Every trip to Israel, I schedule food explorations. This past trip, I returned considerably lighter than when I left home. Can anyone recall ever feeling like they lost weight over Passover?
So many of our meals consisted of grilled meat and chicken and salads, and breakfasts full of vegetables. Most of our
snacking was on the superior dried fruit and nuts in Israel, and our family favorite, “Ful Mitzri,” Egyptian fava beans, that are toasted and salted (yes, we eat kitnyot). They are highly addictive.
Passover food in Israel is designed to make sure that you have no idea that it is actually Passover. We ate pasta over and over and the kids enjoyed burgers on tasty buns, pizza and paninis. We had no trouble finding kosher for Passover restaurants in Israel’s north and particularly enjoyed Havat Ha’Gilbon in the Golan after a stunning and informative jeep ride.
Our Passover was flanked by two falafel and schwarma meals, one the night before Passover began, and the second hours after chag ended at Moshiko on Ben Yehuda, where I ate in 1985 when I studied at Hebrew University.
After Passover, I stayed at my friend’s apartment in Baka. Emek Rafaim seems to have more bakeries per foot than even streets in Paris. Over the years I have seen some great places come and go, but there are always more baked goods I want to buy than I could possible eat or carry back to the states. Highlights are Neeman, Bread and More, and Marzipan, home of those gooey chocolate rugelach.
Cappit is where you go for breakfast if you rent an airbnb in Jerusalem and you are tired of hearing your friends rave about their lavish hotel breakfast spreads. I packed up at least a third of the meal to take home. There was Israeli salad, tuna, labne, salty cheese, parsley pesto and a delicious artichoke cream spread that I scooped up with focaccia that had an interesting shape, more like bread stick, but glazed with a touch of sugar syrup.
I have always been impressed by the wall of cookies in so many Israeli pastry shops. These are plastic containers and canisters of cookies and crackers stacked up on shelves. About 95% of the cookies look like ones I would eat. I brought home thin cookies that were swirls of chocolate and halva that I have to replicate. Several places had alfahores, the national cookie of Argentina. A new find were za’atar flavored croissants that were very tasty at Neeman.
The world of kosher cheese in Israel is something to behold, whether in Bashar, which has several locations, as well as the many cheese stalls in Machane Yehuda. I tasted gruyeres from the Negev that was legit and was shown a camembert made with cholov yisroel, the strictest kosher certification for dairy products.
After Passover, a group of us went to Petra, Jordan. I took my son Joey, who is in Israel with his high school class and
went with friends Wendy, Andy and Mattie Swire. I did not expect the massive spectacular area that is Petra, that I would walk for 11 miles to see all of it, how much natural beauty we saw in Wadi Rum (you’ve seen it in Matt Damon’s The Martian) and how safe we felt on our private tour with Ahmad our guide.
Before we went back to the Arava border, our driver Abdul took us to his wife’s favorite bakery, Anabtawi Sweets, where we gobbled up kanafe, warm slabs of crispy shredded filo baked over cheese. The next day I ate some kanafe in Machane Yehuda, but the Aqaba shop’s version was on a whole entire level.
My friend and fellow food writer, Keren Brown, aware of my shift towards healthier eating, took me on a tour of natural food markets and vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv. It was a new experience as I really cannot get enough steak and lamb on each visit to Israel. I admit that although I truly enjoyed our vegan lunch, by 4 pm I was actually starving, feeling lightheaded from not enough protein. Sorry vegan world, I am happy to visit but my chemistry does not allow me to live there.
I circled the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv. Not all of the places are kosher, so you have to check, but the highlight for me was natural ice pops at Paletas. I had the malabi with pomegranate and pistachio and the melon-mint one. It was a grown up treat.
My last meal in Israel was at my brother’s home in Kadima. He brought in takeout from his friend’s Libyan restaurant, Nissim’s. Artichokes stuffed with meat, mafloun, ground meat surrounded by slices of potatoes in a tomato sauce, tender beef with while beans in a green sauce, mujadarra, and a multitude of salads., none of which were too spicy for me. I am always impressed with deep flavor without the heat.
The Israelis get food right. It is fresh with an emphasis on vegetables that Americans are just learning to appreciate, but not quite incorporate into their daily lives for every meal. Israeli kids eat cucumbers like American kids eat potato chips. I’ll be back in June to explore some more, so please share with me where to go. Next time I am looking for farms and small batch producers to visit around the country.