The Newest Fusion Cuisine: Kosherati - OZY | A Modern Media Company
The quickest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach.

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The quickest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach.

By Dana Shemesh

Elli Kriel is prepping her kitchen for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

A practicing Orthodox Jew, she’s testing out a Challah bread recipe infused with fragrant orange saffron and honey, and a honey cake recipe using dates, saffron, and cardamom, melding longstanding recipes with spices well-loved in her own city: Dubai. The result is traditional Jewish food infused with rich Emirati flavors — or, as Kriel calls it, “Kosherati.”    

Kriel, 47, owns and operates Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, the only kosher catering company in Dubai. South African by birth, she’s lived in the Emirates for seven years with her husband, who organized the unique Jewish Council of the Emirates, and kids. There are few Jews in the Emirates: Dubai’s Jewish population is estimated at 1,000 people, and there’s just one synagogue. Still, Kriel says she has always felt comfortable as a practicing Jew in the predominately Muslim gulf nation, especially given that the Muslim community regards Saturday as a day of rest — similar to the Jewish sabbath. 

An accomplished home cook steeped in family food traditions, Kriel developed the concept of Kosherati to explore the commonalities of Jewish and Emirati cuisine, she explains. 

Since her arrival in Dubai, Kriel has welcomed members of the city’s well-heeled Jewish community and travelers from abroad, including the chief rabbi of Poland, to her home for holiday and Sabbath dinners. Her talents as a home chef were so apparent that she soon began taking kosher catering orders for hotel guests visiting Dubai.

Just over a year ago — after the UAE announced a Year of Tolerance and hosted an unprecedented visit from Pope Francis — Kriel decided to invest more into Elli’s Kosher Kitchen. Her catering company survived the months-long slump brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic — and last month was reinvigorated by the announcement of the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE. “For me it was like, wow,” she says, “I changed for COVID and now I’m changing again.”

Soon after the historic announcement, UAE officials asked Kriel to prepare a lavish banquet for the delegations of Israeli and American officials (Jared Kushner also keeps kosher) arriving on the first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi. She served beet salad, salmon and a chocolate lava fondant.

And Kosherati is about to become even more important: Last week, UAE officials announced that hotels in Abu Dhabi should provide adequate kosher provisions for their guests who request it, something Kriel has made possible.

Shmueli Levin, a hotelier from Davos, Switzerland, learned about Elli’s Kosher Kitchen last July. He’d long wanted to visit Dubai, but his wife, Debbie, was skeptical that they could eat kosher food in the gulf state. “I had always wanted to go to Dubai and learning that there was a kosher catering company, I was able to convince my wife to travel with me,” says Levin.

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Kriel at a catering event.

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Elli’s Kosherati spices.

Kriel had all the meals delivered to the Levins’ hotel, carefully wrapped in observance of strict kashrut laws that dictate how the food should be reheated in a non-kosher kitchen. They still remember her eggplant haloumi salad, burekas and freshly baked bread.

“I grew up in the hotel business and know whats good and not good,” says Levin. “This food was an honor to eat, it was prepared with love.”

Even as her business grows — Elli’s Kosher Kitchen just became the first business to receive kosher certification from the city of Abu Dhabi — Kriel continues to assert her creativity and attention to detail in the kitchen. One of her signature fusion dishes is balaleet kugel — which melds the traditional noodle kugel, a savory sweet baked casserole that layers noodles, eggs, sugar and raisins, with gulf favorite balaleet, with its layers of baked vermicelli, cardamom, saffron and rose water. 

Another Kosherati dish on Elli’s Kosher Kitchen menu: Cholent, a slow-cooked meat and potato stew cooked by observant Jews on Friday afternoons so they can enjoy it all day Saturday without cooking. But Kriel cholent incorporates bzar, a rich and fragrant Emirati spice mix.

With a massive influx of Israeli tourism expected now that commercial flights are running, many are expecting the demand for kosher food to grow. And Kriel is well-placed to dominate the scene: She’s planning her expansion to a commercial catering kitchen in one of Dubai’s hotels and hiring staff — including a full-time mashgiach, whose job is supervise the kashrut status of her establishment. She hopes one day to parlay that into a kosher restaurant, given the support she’s received already from both the Jewish and Arab communities.

“They’ve embraced us,” she says, “And can’t wait to taste our food.” 

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