For the record, humus and Hamas are not the same thing. That may seem obvious: one is a yummy chickpea-tahini spread, that is on or served with practically everything in Israel, and the other is an Islamic fundamentalist group that opposes peace with Israel. So you can imagine the horror when I found myself ordering “Hamas with meat,” at a restaurant in Israel. Yep, that’s right, I ordered an Islamic fundamentalist with meat, for lunch.
The problem started with the impossible accent that is required to say things in Hebrew… it’s all the fault of the Hebrew language! That clearing of your throat kind of sound you use, to make certain “ch” and “h” sounds is tricky. My daughter prides herself on flawless pronunciation; me: not so much. So, every time I try to say Humus, which in English pretty much sounds like it looks, with a long u, she corrects me and makes this choking sound with her Hu. Ugh! All of which led me to get so tongue-tied and worried about pronouncing it right, that I found myself saying Hamas instead of Humus! Way to make friends in Israel!
The food in Israel completely rocked my time there. Each and every day I ate the most amazing foods, whether we were at a nicer restaurant or a “fast food” kiosk. Each day was a dining experience. The color, the aromas, the incredible ingredients made every meal special. We would walk into a restaurant or the market place, and the smells of spice and wonderful things cooking was intoxicating, on a daily basis. Some days I was sure I smelled exotic foods everywhere we went.
One of the most surprising elements of my food experience was that every meal I had was kosher. My daughter keeps kosher, and here at home that has been a source of stress and disappointment—on both sides. Expensive meals that are rarely good, are hard to find locally. Kosher food, particularly kosher restaurants, is very challenging to find and enjoy together where we live. There are no kosher restaurants, so we need to find vegetarian places. Given that that is not an easy option either, we tend to not eat out together very often. In Israel, kosher options are everywhere. It’s wasn’t a matter of if, but which option we’d enjoy. Much to my surprise, the food was fantastic! It took the food element out of our daily list of decisions, and instead was just one more thing to enjoy together each day.
My first day in Israel started with the most amazing breakfast! At home, I rarely eat breakfast. I know, most important meal of the day and all, but I tend to get by on tea, sometimes a few Ritz crackers or nothing at al—since I gave up my latte three years ago (cup of milk= protein, right?). In Israel, every day started with a wonderful breakfast. The first one was at an incredible little book store cafe, which is listed in Lonely Planet as having one of the top 10 Shakshuka dishes in Israel, and is one of my girl’s favorite places. Shakshuka is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, and an Israeli favorite, that consists of tomatoes, spice and sometimes other veggies (spinach is my favorite) “stewed” in a hot skillet, with eggs “poached” on top. It is generally served in the hot skillet, with sides of tahini (served with most meals), runny cheese, and often the common Israeli salad (served with every meal) of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and parsley. The flavors, that cook together
in the pan, make for a delicious, savory, and filling start to the day. It was the perfect way to initiate me into the fabulous, spice rich foods of Israel. My final day in Israel, on a tour of Old Jaffa, we ate at well-known Dr. Shakshuka’s restaurant. We ate outside in the exotically covered patio area and dined on Shakshuka the way it’s done in Tripoli, where the Israeli celebrity owner heralds from. It was delicious the second time as well! I broke down and had the first of what would be several lattes that week; it was heaven. (Note: the sweet yumminess of a good latte, almost drew me back to the dark side during my week in Israel, but I am back off caffeine and
limping getting through my jet lag.)
From there it was a daily food journey. We ate at the famous Eucalyptus restaurant, which specializes in kosher foods from the bible. Beloved chef, Moshe Bason, generously made time to join my daughter and I and discuss his inspirations, and his interesting life as a chef and a Jew. His family history is fascinating; his food is magic! He sat with us and shared interesting stories, including the time he served a renowned group of world Rabbis, and put together a spectacular meal of biblical dishes, including giraffe, which required special slaughter techniques, to observe kosher laws. Not only did he take the time to sit and share a drink with us, he kindly made a surprise chocolate soufflé for me, and created a halvah (the nut butter variety) with hibiscus syrup, that was a work of art! (Shown: Wonderful foods at Eucalyptus: Halvah and hibiscus syrup; Duck stuffed “egg roll;” selection of sauces with fresh bread, and traditional Lebanese rice dish made for a group of soldiers, but shared with us.)
I ate fresh fish often, always served whole, cooked in aromatic spices, and generally grilled. Taking pity on the countless feral cats around the country, I had the heads and tails wrapped each meal and then shared them on the streets, something that earned me lots of teasing by my girl. The cats loved me. St. Peters fish is the most popular fish in Israel, I would venture to say, and I tried it several different times. As on offset to the many incredible kosher meat meals I had during the week, the fish was consistently light and delicious. Each meal was served with a variety of spectacular vegetables. The Israelis epitomize the values of the slow food movement. It’s rare to find anything on a menu, that isn’t grown locally, and isn’t prepared traditionally.
One of the best meals I had during the week, was an all together surprise. We stopped at a chain restaurant, Café Hillel, in Jerusalem, to get a quick lunch. In addition to another perfect latte (which seemed to be available everywhere we went), I ordered Sabich—a popular Israeli sandwich that is a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, hummus, tahini and some Israeli salad. This was just about my favorite lunch I had all week, and so unexpected! It seemed like a quick, easy lunch and even this quick option was a thrill a bite!
Cinnamon roll and latte at the Friday Shuk (Famed Mehane Yehuda market, the Jewish market on the morning before Shabbat begins); fish Carpaccio, and some of the most amazing Hummus possible, were daily treats— The food was “icing” on days that were filled exploring the ancient, Holy City of Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, exploring the Golan Heights, day tripping at the sea caves in Rosh haNikra (at the border of Lebanon and Israel), and enjoying my girl. (Shown: A morning at the Shuk: Fresh produce is spectacular, and a perfect latte and cinnamon roll only complete the day!)
My trip to Israel was filled with adventure, cultural experiences, new emotions and amazing sights, sounds and tastes—daily. The food made the entire experience that much richer and exciting, but that was not everything. Spending time with my girl was absolutely the best part, but there were so many other special things to enjoy. In the next posts, see some of the sites and beautiful scenery we explored in Israel. Ride along as I share Israel with you.
Have you been to Israel? What did you think? Fan of Middle Eastern food? Is food a major component of your travel? Share your favorite travel experiences in the comment section— start a dialogue! If you enjoyed this post, take a second and hit Like. Feel free to Share (with credit).