From air drops to bus stops: How Sabich became Israeli
Hard boiled egg. Mango sauce. Fried Aubergine. Tahini. Salad.
These ingredients may not seem like obvious bedfellows, but when stuffed in a pita, this simple formula, known as Sabich, is often referred to as Israel’s most popular native dish.
Now, we know the word ‘native’ is a contentious one at the best of times - but when you put it in the context of the Levant, it becomes even more delicate.
Sabich is known to be the only true Israeli dish actually created in modern Israel… but when looking deeper into the history of the dish, we could argue that it is both Israeli and not Israeli, Arab and not Arab. Both and neither.
So if we really want to understand the roots of this dish, we need to look beyond Israel, beyond the Levant, to 1950s Iraq when the operation of ‘Ezra and Nehemia’ took place.
In the first half of the 20th Century, Iraqi Jews started to become unsettled, caused by the spreading of anti-semitic propaganda and the rise of Nazism in Europe. Anti-Jewish attacks became more and more frequent in Bagdad with a loss of the sense of safety and security that Jews had in the region for thousands of years.
This came to a head during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, when scores of Iraqi Jews were arrested and persecuted, and in September of the same year, a Jewish Iraqi was publicly executed for apparent treason.
These events led many Jews in the area to flee to Israel, seeking to emigrate in hopes of a more peaceful life elsewhere. The emigration of the large population of Iraqi Jews to Israel became known as Operation Ezra and Nehemia. By 1951, around 120,000 Jews were flown out of Iraq only leaving a small population of Iraqi Jews behind.