Mezze & Dolce

Light Mediterranean Meals Paired with Ample Dessert

The 10 Best Things I Ate in Israel (and where you can get them)

It’s a pretty rare opportunity for a hobbyist food blogger to travel to a mecca of their chosen cuisine.  So when my husband and I left for Israel, I decided that this was not the time to be bashful.  I photographed EVERYTHING.  Poor Tim waited patiently with his food untouched while I snapped away, fellow diners wondering why he married this crazy lady with the camera.  At times, we worked our day around where we would eat, waking up at dawn to squeeze in enough sightseeing before reaching our desired lunch destination.  And every night I would pull out my little red journal and jot down the day’s discoveries, thinking about how I might best share them with the world.

Below are the ten best things I ate while in Israel – the ones that made me close my eyes upon first bite, or had me talking obsessively about them for hours after the last.  While our trip was filled with so much more, I hope that this list gives you a glimpse into our culinary adventure, as well as a little bit of inspiration for your kitchens. –jaime

A big thank you to Jessica Brandt, Ben Ross, Lauren Wilner from My Jerusalem Kitchen, Gail Barzilay from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, Cheryl Sternman Rule from 5 Second Rule, Jacqueline Weinbach, Toby Perl Freilich, and the eternally inspirational Yotam Ottolenghi for their culinary recommendations.

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Israeli Breakfast at Ein Camonim, Galilee Region

Israelis know how to do breakfast.  Rooted in the culinary traditions of Israel’s more communal early years, a typical “Israeli breakfast” is like a smorgasbord of heavenly delights – fresh produce, local dairy, hearty breads, and some form of deftly prepared eggs.  We ate our best version surrounded by the green landscape and happy goats at Ein Camonim, a gorgeous dairy farm in the Galilee region.  Sitting under a long wooden canopy, we slathered herb butter and fig jam on our rolls, sampled farm-made goat cheeses, nibbled on olives and beet salad, and slowly worked our way through enormous green onion omelettes.  We rounded off the meal with cappuccinos, luxuriating in the fresh air and simple, rural charm.  The farm also has a small store where you can purchase their homemade jams, ice cream, cheese, and olive oil.

 Off Highway 85, between Hanania Intersection and Nahal Amud.

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Hummus at Abu Hassan (Ali Caravan), Jaffa

You can’t go to Israel without getting sucked into its biggest…most contentious…most vital debate – who makes the best hummus?  We traveled from Jerusalem to Abu Ghosh up to Nazareth and Tel Aviv trying as many different takes on this Middle Eastern staple as possible.  But one place stood out well above the rest – Abu Hassan (Ali Caravan) in Jaffa.  Now I know that we’re not pioneers here – Abu Hassan has been written up in travel books and magazines, and its lunch hour is packed with hoards of local businessmen scooping up its creamy goodness before heading back to work.  I’m just here to tell you that the hype is true – this hummus is well worth a long wait in the summer heat, especially for their hummus masabacha, a local variety of warm hummus with lemon, whole chickpeas and tehina.

*I’ll be teaching a workshop on marrying hummus and spice at the Oaktown Spice Shop this July.  Look out for further details or email me if you’re interested in learning more.

 1 Ha’Dolfin St., Jaffa

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Musahkan at Pasha’s, East Jerusalem

Musakhan, where have you been all my life??  Sumac and saffron sautéed onions, juicy roasted chicken, and a sprinkling of nuts – all layered onto the most decadent of fried breads.  Each bite convinced me that sumac belongs on everything and that fried bread really can’t be that bad for you, right?  We found Pasha’s and their exceptional musakhan in this interview with Yotam Ottolenghi, co-author of the famous Jerusalem cookbook.  Ottolenghi rattled off a list of his top Jerusalem culinary destinations.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to cross this place off his list.

*A small, unfortunate warning:  The staff overcharged us on all of our dishes, a fact we only half-noticed before paying.  Make sure to match up your bill to the menu before forking over your cash.

 Shimon Siddiq 13, Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem (just off the light rail)

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Morning Pastries at Lechem Shel Tomer, Jerusalem

Every vacation needs a home base, a little café or market to keep returning to for local familiarity and comfort.  For us, Lechem Shel Tomer became that spot.  Tim and I walked down to their tiny shop every morning before our long forays in the Jerusalem heat.  Every single one of their pastries perfectly balances sweet and salty, butter and fluff, simplicity and refinement.  I can say without hyperbole that these just might be the best pastries I’ve ever eaten.  I particularly adored their simple brioche and cinnamon rolls, and Tim raved about their miniature sesame feta pockets. If you ever get a chance to go, you will be eternally grateful.

 30 Aza Street, Jerusalem

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Limonana Sorbet and Cherry Chocolate Gelato at Aldo, Israel

I’m a little embarrassed to tout the products of a big food chain.  It feels so pedestrian, so low-brow.  Aren’t I supposed to be a culinary explorer, one who uses my “refined” palate to discover the most hidden and scrumptious goodies and share them with the world?  But exceptional is exceptional, and this Israeli gelateria’s creamy, bold flavors were unmatched for the rest of our trip.  Don’t miss their popular limonana (lemon-mint) sorbet, which we’ll be turning into popsicles here at M&D sometime soon.

Emek Refaim, Ben Yehuda Street, Jaffa Street and the central bus station, Jerusalem

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Fish at Shila Bar, Tel Aviv

Travel is itself a luxury, so I’m often reluctant to pile on the splurge with lots of expensive fine dining.  But OMG was Shila Bar worth the indulgence.  A cool, mellow respite from the heat, Shila focuses on everything fish – raw and cooked, swimming and bottom-feeding, piled high with veggies or simply filleted.  I ate a perfectly pan-fried seabass over papardelle with sun-dried tomatoes*, olives, and sorrel, all smothered in a butter-sage sauce.  Tim swooned over a gnocchi-crab masterpiece that made it onto his top 5 meals EVER.  Culinary masterpieces are a dime a dozen in Tel Aviv, but this one has the M&D (and husband) approval.

*A side note about sun-dried tomatoes:  Like pita, they’re just better in Israel – more robust and full of flavor.  I loaded up on them at the local markets, so look out for them in an upcoming M&D creation.

182 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv   

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Honey Date Chicken Wings at Baba, Jerusalem

Ok, I’ll admit, I didn’t actually EAT these wings.  I don’t have the fortitude nor the desire to patiently ply away chicken from bone the way that wings require.  But once my husband finished the hard work of eating his plate clean, I swooped in like a vulture for the sauce.  Putting fork and pita to plate, I scooped out the remains.  Spicy, sweet, and tangy, this honey-date slather is not to be missed – even if it means waiting for your husband to finish his meal before digging in.

31 Emek-Refaim, Jerusalem

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Roasted Tomato and Pesto Foccacia at Bayit 77, Galilee Region

This little cafe was located next to our home in the Galilee, a beautiful cabin (tzimmer) in the vegetarian community of AmirimWe arrived after our most challenging day of navigation – first through the highway detour signs from coastal Haifa, then through the hot, winding streets of mystical Safed.  Bayit 77’s simplicity and rustic fare was the perfect antidote to our day of directional confusion.  Sitting under their outdoor canopy, I nibbled on this gorgeous pesto and roasted tomato foccaccia, selected from a display of a dozen equally appealing baked goods. The accompanying salad was flawlessly dressed, and Tim’s spaghetti and tomatoes perfectly sauced.  Bayit 77 felt like a slice of rural Italy or France, an oasis of simple pleasures in the heat and confusion of a challenging day.

 Amirim, Galilee (when you enter Amirim (you don’t need to be a guest), just ask for specifics)

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Pita, EVERYWHERE

Everyone makes a big deal over the falafel and hummus in Israel.  But there is an unsung hero, a “Ringo Starr” if you will of Israeli street food, and it’s the pita.  Warm, fluffy and fresh, Israeli pita seems like a distant cousin to the paper-thin variety we get in the States. And this upgrade in quality is ubiquitous – not a single pocket untouched by the pillowy pita gods.  This particular pita was filled with a hummus topped with roasted cauliflower and caramelized onions from Ben Sira Hummus Bar in Jerusalem.  I plan on sharing a homemade version of this hummus with M&D – now you go find me some Israeli-quality pita!

Mahaneyuda, Jerusalem

I don’t have a photo from Mahaneyuda.  Its dimly lit, intimate setting didn’t lend itself to well-crafted, food-flattering photos.  But it’s exactly this ambiance that makes this popular “nouveau” Israeli restaurant so special.  Mahaneyuda feels like a secret world, a tucked away room where pure indulgence and celebration reign.  Communal dancing and clanking of shots seem to erupt out of nowhere, while waiters and cooks play the traditional tarbouka (Arabic drum) or the modern spoon-and-pan.  Mahaneyuda’s ambiance is complemented by a creative menu that showcases local ingredients, each sourced from Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market in the heart of the city (also a must-visit).  Our meal was absolutely delicious, but it’s Mahaneyuda’s penchant for surprise and spontaneous joy that will stay with me.

10 Beit Ya’akov Street, Jerusalem


Have recommendations from your trip to Israel?  Post a comment, and let us know what we’ve missed!

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17 comments on “The 10 Best Things I Ate in Israel (and where you can get them)

  1. BEST FOOD EVER I ATE IN ISRAEL!!!

  2. Move Eat Create
    June 20, 2013

    Amazing!! What an adventure!

  3. mrsgillies
    June 20, 2013

    Oh, dying. YUM.

    • mezzeanddolce
      June 21, 2013

      We’re glad that the deliciousness came through in the post!

  4. Beth (OMG! Yummy)
    June 21, 2013

    Great post! Can’t wait to get there myself to try it all! I’m laughing about the photographing and making your husband wait – we do the same thing. As quickly as possible and as unobtrusively as possible but the whole family gets into the process. But how I wish i had done it years ago — so many great meals I can’t remember the details of. Thanks for sharing your trip Jaime!

    • mezzeanddolce
      June 22, 2013

      Thanks, Beth! Yeah, I try to be quick about it but sometimes it’s hard to get the right shot and it takes longer! I definitely recommend you get there. There were so many other delicious things I ate, too!

  5. Faye Levy
    June 22, 2013

    I very much enjoyed your post. It’s great that you wrote about the pita. Not sure where you are, but you can get Israeli style pita in Los Angeles. It’s baked fresh at Sabzee market in Encino in an oven imported from Israel.

    • mezzeanddolce
      June 22, 2013

      Hi Faye. I’m glad you liked the post! And thanks for the pita recommendation. I make it down to LA a lot to visit my in-laws and friends (I live in the Bay Area) so I’ll have to go to Encino sometime!

    • mezzeanddolce
      June 22, 2013

      Also I just read your Jerusalem Post bio. Your food and culinary experience sounds fantastic! I’ll have to take a look at your cookbooks. How often do you offer classes? I’m going to be teaching a workshop on hummus and spice at a local spice shop in July. Great to connect with you!

  6. Faye Levy
    June 23, 2013

    Thank you! I teach occasionally, but haven’t had a chance recently. A workshop on hummus and spice sounds like a great idea. Hope you do make it to the market in Encino. It opened recently and has many good things. It’s Persian, and there are prepared foods and also fresh sangak and barbari breads baked in the store. They started baking pita because they wanted to serve shwarmah, and the owner felt that good shwarmah should have fresh-baked pita.

    Did you have the fresh halva at Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market? It comes plain and flavored, for example with dates, and is fantastic.

    • mezzeanddolce
      June 28, 2013

      That market sounds amazing! I will definitely have to check it out. I saw the beautiful fresh halva stands in Mahane Yehuda but didn’t try them. I don’t really prefer halva! I spent most of my time there sampling olives and admiring the spices. Hopefully we can connect again another time!

  7. bythistime
    June 27, 2013

    I go to Israel for many wonderful reasons. The food is always the cherry on top as all of the cultures blend so beautifully in the cuisine. Always new, top notch restaurants to try!

  8. Pingback: Dolce: Limonana Popsicles | Mezze & Dolce

  9. Pingback: Mezze: Jerusalem Green Bean Salad | Mezze & Dolce

  10. Pingback: Mezze: Hummus M’Sakhan | Mezze & Dolce

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2013 by in International, M & D Inspiration, Restaurant.

About Jacque & Jaime

Jaime and Jacque are two gals who discovered a mutual passion for Mediterranean flavors and ingredients and never turned back. They started Mezze & Dolce to share this love, their recipes, and their inspirations with the world. Follow them at www.mezzeanddolce.com.

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