My favorite genres of sweets are those that are crisp, salty, or creamy. The golden-brown outer bits of a pie crust, I love. The shattering shell of a croissant. So I was destined to fall in love with knafe, a Middle Eastern dessert I'd had before but only truly appreciated in Israel.
'Israel' on Serious Eats
I've had POM Wonderful, sure, but I never knew what pomegranate juice could be until visiting Israel.
Like many cities in Israel, Tel Aviv has its fair share of markets of a traditional, somewhat chaotic sort—butchers next to fruit vendors next to spice-sellers and juice-squeezers, open-air and crowded. But the brand-new Jaffa Port Market is something different altogether. More in the model of San Francisco's Ferry Plaza or NYC's Chelsea Market, it's a curated selection of high-end food vendors under one roof. Come check out all there is to eat and drink.
Abu Ashraf's small, homey shop, famous for his qatayef—those would be tiny folded pancakes—is the sort of place you'll see written up in guidebooks and articles and TV specials. (And, hey, food-lovin' websites.) But it's pretty clear why this incredibly telegenic man gets the press he does. I'm a sucker for anything sweet and salty, and his goat cheese pancakes were some of the best sweets I ate in Israel.
Ah, hummus. How do I never get sick of you? It's one of those foods, like good crusty bread or fresh milky cheeses, that is perfect in its simplicity—its ingredients few but allowing for so much variety, so much nuance in expression. The slightest difference in pureéing method, or garlic or lemon or tahini use, can create a totally different experience. What's the best you've ever had? Where was it from, and what made it so compelling?
So, what is Israeli food? The closest thing to a one-sentence answer: a cross-fertilization of Moroccan, Tunisian, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Arab and Jewish food cultures. But there were definitely some reoccurring themes during my week in Israel: olives, falafel, fresh vegetable salads, pita, filo dough pastries, and many bowls of hummus. Here are the best things I ate in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and beyond.
Mahane Yehuda, or just "the shuk" (meaning "market"), is a must-hit in Jerusalem. Over 250 vendors make up this vibrantly colorful and bustling open-air market. You've got the tattooed cherry vendor standing before piles of lighter pink and deeper red cherries; the Halvah King wearing his crown, presenting you with mocha-flavored halvah samples; Orthodox Jews shopping for rugelach alongside Armenian monks buying almonds by the pound.
Waking up early in Israel was never a problem for me. There was always a bountiful breakfast spread waiting, and it's the best feast of the day. Fresh vegetable salads, salty white cheese, hummus, baba ghanoush, pickled fish, olives (in various colors and shades of green to black), shakshouka (served in its cast-iron pan), cottage cheese (definitely not the diet kind), straight-from-the-oven bourekas, breads, butter, and preserves.
What's the secret to the best hummus? It's not really a secret. It's actually quite simple. Use the best tahini and the Bulgarian chickpea, according to the Strauss company, the number-one manufacturer of storebought hummus in Israel and the owner of the Sabra brand in America. Grab a hairnet and join us on a tour of the hummus factory!
Behind the Gandalfian beard is a man who's making awesome, locally sourced ice creams in Israel.
They're kind of like tube-shaped Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs, except saltier. And with each puff you crunch on, the saltiness builds. And there's something wildly addictive about that. Anyone else think Bambas are the bamb? (Sorry, had to.)
These are very different from any rugelach I've ever tried. Many American Jews tend towards cinnamon-sprinkled, raisin-dotted rugelach with a crispy, flaky exterior. Marzipan rugelach are shamelessly rich, practically oozing a chocolate filling. The dough is still tender and somewhat flaky but certainly not crisp. A single bite of these two-inch treats nearly sent me into a sugar coma.
We have a bunch of coffee chains in the States: Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's...the list goes on. Some of these joints are known for decent coffee, others for passable sweets—none of them, however, excels at both food and beverage preparation. Which is why I was unprepared for frequent visits to Aroma Espresso Bar, which is often dubbed the "Israeli Starbucks." Not only does this place turn out tasty hot drinks, they also have a mean food menu.
Perhaps a cucumber-dill or fennel-and-orange salad seems an odd morning choice—such hearty fare! But in Israel, chopped salads and pickled veggies are standards on the breakfast table. Other items may include: tangy, fresh cheese (and many varieties of it), crusty bread, or yogurt made from delicious milk. The butter and citrus—grapefruit, oranges, lemons—also seems to taste better in Israel.
No trip to Israel would be complete without sampling at least a few falafel sandwiches. And since I've accumulated a fair amount of falafel experience over the years, I was excited to see if the chickpea fritters were better in their native land than here in the States. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed by several visits to Moshiko, a falafel and shawarma joint in Jerusalem.
Many of my absolute favorite travel memories revolve around exploring the town's local marketplace. The colors and smells; the cries of bargaining salesmen and shoppers. So naturally I was drawn to Shuk Mahane Yehuda, a bustling marketplace in Jerusalem. On a Friday afternoon, the market is overrun by men, women, and children shopping for the Sabbath and feasting on delicious local delicacies.
Note: Michael Natkin of the vegetarian blog Herbivoracious drops by on Wednesdays to share a delicious recipe and expand our vegetarian repertoire. If you haven't had Israeli couscous before, you are in for a treat. Known as P'titim in Israel,...
"It's not surprising that we're witnessing a cheesemaking resurgence of sorts in that part of the world." Photograph from dearanxiety on Flickr Last week, there was an interesting story from the McClatchy newspapers about a group of Italian agronomists helping some Palestinian farmers set up an Italian sheep cheese operation in the West Bank. The dairy goes by the name of Golden Sheep, and produces a small variety of Italian cheeses like pecorino (a generic term for an aged sheep cheese), smoked ricotta, and scamorza (a close relative of mozzarella). The economy in the West Bank is, for obvious reasons, relatively stagnant, and the agronomists at Italy's Ucodep have launched this development project to help get some money flowing. The...
This tour of the Aviv matzo factory in Bnei-Brak, Israel, has everything you could want in a video about making matzo: an enthusiastic host who converses with his own narration and makes silly jokes, plenty of cartoonlike sound effects, and random pop-up notes with facts about the factory. This is officially my favorite video about matzo. Watch the matzo go from dough to box after the jump....
"The UN has no more food to distribute in the Gaza Strip," reports the BBC. Israel has been denying the transfer of all goods into Gaza for about a week....