Before visiting Israel, words like falafel, za’atar and schwarma had never come out of my mouth. Hummus was a snack, not an item on the breakfast plate. And although I’d been eating chocolate cake for breakfast for years, I’d never been to a place where it was socially acceptable.All of my pre-conceived notions of “Middle Eastern food” have changed, and I’d like to share a few of my favorite food experiences and places to eat in the Holy Land. An alternate title for this post: Bagels=Good, Vegetables=Bad.
I *may* have dragged my parents and boss to this bakery on our first night in Tel Aviv. I visited Abulafia and Sons for the first time in 2013, and have been dreaming about their bagels ever since. When we arrived, the street was fairly quiet, but this place had a crowd swarming around its counter.
I’ve only been to the bakery, which was fantastic, but I’ve heard that their restaurant across the street is even better… which I’m not sure is possible. We took our bagels to go and walked back to our hotel along the Mediterranean, passing barbecues, sing-alongs, and late-night fishermen. It was the perfect way to start an Israel adventure.When we visited the Sea of Galilee, my sweet roommate and I went on the hunt for gelato. Fortunately, we happened upon this Thai ice cream place instead. The video’s a time-lapse because he kept leaving to shout at people passing by, but the experience of watching the ice cream made from scratch right in front of us was worth the wait… enjoy the video!If you want to eat like Jesus did, stop by Nazareth Village, where you can experience life in the first century, learn more about Jesus and his teachings, and eat a meal similar to what He would have eaten. Seeing a working recreation of an olive presses, a shepherd and his flock, and a first century tomb helped paint a vivid picture in my mind of life during Jesus’ time.I’m not really a vegetable person. And during my archaeological dig, I attended a lecture and learned that I’m not alone! Proverbs 15:17 says “Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” The presenter shared this and a few other examples from the Bible where vegetables are seen as the undesirable choice to meat. (Don’t worry about that pesky little part where Daniel convinced the king that vegetables were better…) Anyways.. all that to say, I’d never really tried cauliflower. I knew I didn’t like it, so I just never tried it. Until Chakra. Their lemon garlic cauliflower is the stuff of dreams! And that’s only the starter! When I’ve been, we’ve always had the tasting menu, and have never been disappointed. From the calamari to the beef carpaccio, to the ice cream with tahini… everything at this place is pure gold.
Colony Restaurant is located in the old railway compound and from the outside, you’d never know what a gem it is. The vibe is upscale warehouse, with big windows, a nice patio, and a small lofted dining area that overlooks the rest of the restaurant. I’m not usually an eggplant person (vegetable…), but their roasted eggplant with sour cream and salsa was on point. And their stuffed chicken with mozzarella and za’atar pesto butter was a nice twist on the za’atar that I love to put on the sesame bagels that are sold all over the city for about $3.If you’re looking for something a little more on-the-go, Holy Bagel is my jam! I’m a plain-Jane most of the time (remember how I don’t like vegetables?), so I go with the plain bagel, plain cream cheese and a slice of cheese, toasted. But they’ve got all kinds of toppings and different flavors of cream cheese. It’s in the Jewish Quarter and right across from my Airbnb… so it’s *possible* that I’ve frequented this establishment a time or five.
I’ve never been to the Holy Rock Cafe… so it shouldn’t be on my favorites list… but the fact that it exists makes me smile, so I wanted to share with you!If you’re appeasing a sweet tooth, the Waffle Bar needs to make your list! I make chocolate chip pancakes or waffles almost every Saturday, so to find a restaurant devoted to my favorite breakfast was a treat. I ordered the Egozi waffle, described as chocolate cream, caramel ice cream, butterscotch, hot chocolate, and chopped nuts. All I have to say is swoon. And also, don’t attempt to eat this alone!The first Friday I visited Machne Yehuda market was tantalizing to the senses– the sights, smells, and sounds of Shabbat preparations were exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I left with some halva from Halva Kingdom, a few peaches, some dates, and the feeling that I had missed out on a lot that the market had to offer. Enter my favorite food adventure: the Shuk Bites tour at Machne Yehuda! I hope you’re hungry! On my second trip to the market, I spent 99 NIS (about $27) to do a self-guided food tour through the shuk, and now I feel as though I truly experienced the market to its fullest. I bought my card online and was directed to a shop in the market for pick up. It was easy enough, and I received the tear-off card below with 6 food vouchers. Some gave you an option (like ice cream or coffee) while others were set.
One thing to consider, most of the shop names are in Hebrew. The map is helpful, but it’s a little like doing a scavenger hunt with part of the key missing. I asked for directions to most of the stops from people in the shops once I got close, and almost everyone was happy to help. The Shuk Bites tour was a great deal for the amount of food I received, and was surprised that each stop was packed (and not just with people using the tour card!). I ran into a couple who had come in from Tel Aviv to do the Shuk Bites tour for a birthday and many other locals, so I think the company did a great job vetting the restaurants. I enjoyed all the food, and will definitely be back to some restaurants next time I’m in Jerusalem.
The Georgian bread stop was probably my favorite. The savory cheese-stuffed pastry was like a Middle Eastern version of the grilled cheese. And that’s definitely something I can get behind. Next up was the ice cream stop, which as I’m sure you guessed, was my most anticipated stop. I tried the saffron and masala Chai flavors, and if I hadn’t left the country the next day, you can bet I’d be back for more!And of course, after all this great food, a health drink was an obvious last stop. EtroGat looked the most healthy (being green and all), so I decided to give it a try. EtroGat makes some big claims and although I can’t attest to them all being 100% true, I will say that it tasted great and I left the market smiling and in a great mood…. so maybe it worked, after all!
Hebrew: “to life”– a toast to a person’s health or well-being