One of the best things about Druze life and culture is their cuisine.
The Druze is a unique Arabic-speaking ethnic and religious group that split from Islam approximately 1,000 years ago. Israel has the third-largest Druze population in the world after Syria and Lebanon. To date, there are about 143,000 Druze living in Israel – mainly in the northern region, particularly Galilee and the Golan Heights.
Since Druze has Islamic roots, there are certain similarities between the two religions, including their diet and general lifestyle. Like Muslims, the Druze people do not eat pork, do not smoke, and abstain from alcohol. However, the Druze people identify themselves as distinct from Muslims.
Although Druze seems esoteric to many Israeli Jews and foreigners, their cuisine is otherwise widely known and loved.
Since the majority of the Druze population lives in the historical Levant region, Druze cuisine is pretty much similar to Levantine cuisine. It’s abundant in grains, meat, potato, dairy, bread, fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, and fish. Israel, in particular, is strong on herbs, and that factor is also a characteristic of the Druze cuisine in Israel.
Probably the most distinctive aspect of Druze and Levantine cuisine is meze – a selection of small dishes served as appetizers or snacks, depending on the country or region. In Druze cuisine, a meze typically consists of hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush, and sometimes kibbeh nayyeh.
Other dishes in Druze cuisine are also fixtures of other regional (especially Middle Eastern and Mediterranean) cuisines, including:
- Falafel – A popular street food of spiced mashed chickpeas, broad beans, or both, formed into balls or fritters and deep-fried. It’s usually eaten with or in pita bread.
- Shawarma – Another popular street food, shawarma consisting of meat roasted on a revolving spit, shaved, and normally served with pita.
- Dolma – A dish consisting of meat and spices stuffed in vegetables or certain fruits (most commonly quince), or wrapped in vine or cabbage leaves.
- Sfiha – A flatbread dish similar to pizza, traditionally an open-faced pie topped with ground mutton.
- Kibbeh – A dish basically consisting of ground meat, onions, and grain. Kibbeh can be deep-fried, layered and cooked on a tray, grilled, or served raw. It is the national dish of Syria.
- Kusa mahshi – A dish consisting of squash or zucchini stuffed with rice and sometimes meat, and cooked on the stovetop or baked in the over.
- Muhammara – A dip made with walnuts, roasted red peppers, and other ingredients.
- Mujaddara – A dish of lentils and rice, garnished with sauteed onions.
- Shishbarak – Also known as joshpara, shisbarak is a type of dumpling filled with any kind of meat (except pork) and spices.
People who have sampled Druze cuisine in Israel might find that their food is familiar to the Israeli Jewish and Arab cuisine. The main virtue of Druze cuisine is seasonal cooking. The Druze people cook with whatever ingredients and produce that are abundant during the season. For instance, during the winter season, the Druze use khubeza, a variety of the mallow plant. The Druze also use za’atar, a culinary herb (or a mixture of herbs and spices popular in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region), when it’s in season. In the spring, people enjoy eating stuffed grape leaves. In the summer, they eat many dishes with yogurt, such as vegetables cooked in yogurt or meat-filled pastries served with yogurt sauce.
Pita is a familiar food item in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Needless to say, pita is popular in Druze cuisine. Druze-style pita typically dressed with labneh (thick yogurt) and drizzled with za’atar and olive oil.
Druze cuisine can also be often adapted into several varieties depending on local produce and customs. For example, the Druze in the Golan Heights adopt Syrian cuisine and give it a local twist by using ingredients that grow in their area, such as the thistle-like Gundelia tournefortii.
Druze recipes are handed down from generation to generation, and the region from which they originated. Each region has its own nuances, including the cuisine, so the regional location is more important to the Druze people than the fact that they are Druze. Druze cuisine is pretty similar to Arab cooking, so what matters most is the region they came from and live in.
Like many other religious minorities, Druze has frequently experienced persecution, mostly by the Muslims. To avoid further oppression, Druze communities have kept their tradition to themselves, although in Israel they do serve in the army (Druze men are subject to mandatory conscription) and engage in civic and political life in many ways.
The isolation can be a good thing for food. The Druze communities in the Golan Heights are more closed-off as they have yet to open up themselves to tourism. This is why they keep most of their culinary delicacies to themselves, and only a few outsiders are fortunate enough to experience and enjoy authentic Druze home cooking.
However, the Druze are also proud of their tradition and their cuisine. For them, their food is special, and it is an honor to share it with the world. Compared to the Druze in the Golan Heights, the Druze in Galilee are more open to sharing their food and cooking to the outsiders.
Tourists visiting Galilee can have the chance not only to eat and enjoy local dishes, but also prepare and cook them with their own hands. Planning for a culinary day tour in Galilee and wanting to dig into the secrets of Druze cooking? In that case, you should check out Galileat, located in Karmiel, a city in the valley of Beit Kerem, on the boundary of Upper and Lower Galilee.
Galileat – coined from “Galilee” and “eat” – offers cooking workshops and home hospitality programs hosted by Muslim, Christian, Druze, and Bedouin families. If you choose to join Druze families, they will welcome you into their homes for private cooking workshops. This is where you learn hands-on Druze cooking – and then share the feast you’ve just created around the family table. Galileat offers Druze recipes that usually vary according to season. They even have an entire cooking workshop dedicated to preparing knafeh, a sweet pastry regarded as the star of Druze desserts. Galileat is guaranteed to be a highlight of your visit to Galilee.
Thanks to their cuisine (and warm hospitality), the Druze have kept their tradition and culture alive. As Israel has become increasingly modernized, keeping these centuries-old culinary traditions is more important than ever.