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Hummous at Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem

Hummus at Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem

Our itinerary in Israel was pretty intense, taking us from Netanya to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, the Galilee, Rosh HaNikra, Akko, Caesarea, Tel Aviv and back to Netanya. The good news is that we saw a lot of a small-but-rich-in-history-and-landscape country, and I loved getting to know Jon’s Israeli relatives, who took a week off from work to show us their country. The bad news is that I didn’t stay in any one place long enough to get into the food scene.

That said, here are my general thoughts on eating out in Israel, followed by some quick, blurby reviews:

  1. If in doubt, eat falafel (aka chickpea in its most evolved form). I’m sure there are a lot of great restaurants in Israel (see last week’s NYT article about Tel Aviv or the July 2008 issue of Travel + Leisure, for example), but if you’re not able to plan your day around meals at pre-researched restos, and you want your food to be good and cheap, you won’t go wrong with falafel. Absent a local rec, I looked for a long line (ideally made up of cab drivers) and freshness (look for a guy who scoops the chickpea mix lightning fast into clear oil only after people place orders).
  2. Closely related to point number 1, I couldn’t get enough of hummus during our trip. Although all hummus recipes include chickpeas, tahini and olive oil, after that, the sky’s the limit in terms of variety. If you want to start an intense conversation among Israelis, ask them where to get the best hummus. Jon’s relatives (who live in Netanya) seemed to divide their loyalties between Hummus Said in Akko and Hummus Uzi in Netanya. I wish I could settle the debate, but I can’t – the hummus at both were delicious – creamy and nutty with a hint of sweet spice. Both places stop serving at 2 pm, so get there for lunch or takeaway before then.
  3. Restaurant portions in Israel are *huge*. I’m American. I know what a big portion looks like. If you’re planning to get appetizers and mains at a resto, then you should definitely share your main course with someone else unless you want a lot of leftovers (and if you’re me, you’ll feel endlessly guilty about throwing away said leftovers for lack of a home kitchen to re-heat them in).
  4. If you like Greek or Turkish food, you’ll love Israeli food. I don’t know how I missed this fact, but Israel is a Mediterranean country. That means that in a lot of restos, if you stick with grilled fish or meat or anything with cucumber-tomato-feta in it, you’ll do great. It also means that I would stay away from cuisines like, say, sushi (see blurb below on Japanika in Tel Aviv).
  5. Because I assume that Kosher restaurants are generally not as good as non-Kosher restaurants, I was happy to see that even in Jerusalem (which I expected to be Kosher Ground Zero), lots of non-Kosher restaurants could be found. For example, Barood restaurant (which was recommended by the Lonely Planet Israel guide, National Geographic *and* the (special?) issue of Time Out Jerusalem we picked up at our hotel, served sephardic food, yet it still couldn’t resist offering bacon-wrapped shrimp served with tagliatelle with cream sauce, just to really send a “we’re secular” message, I assume. (more…)

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Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

I’ve just returned from a ten-day vacation in Israel. Like most bloggers, I had grand plans to post a series of live updates, but Jon and I moved around a lot, and broadband for my laptop wasn’t readily available in most of the places we stayed (esp. near Syria and Lebanon).

I had an amazing time, despite the high summer heat (think average temps hovering at the 100 F mark) and occasional nerves from unfamiliar sounds (think land mines being cleared by Israeli soldiers near Syria).

More to come on the deliciousness of hummous and falafel, but for now, just three pics from our three days in Jerusalem.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Despite being of no particular religion, I was moved by the quiet mystery at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (believed by most Christians to mark the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried), the peacefulness at the Dome of the Rock (believed by Muslims to mark the spot where Mohammed ascended to heaven), and the melancholy of the Western Wall (which is sacred to Jews because it’s all that remains of the First and Second Temples). Jerusalem is a must-see-before-you-die destination, no question.

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