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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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…)