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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Of the many amazing memories I have of my trip to Israel last summer, eating the best falafel and hummous of my life ranks up there. So imagine my excitement when Pilpel opened near Spitalfields Market (which is where I work). For the past three months, I’ve found it a colossal exercise of willpower to limit my visits to Pilpel to only once a week. Often I break down and go twice a week. And no, I don’t want to know what my cholesterol is.

As Londonelicious has already noted, it’s a grab-and-go type of place. On weekdays, two long queues snake out the door at lunchtime, ensuring high turnover, which is key when you’re dealing with deep-fried goodies. You can order a falafel salad for £4.49 (which is basically all the stuffings of a falafel sandwich served in a bowl with the pita bread on the side), or you can order the falafel sandwich for £3.99 (which is the way to do it, in my opinion).

The servers at lunchtime work fast, but they’re good natured and always oblige when I ask for extra tahini (if it weren’t unseemly to drink that stuff down, I would). I’ve found that paying the extra 50p for a boiled egg or feta doesn’t add much, but occasionally I can’t resist the extra topping of fried aubergine, which is evil because everyone knows that there is no better sponge for oil than an aubergine.

falafel from Pilpel

falafel from Pilpel

Although I think Pilpel should throw on some red cabbage (like they do at the Parisian institution, L’As du Fallafel), I like that Pilpel’s falafels are always hot from the fryer and that the servers are fast and friendly. The place is a little slice of Tel Aviv here in London, and as the days grow shorter, thinking of a warm, Mediterranean beach city is no bad thing.

Pilpel falafel, 38 Brushfield Street, E1 6EU; 0207 247 0146; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
Pilpel London on Urbanspoon

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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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