Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “Jewish food”, but rather perhaps “Jewish foods.” There are different culinary worlds and traditions within Judaism, just as there are for instance within Catholicism — Scottish Roman Catholics cook very differently from Spanish Roman Catholics.
In Israel, there are two main branches of Jewish cooking, Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Some cities such as Venice had both Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. New Israeli cuisine is a fusion of the two.
Ashkenazic are Jews who have returned from Europe. Ashkenazi in Hebrew means “Germany.” These Jews spoke Yiddish, a mixture of Hebrew and German. They lived not only in Germany, but also in Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine, Lithuania, and parts of Russia.
Their food was bagels, blintzes, cabbage, knishes, gefilte fish, sweet and sour stews.
Most Jews who came to North America were Ashkenazi.
Sephardic are Jews who returned to Israel from other parts of the Middle-East, or from Spain.
Sepharad is the Hebrew word for “Iberian peninsula”, where Portugal and Spain are. Jews had lived in Spain since Roman times. There was even a large influx of Jews into Spain after the Muslim invasion and conquest of Spain starting in 700 AD. Jews even flourished there under the Muslim rule.
The Christian re-occupation of Spain started in the mid 1200s. In March 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain said that anyone who was a Jew had to convert to Catholicism or leave. Some left for Portugal (Portugal, though, followed suit in 1497), and some converted. Most, though, left for Egypt, Italy, Morocco, or other Muslim countries around the Mediterranean.
Their food was aromatic dishes with exotic spices, lots of lemon, garlic, cumin, rice, and saffron. Instead of bagels, they had couscous and falafel.
Today, Israeli food is a actually a blend of many cuisines, brought to Israel by Jews immigrating from all over the world. The restaurant scene is incredibly diverse and multicultural.
In food that is seen as Israeli — as opposed to take out Indian, Chinese or pizza — there are dishes such as blintzes, challah, gefilte fish, latkes and knishes that are considered Jewish (at least, European Jewish.) Dishes actually native to the Middle East are called “Mizrachi”, meaning “from the east.” Such dishes are actually found in many other Middle Eastern countries as well. This includes items such as falafel, halvah and hummos.
In Israel, as in the UK, French fries are called “chips.” Israeli falafel sandwiches sometimes include such chips in them.
Contrary to popular belief, there are some non-kosher restaurants in Israel, where you can get pork, and eat bacon and eggs.
Jewish cooking is strongly influenced by its religious dietary laws. See the entry on Kosher for more information.
The ethics of Jewish eating
Short talk by Dr David Kraemer, Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. 2020
The exodus probably occurred around the 13th century BC.