their respective national homes. The dishes women in my study cooked (or asked their husbands to cook for them) became metonyms of their female kin and the nation-states that their female kin had emigrated from. I noticed the complexity of their behaviour: many women in my study regarded iconic Mizrahi home cooked dishes as better than iconic Ashkenazi dishes. They employed their appreciation and longing for their close female kin to idealise their home cooking and subverted the Jewish-Israeli ethnic and class-based hierarchy. Yet in this regard I also found that women expressed longing for Ashkenazi or Mizrahi home cooked dishes and idealised their close female kin somewhat differently according to their class and ethnicity, as shall be further demonstrated.

In this essay I pay close attention to the complexity of the emotions and memories of Jewish-Israeli middle-class women as they are expressed and materialised in their everyday experiences through their home cooking over three generations. I recognise and validate the importance of these women’s home cooking, their emotions and memories by looking into how their choices of dishes in the familial home reformulate their national cuisine. A national cuisine is often understood as represented by the typical foods and staples of a certain nation-state; foods that are usually presented by the media, cooked by celebrity chefs, and often represented in cookbooks and in other culinary texts by food writers. These iconic representations materialise the long lasting symbolic connection of citizens and emigrants alike with their nation-state as social actors that define their cuisine in relation to the cuisines of other nations in the world.

I argue that in order to fully understand the changes that occur in national cuisines over time, one has to consider the contribution of middle-class women’s home cooked dishes and the social connections they materialise through dishes along generations. In particular I pay attention to the nostalgia that women convey through home cooking, highlighting their dishes as a metaphoric means to journey home by which they negotiate social relationships. These social relationships relate to the relationships that constitute familial homes by materialising kinship, as well as the citizen-nation relations that form connections with the national home. In the case of the women in my study the national home is regarded as their Israeli nation-state, as well as the nation-states of their female kin prior to their immigration to Israel: countries in east and central Europe, North Africa and the Middle-East. [v]

By emphasising the link between familial homes and national homes, my analysis expends on the scholarly inference that any national cuisine is a contested “home ground”; the expression of social relationships that materialise connections and powerful struggles between and within cultural groups, constituting collective identities. Studies that consider powerful identity struggles in the national food arena are found, for example, with regard to the social processes and debates that gave rise to the iconic status of pavlova (meringue-like cake) due to cultural wars between New Zealand and Australia, [vi] and hummus due to cultural wars between Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians. [vii]

In order to highlight the links between familial and national homes that are realised through food by women, my theoretical approach incorporates two main bodies of literature: research on the home cooking of mainly middle-class women, often first generation migrants from different cultural groups, and the literature that brings to the fore recent developments in the social theory of nostalgia.

Food studies since the mid-1990s have extended our understanding of the power relations between cultural groups in the national home. Many such studies emphasize the power of migrant populations to resist assimilation, discussing how they cope with the challenges posed by health policies, the schooling system, the mass media and the mass consumption of fast food. Certain works specifically address the idea that homogenisation of taste is instigated by the rise of national cuisines. [viii] Other studies that focus on middle-class migrant women’s home cooking portray their practice as a means to resist processes of homogenisation. [ix] In particular, migrant women’s home cooking is regarded as an intergenerational means of maintaining cultural continuity by transmitting culinary knowledge to the next generation and shoring up ethnic identities.

There have been two main developments since the 2000s in the social theory of nostalgia, with the first suggesting that women negotiate gendered power relations in the family and beyond, emphasizing resistance as inherent in nostalgia. [x] Studies in this literature portray women as liberated via their longing to return home, as the analysis of Pamela Sugiman exemplifies. [xi] Sugiman examined the life stories of Japanese-Canadian migrant women who suffered the deliberate destruction of their communities and families in Canada in a form of “cultural genocide” during the Second World War. [xii] Sugiman claims that these women’s expression of nostalgia for their youthful prewar lives in Japan is a means of reclaiming their power, dignity and positive identity. [xiii] The second theoretical development derives from a growing body of literature on post-Socialist and post-Communist societies. [xiv] This literature examines the results of the disintegration of the USSR (1989) and the subsequent political changes in east and central Europe. Most of the studies in this literature argue that it is the critical engagement of cultural groups with their present lives, which leads them to recast their past by idealising the memory of their national home in order to articulate the desire for solidarity. This desire is also expressed through their social critique towards their contemporary conditions of living as they reformulate citizen–state relations.

In the historical account that follows the description of my fieldwork and methodology, I use secondary analysis of a few ethnographies that relate to the experiences of Jewish-Israeli women in Israel and many historic studies. My account identifies the important trends that the Jewish-Israeli society has seen since the pre state 1920s. The discussion questions the impact of the Zionist ideology on the everyday experiences of women through their food production and consumption in the familial home and their place in constructing their national home, relating to two main phases: the 1920s–1960s and post-1960. In the first phase, I claim that the Zionist ideology legitimised national-European nostalgia on account of other non-European nostalgias; those of the marginalised social groups in the Israeli society, by constituting two mythical figures. These mythical figures deliberately marginalised of the Arab and the Arab-Jewish (Mizrahi) populations and promulgated their ‘double colonisation.’ In the second phase I focus on societal responses to second–wave feminism in the food arena via the regeneration of a third mythical figure. Finally, I offer concluding remarks that bring to the fore the complexity of women’s journeys home, materialising intimacy and tensions, also by reflecting on my own home cooking and nostalgia.

The Fieldwork, Methodology and Study Group

I conducted fieldwork (2007-2011) in the homes of Jewish-Israeli migrant women through over 300 hours of repeated in-depth, open-ended interviews and participant observation. I focussed on changes that the women engendered in six everyday domestic food practices following their migration: grocery shopping, cooking, baking, casual and festive hospitality and dieting for managing weight. My fieldnotes were incorporated into the analysis, in part by transcribing verbatim and in other parts by paraphrasing conversations, also using some self-reflections. In addition, I examined how the food media employ nostalgia by comparing television advertisements and programmes in Israel and New Zealand. Lastly I analysed public events related to food in the Orthodox Jewish community in Auckland that a few women from the group participated in. Their minimal participation in these food events was due to the fact that most of the women self-identify as “secular” Jewish (apart from one woman who self-identifies as “traditional” Jewish). [xv]

The women in the study were all born in Israel and at the time of my fieldwork their ages ranged from 35-55. While most of the women were born to migrant parents, for all, migration to New Zealand was their first migration. The women belong to the middle-class; an affiliation that constitutes their migration experience and their experience regarding food and cooking. They were able to withstand the economic pressures of moving to New Zealand, demonstrating their economic power. Over two thirds of the women acquired tertiary education in Israel and all held white-collar jobs there. In New Zealand, however, only a third of the women held white-collar jobs, partly since a third of the women chose to leave their paid employment to become “stay-at-home” mothers. The economic status of the women enabled most to conduct biannual visits to Israel with their family, despite the geographical distance and their economic hurdle. The women used their economic means to fulfill their food cravings in these visits and also purchase food that they brought with them. Similarly, they enjoyed food parcels sent or brought by others from Israel, and their ability to purchase many special food products from Israel and the Middle-East in New Zealand that are usually costly. Overall the changes the women engendered in their food production and consumption practices at home materialised connections with both Israel and New Zealand, where they also established close relations with largely the European middle-class, while a few women set-up food businesses.

The First Phase: The Sabra and the Polania in the Zionist Home-Building

Like most national ideologies of their time, Zionism, the primary political force that propelled the establishment of the state of Israel, integrates socialist and liberal ideals. [xvi] Yet Zionist ideology is also premised on a unique nostalgia [xvii] that recasts prominent Jewish values and messianic beliefs as secular, modern and civilised, and as a means of ensuring the survival of the Jewish people through political upheavals and transformations. [xviii] The main aim of early Zionism was to turn the new Jewish state into a modern nation-state, like any other of the world’s nation-states. [xix] All life spheres were included by Zionists in the quest to free, and indeed redeem, the Jewish people from the melancholic, effeminate and demeaning self-images that they had internalised in recent European history. [xx] These negative images were specifically associated with diasporic Jews in east and central Europe, [xxi] who constituted the elite of Jewish-Israeli society, known as the Ashkenazim. For this purpose, the Ashkenazi Zionists replaced the Jewish belief in God with the redeeming powers of the nation-state, the state army [xxii] and food, [xxiii] in this way constituting the iconic masculine figure of the sabra (li. Prickly pear), the native-born Israeli. The sabra is characterised as the antithesis of the diasporic Jew: bearing a European, virile and healthy body. He is a self-reliant, resourceful, innovative, hard-working, spontaneous, open, direct and confident man. [xxiv] According to these images, Jewish-Israeli men working the land were seen as ‘impregnating’ the barren soil and bringing about abundance by the physical and symbolic powers vested in their labouring bodies. There is prolific literature on the mythical figure of the sabra [xxv] and he continues to figure in popular discussions of Israeli identity. [xxvi]

Another important aspect of the Zionist ideological formation was the establishment of a broad social hierarchy based on perceptions of gendered bodies, labour and food practices. Even before the establishment of Israel, the spiritually transforming power accorded to food and eating practices drove Zionist policy makers to introduce new foods to new Jewish immigrants (and to remove familiar foods like rice), rather than promote the consumption of local Arab foods. In this way the production and consumption of food in the familial home was a prolific site for redesigning the eating and feeding practices of the Jewish population in a way that excluded Arabs from the national collective. The ‘tozeret haaretz’ (product of the land) campaign, launched in the 1920s during the Yishuv (lit. settlement) period, further promulgated this boundary. [xxvii]

In the process of creating ethnic and class boundaries within the Jewish population in Israel, Mizrahim were colonised and marginalised by the Ashkenazi elite. [xxviii] While the Ashkenazim mobilised the Zionist movement via modernisation and secularisation, [xxix] Mizrahim were and still are considered to be more “traditional” than Ashkenazim.

Simultaneously Zionist ideologues epitomised middle-class Jewish-Israeli women as housewives, viewing them primarily as mothers and depicting their labours of bearing and rearing children and cooking for the family as fundamental for the survival of the family and the building of the nation. [xxx] Women were also seen as bearing the main responsibility for the health and well being of the family. [xxxi] These labours were, however, perceived as less prestigious than, and secondary to, the manual and militaristic labours associated with men (Rosin 2005:190). [xxxii]

Mizrahi women faced the double burden of ethnic and class discrimination. During the food scarcities of the rationing period (1949–1951), new Mizrahi migrant women and their families commonly inhabited temporary camps, sometimes for years. [xxxiii] Because of discrimination, these women were accused by Zionist ideologues of prioritising food provision for their husbands or themselves while neglecting their children. As a result, state supervision separated women from infants and children up to the age of twelve during mealtimes under the guise of protecting children’s welfare. [xxxiv]

In practice, however, because of the severity of the food rationing, lower- to middle-class Ashkenazi and Mizrahi women alike put their children first when feeding and cooking. [xxxv] Jewish-Israeli womanhood came to be modelled on a premise of problematic care: the “excessive” care of over-anxious, but “good,” Ashkenazi women and the “poor” level of care by Mizrahi women. State demands for food abstinence, and the associated sacrifice of pleasure on the part of lower- to middle-class women, not only contrasted with the fundamental value in Judaism that celebrates life by eating, [xxxvi] but also conveyed a sense of threat by depicting Jewish women as providing unsatisfying levels of care. Without a doubt, these models intensified the hierarchy of gender, class and ethnicity among the Jewish population that had already begun to form before the establishment of the state. [xxxvii] Anecdotal evidence regarding the everyday lives of Jewish-Israeli women in this era hints at how they kept up at home nostalgic cooking, evoking a “little” Moroccan/Iraqi/Polish homeland through their dishes and hospitality by upholding distinct Jewish traditions. [xxxviii]

The sense of threat to survival at the time is strongly evident in the stereotypical Jewish feminine figure of the polania (li. Polish woman), formulated by Zionists as a sacrificial sufferer who enacts guilt and attempts to control others through blame. Historically, however, it is hard to pinpoint the exact period when this stereotypical figure arose, with some studies suggesting that the polania may have been a response to the gendered denigration of Jews in Europe as effeminate. [xxxix] The figure of the polania also depicts European upper class aspiration through emphasis on education and economic mobility and the desire for respect. The desire for respect is manifested by the importance placed on making a good impression, civilised table manners and appearance. [xl] Studies that examine the socio-historic conditions in the lives of Jews in Britain and the USA prior to the First World War relate to the formation of an equivalent myth, the ‘Yiddish Mama’. [xli]

The figure of the polania remains distinctly overlooked in social research on the everyday life of women in the Jewish-Israeli society, despite its prevalent role in popular culture, particularly in humour and in the media to this day. A few very minor exceptions are found in work on Jewish cooking by Claudia Roden, [xlii] suggesting that the Israeli national sense of insecurity is one reason for current (i.e. since the 1980s) propensity for “constant noshing or grazing.” Roden explains this propensity as the manifestation of the motherly worry of the polania, a manifestation that she regards as a national phenomenon. Further two MA theses stand as important exceptions in showing that the polania is a persistent figure against which Jewish-Israeli women measure themselves, regardless of their ethnicity and class. [xliii]

The Jewish-Israeli women in my study group, for example, enact both intimacy and social tension through their home cooking by grappling with the myth of the polania, as they negotiate their relationships with their kin and the land of Israel. Women often portray this homeland as an overbearing mother by relating to Israel as a place in which people care “too much” about women’s looks and weight. Women’s social critique towards Israel is also demonstrated by using the biblical quote of “a land that eats up its inhabitants” to convey political scorn. [xliv] However, these tensions are complemented by their longing for and intimacy with the tastes, smells and textures of certain vegetables and fruits, dairy products and even salt in this “land of milk and honey”, as they put it. [xlv]

Regarding kinship relationships some women like Geffen, for example, attest that to this day they are disgusted by gefilte fish, relating their disdain of the jelly-like texture, and the taste and smell of the dish. In the case of Geffen, more than any other dish, gefilte fish materialises the memory of her “domineering Polish mother.” Needless to say, women like Geffen reject cooking dishes of kin that pose a threat to them and evoke and materialise negative memories.

Often women, similarly to Yvette, as another example, also reject worry over cooking to feed children, instead blaming kin for “behaving like a polania.” In this way, women criticize others for an ongoing emphasis on education and the strong drive for upward mobility instead of expressing genuine care. They commonly employ self-deprecating humour to convey self-irony by referring to the myth of the polania. Hinting at the pleasure and relief they find in remembering their collective past in this way, they blame themselves for over care as they mock their own “obsessions” and “faults” regarding home cooking and feeding others. For example, Yasmin and Nora assert their polania-like behaviour to emphasise that they ensure that their children and guests are satisfied with and take pleasure in the Israeli food they regularly prepare in New Zealand.

Indeed, by the 1960 state policy discourses of Zionist ideologues had led to the constitution of an Israeli national cuisine by detaching certain Mizrahi and Palestinian-Arab foods from their specific national, ethnic and class associations and turning these dishes into national iconic foods. [xlvi] Falafel, hummus, soft white cheeses like cottage, quark and labne (yoghurt-based soft cheese), shakshukah (a cooked egg and tomato dish) and Israeli-Arab salad (diced vegetables dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper) are prominent examples of popular and cheap foods that Jewish-Israelis enjoy eating at home or as street foods and in other ready-made commercial forms. [xlvii] Israel’s national cuisine is comprised of such simple dishes and the iconic breakfast featuring the aforementioned cheeses, Arab/Israeli salad, bread and eggs. The popularity of these foods sustains their relatively low status as street foods in Israel, along with the fact that most of these dishes are provided by Mizrahi restaurants kept mainly by Mizrahi Jews and Israeli-Palestinians. [xlviii]

All the women in my study group convey longing for these dishes, taking great pride in preparing them at home, while also demonstrating their cooking abilities to children, friends and guests by feeding them with their own nostalgic memories. Many of these foods, including the iconic breakfast, receive a celebratory status in family meals on weekends, and casual and festive hospitality events that attest to the pleasure that Jewish-Israeli women take in cooking and eating well. Two notable women even decided to commercialise their longing home by beginning to sell these dishes to New Zealanders through the businesses they established in Auckland.

The Second Phase: The Myth of the Bashlanit in Life after Second-Wave Feminism

The rise in individualism, increased Americanisation and consumerism saw more middle-class women becoming career-oriented and working outside the home, [xlix] and more women gaining tertiary education. In accordance, two MA theses on middle-class Jewish-Israelis argue that from the 1980s there has been a rise in the number of middle-class men cooking at homes by acting as the “Key Kitchen Person.” [l]

Yet life after second-wave feminism in the Israeli society (post 1960s) was subject to other and more important changes concerning gender and ethnic power relations, as well as food practices among the secular Jewish population. These changes contributed to the growing legitimacy of expressions of nostalgia in the public sphere; longing for the homelands from which various Jewish groups had immigrated to Israel and the Jewish traditions they held there, previously considered taboo. [li]

The rise of multiculturalism from the 1980s replaced the social-culinary metaphor of the ‘melting pot’ for the national Jewish home and acknowledged the importance of the preservation of heritage and legacy dishes of various Jewish ethnic groups. By this time, third-generation, middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish-Israelis had begun expressing nostalgia for Ashkenazi traditions as they began cooking the dishes of the shtetl: gefilte fish (fish patties), tzimmes (a dish of cooked, sweetened carrots), and kreplach (stuffed dough pockets). [lii] In doing so, they caught up both with Jewish-Israelis from other ethnicities and with the Jewish ethnic populations in other locations around the world. [liii] This process encouraged the perception of specific dishes, spices, eating practices, modes of hospitality, festive celebrations, culinary styles and food preferences as strong ethnic markers in the public arena. [liv] For example, each Jewish ethnic group has its own festive and Shabbat dishes cooked slowly on residual heat overnight to be eaten on Shabbat morning–chulent and d’fina are variations on the same dish with different names and nuances according to their ethnic origins.

Following their migration to New Zealand, the women in my study turn these dishes into metonyms of their female kin from the past two generations. They begin to cook dishes that resonate with homelands other than Israel, places they had never lived in or visited. In fact, by cooking such iconic dishes, the women express longing for the longing of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations. [lv] Rotem, for example, claimed that “I took the best out of my Moroccan mother and Romanian mother in law by combining their different ingredients, spices and serving methods when learning to cook chulent in New Zealand.” Shivon, as another example, noted that in cooking kube shwandar (beetroot soup with meat dumplings) according to her Iraqi grandmother’s recipe, the dish evokes memories of distant times, places and events from her childhood. The soup materialised the memory of Shivon’s grandmother, whom Shivon regarded as her “guiding light,” in contrast with the general message she had received at home from her mother as “not being good enough.” Often when conveying critique over tensed relationships with mothers or mothers in law, women like Shivon skip a generation to their grandmothers’ recipes.

Yet generally the women’s admiration for female close kin coalesced with idealising their dishes as the materialisation of love and care at homes regardless of ethnicity. However, when Mizrahi female kin were idealised women depicted their cooking skills and culinary knowledge as embedded in their senses, emphasising their ability to overcome poverty. Women also associated some Mizrahi home cooked dishes with poverty negatively, epitomising them as the “jailhouse” foods of low class, often due to high fat content. In comparison, when Ashkenazi female kin were idealised, women associated them with sophisticated and highly literate home cooking that demonstrated civilised manners. Women who cook iconic Ashkenazi dishes express trouble in acknowledging their kin’s teaching and confine these dishes only to certain Jewish festive times. By beginning with memories from their own childhoods through to adolescence in Israel they emphasise how they gained and increased their status after moving to New Zealand as bashlaniot (pl. cooking women).

The myth of the bashlanit (sing.) is the result of the unique coalescing of Jewish values with Zionist ideology in response to second-wave feminism. In its modernised guise, the bashlanit echoes at least two earlier Jewish feminine myths, Eve in the Garden of Eden and eshet chayil (‘a woman of great valour’). This figure epitomises feminine prowess and modernity: not only is she technically able, well equipped, and pragmatic (she uses convenient ingredients such as tinned food and makes one-pot meals), she is also capable of successfully synchronising her womanly obligations, all the while emanating love. This ideal is premised on the wish for an omnipotent femininity depicted through the pleasures of cooking and feeding.

The bashlanit is a woman who hosts spontaneously and warmly, but is also capable of planning lavish and impressive hospitality around Jewish festive meals, and keeps to kosher rules, in contrast to the elitist model of Israeli male chefs. [lvi] These male chefs cook complicated and typically non-kosher dishes in expensive restaurants for rich customers and have gradually entered into the heart of the public culinary elite; [lvii] in particular, Mizrahi, and homosexual men gained high profiles through upmarket restaurants, cookbooks and the Israeli media. As these men became Israeli icons, presenting a new form of national belonging through their ‘softer’ or more effeminate masculinities, the love of cooking and eating became a vital marker of Israeli masculinity.

During that time (the 1980s) two Ashkenazi women, Ruth Sirkis and Nira Rousso, became renowned role models for middle-class Jewish-Israeli women in regard to food production in the domestic sphere, recasting the mythical figure of the bashlanit[lviii] Sirkis and Rousso recast this mythical figure by publishing cookbooks and other forms of culinary texts that were, and still are, highly popular among Israeli domestic cooks (including the women who participated in my study). They deliberately base their model of the bashlanit on the American success of Julia Child, [lix] targeting middle-class women who work in paid employment and cook on a daily basis. Whilst the model of Julia Child revolutionised American middle-class domestic cooking by emphasising the personal-visceral pleasure in cooking for the sake of cooking, [lx] the model of Sirkis and Rousso created an idealised image of a family woman.

Concluding Remarks and Some Self-Reflection

In this essay I have argued that middle-class women’s home cooking and their nostalgia contribute to the realisation of the collective space of a national home as they redesign national cuisine over time. I claimed that as home cooks, middle-class women take an active role in reformulating this arena by enacting generational kinship relationships and negotiating ethnic and class-based relationships. To highlight women’s experiences, I began with the food contestation of Nellie, who intentionally subverts the social hierarchy of ethnicity and class through her nostalgic regard towards home cooked couscous. Couscous evokes and materialises Nellie’s nostalgia towards the past two generations of her female kin in Morocco and Israel. The nostalgic experiences of other women in my study, like Nellie, materialise both intimacy and tension through home cooking. It is their nostalgia that motivates women to commence recreating the home cooked dishes of their kin; dishes that also epitomise connections with their national homes prior to immigration to Israel. In contrast, when disgusted by home cooked dishes women would reject their recreation on account of associations with female kin that somewhat differ according to their class and ethnicity, as is the case when idealising kin.

Looking back at my own experience, I realise that longing for past homes urged me to embark on a similar metaphoric journey through my cooking. While I began emulating the Ashkenazi dishes of my grandmothers and mother, by and large I preferred cooking on daily basis the Mizrahi dishes of my mother in law, as if I could amend social injustices in this way. Similarly to the women in my study, I materialised connections with the national homes of my female kin, for the sake of making myself and my children feel ‘at home’ in New Zealand.

The historic analysis in this essay uses the lens of women’s experiences in home cooking and their nostalgia to acknowledge their part in reformulating Israel’s national cuisine, focussing on their intimacy and ambivalence. I have shown that their practice of home cooking is never separated from the national ideology and the aspiration for building homes; rather, women employ this practice alongside and against such ideologies to constitute their current identities. The politics of the dishes women cook at home and their nostalgia should not be overlooked by academic research that relates to national cuisine, but instead be used to substantiate a prolific “home ground” for further comparative analysis of the power dynamics between genders, ethnicities and classes that women negotiate in other postcolonial societies.

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