I have done a decent amount of traveling, but outside of the states, the place that I have spent the most amount of time is Israel. Politics aside, cause this is not that kind of blog, I ate more amazing meals and food in general there than anywhere else. For many who have not ventured far into Middle Eastern food, they know about hummus and pita. Yes, this is delicious, but it doesn’t even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg. It is a very good starting place though. In my travels, I couldn’t even begin to calculate the kilos of hummus that I consumed. Didn’t you get tired of it you ask? I thought that I might, but I guess I never reached that point.
I will describe two different types of hummus that I enjoyed on a regular basis. The first is “pre-packaged” of sorts. There was this little store hidden away on some random side street of the main marketplace in Jerusalem (Machne Yehuda). A friend of a friend took me there and said it was the best hummus you could buy. I took his word and quickly learned that you would have to shove and shout to get the shop keepers attention if you wanted to get any. This hummus came in a few different flavors but I stuck with the original and once got a very spicy one. The reason this friend of a friend knew about this specific hummus was because it was made in Abu Gosh. Abu Gosh is a small village about 15 km West of Jerusalem and next to the village that he grew up in. One taste and I was hooked and that was literally the only hummus I bought for my apartment the rest of the summer.
The other type of hummus is literally a hummus restaurant. There are actual restaurants that specialize in hummus? Ummmm yes, this was the Middle East. The restaurant that captured my heart and still holds it is Ben Sira. It is just a small place located on one of the winding streets off of Ben Yehuda. I can’t even explain how good the hummus is and how different it tastes. For starters, the hummus comes out hot and you can pick whatever toppings you want that are grilled up in front of you. From mushrooms, to onions, or more chickpeas, you really cant go wrong. I always got falafel to go with mine, because they have perfected the super super crispy outside and light and fluffy interior. Then lots of grilled pita. Pictures couldn’t capture the beauty.
I probably should have started with this header, but I just needed to get out my feelings about hummus first. Everyone has their happy place and mine is wandering through a marketplace. From my first love, Dekalb Farmers Market, to Pike Place here in Seattle, I can spend hours just wide-eyed as my husband has learned. No matter where I travel, I always want to see the local market because I feel like you get to see the underbelly of a culture that way. The first market I visited on my first trip to Israel was Machne Yehuda. I believe we were there on a Friday afternoon and I have never felt more overwhelmed in my life. If you have an issue with lack of personal space, this might not be the place for you. All of the vendors are yelling and the patrons are shouting back. The preparations for the Sabbath are in full swing and it is fascinating to watch. The thing that constantly blows my mind is you can wander for hours and still not discover everything. I wandered at least twice a week for an entire summer and still found new things every time. The nice thing about the repeated visits is you can shop way faster. I have my pita guy, my produce guy, my sweets person, and my hummus stand. The part that will always blow my mind is the candy stands. I have never in my life seen mounds of candy as large as in the markets of Israel.
The market I didn’t become as familiar with, but still greatly enjoyed was the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. The atmosphere is a little more relaxed but still so much fun to wander around in. I ate my very first lychee on the corner of the market.
After I ate through the country by way of hummus, I found a second obsession. To be honest, obsession might not even cut it. I fell hard and fast for one of the best baked goods in the world, rugelach. Although I would happily eat many many of them from probably any bakery, especially if it was a bakery in Machne Yehuda, but Marzipan Bakery by far has the best. I remember the first time I laid my eyes on them. I did a double-take while walking past the store front when I saw an entire full sheet of hundreds of little rugelach getting slathered with a glaze of some kind that made their browned tops glisten. I stopped the person I was walking with and told her that we had to go in and buy some. That specific summer I must have eaten at least 50 of them…maybe 60. They recently started selling them in the states and my dear mother was sweet enough to send me a box of them, they didn’t last two days. Here is a link to the places that sell them in the states, you are welcome in advance.
In general, outside of the Middle East, sesame seeds are considered something that is savory which is why explaining halvah is typically accompanied with a confused look. It is quite simple ingredients, sesame paste (tahini) and sugar. That may sound gross, but don’t knock it before you try it. I have been eating halvah for as long as I can remember. My dad would always cut up little squares of it for us after Shabbat dinner. Whether it came out of a can, a small bar, or a package, I love it all the same. When I first laid eyes on Halvah King in the market, I was blown away. I had only had plain and pistachio, I had no idea that there were so many options! Halvah will always be one of the ways into my heart.
The last thing that I will write about, because I could write for pages and pages of all of the amazing things that I ate and love: Borekas, amazing cheeses like edam and feta, fresh tomatoes, yogurt, coffee, shwarma, etc. I will leave it there. I had never had shakshuka until I spent the summer there, and I feel like I really missed out on almost 20 years of my life. I had walked into my apartment and saw a pair of army issued boots next to the door. A friends brother was on leave and had come to visit and decided to cook for us. The apartment smelled amazing and I never turn down someone cooking for me. He made shakshuka. My understanding, is every region, and maybe even every family, has their own way of making shakshuka. The cut and dry of it is a spicy, thick tomato base, with eggs cooked into it. Some add peppers, some add cheese on top. It is served with grilled bread or pita, but even just with a fork, it is addictive. I make it at home when I am feeling a little nostalgic, recipe to follow. I happen to really dislike peppers and I like to keep my eggs on the runny side, but do what makes you happy! The picture below is from Cafe Hillel, which is my personal favorite coffee chain in the country, nothing against Aroma, but I like what I like 🙂
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 eggs
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add onions and garlic and sautee until tender.
- Add salt, paprika, and cayenne and toast for about 1 minute until fragrant.
- Dump in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer uncovered until it thickens (about 15 minutes).
- Once the sauce is thick, make 4 wells and pour one whole cracked egg into each. Let cook until the eggs are cooked to your desired done-ness.
- Serve in a bowl with grilled bread!