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.
'Snapshots from Israel' on Serious Eats
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?
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.