Gil Hovav’s Simple Pleasures | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Gil Hovav’s Simple Pleasures

Gil Hovav’s Simple Pleasures

Gil Hovav/ Courtesy Gil Hovav

The Israeli foodie’s memoir dishes on real Israeli cuisine

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Digg icon

Gil Hovav became a household name in Israel through a career of TV cooking and food travel shows, numerous published cookbook and memoirs, and food blogging spanning three decades.

Now Hovav’s memoir, Candies from Heaven, has appeared in English, introducing the humor and heart of Israel’s premier food raconteur for the first time to an audience outside of Israel.

Candies from Heaven is the second of Hovav’s “Jerusalem Trilogy” of memoirs, bringing stories and recipes from Hovav’s childhood growing up with diverse Ashkenazi-Yemenite-Sephardic-Moroccan roots in Jerusalem of the nineteen sixties. The book’s hilarious anecdotes showcase Hovav’s colorful family during that transformative period of the State of Israel. The unique humor of the book, explained Hovav in a phone interview to the Jewish Week Food and Wine, comes from the funny innocence of his cast of self-important characters believing themselves to belong to a kind of aristocracy set against the drab and humble backdrop of terrestrial Jerusalem during those momentous times.

Hovav, whose parents were both iconic presenters in Israel’s national radio, Kol Israel, and who is a fourth-generation descendent of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, can rightfully boast belonging to a kind of aristocracy of the Hebrew language. Hovav’s alacrity for the spoken Hebrew language of his upbringing, peppered with Arabic and Ladino, is in part the reason it took him ten years to finally publish the memoir in English. “I was disappointed with three translators before finding the right fit” said Hovav of the book’s translator, Ira Moskowitz.

Although Candies from Heaven is first and foremost a memoir, not a cookbook posing as one, its interspersed recipes complement the stories with Hovav’s vivid sense memories and insider secrets of the family’s home cooking.

“I see it as a matter of national responsibility to let people know what we really eat in Israel” Hovav stated. Commenting on the success of Israeli superstar chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi in the world’s culinary capitals, Hovav said: “I don’t begrudge his [Ottolenghi’s] success, and I love the creativity, but it’s an orientalist fantasy from Notting Hill of what Israeli food is, not the authentic food we ate in Jerusalem.”

Hovav went on to explain his enduring love and celebration of the simple food of his childhood: “Pretensions are great, but some clichés are true; there are simple things that nestle in your soul and there’s no shame admitting it. I love poor people’s food, especially if cooked in a red sauce and served out of a pot with a lid by an eighty-year-old woman.”

Jerusalem has grown and developed considerably since Hovav grew up there (he left decades ago and now lives in Tel Aviv), but Hovav still finds traces of his childhood there. Once, when he was in a construction site in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound near the old Kol Israel offices where his parents worked, he stumbled upon discarded tank barriers like those he used to play on in the days when Jerusalem was a divided city.

And Jerusalem still offers authentic culinary discoveries. Hovav mentioned that opposite renowned haut cuisine restaurant Machneyuda in the Machane Yehuda market, sits Ishtabach, a modest restaurant serving Kurdish-Syrian-inspired meat-filled pastries called shamborak and Cochini-Indian dishes.

“It’s kosher food that doesn’t drag its feet, with authentic roots and a lot of originality. Serving Kurdish and Indian food together shows that in Israeli food anything goes.”

Mustachedos Cookies

Carrot Salad

Chorva Soup

Join The Discussion