The Eat part of Eat, Play, Live in Israel

Here’s our new favorite neighborhood eatery. Falafel Gabi is around the corner from our apartment – mostly outdoor tables with a counter outside and it’s always packed all hours of the day.  It’s kosher, which is great for us and besides delicious falafel, they have 5 or so homemade soups everyday that are very popular.  What’s amazing is how many people sit outside in the heat eating these thick, hot soups!  When it cools off, we’ll try the soups.

Those of you who know us, know that Chuck and I are foodies.  Wherever we go in the world, we research the best restaurants and we’ve been to some amazing gourmet restaurants- from the French Laundry in Napa, to Gordon Ramsey in London (where Chuck declared our lunch was the most expensive dinner we’d ever had…) to Le Bernadin in New York.  So, part of my preparation for this trip was reading about all the hottest restaurants in Tel Aviv and there are many with well-known chefs and expensive menus.  I even made a list of the ones I wanted to try out. So far, we haven’t gotten to one of the expensive, fancy places.  Why?  There is so much good food in Tel Aviv besides the top chef establishments, we’ve eaten well and enjoyed ourselves at home, at ethnic spots of all kinds, in neighborhood holes in the wall with outstanding food, and on the street.

On Sunday, we went to Yaffo, the ancient port city next to and annexed to the municipality of Tel Aviv where Jews, Muslims and Christians live.  Its beautiful old buildings and charming alleys leading down to the harbor are a haven for galleries and artists and tourists. The header picture on my blog is one of Chuck’s photos of Jaffa from our last trip to Israel.  It’s lovely.

While there we ate a late lunch at Dr. Shakshouka.  Here’s the interior.

Shakshouka is an Arab/Sephardic-Israeli dish that consists of tomatoes, onions, spices, oil, and garlic cooked and served in a skillet, topped with poached eggs.  Dr. Shaksouka is the most famous place to eat this dish and while we wanted some, we also wanted to try other Sephardic dishes on the menu.  Lo and behold they had an Israeli version of a tasting menu.  We thought the dishes would come in courses, but no, they came all at once, about 12 different dishes, including shakshouka.  (I can just imagine what Michelin would say about the elegant service and ambience!) Salads of all kinds, tehina, spicy vegetable soup, various meat stews and concoctions, couscous, pickled vegetables- I can’t even remember everything.  For 89 shekels a person (about $23) we also got a pitcher of lemonade, bread, coffee and dessert.  What a deal and it was kosher and delicious.  Needless to say, we didn’t eat dinner on Sunday!

We mostly eat breakfast at home, although we’ve had a couple of incredible breakfasts out. We even went to a restaurant that only serves breakfast 24 hours a day, so we went for lunch! Israeli breakfasts in restaurants consist of two eggs, chopped salad, cheeses, olives, a bit of tuna salad, breads, spreads and butter, and juice and coffee.  It’s a lot, but so good and we have two favorite cafes for breakfast and for 4 o’clock coffee or tea in the neighborhood- Bialik (a famous one) and Mersand where we saw the movie sign and the sideways tow truck in an earlier post.  Anyway, one thing we love about breakfast at home here is the incredible quality of dairy products.  Chuck is a lover of cottage cheese and he says it’s the best  he’s ever had, I eat the yogurt that is unbelievably smooth and creamy, and we bought various other cheeses that have been outstanding.  Not sure what the difference is, but some of it is incredible freshness.  Chuck uses milk in his cereal and the milk turned sour much faster than we’re used to at home.

Last night we went out for sushi, which is very popular here.  The menu was in English and in Hebrew and that turned out to be funny as the words are the same in both languages- Spicy tuna, spicy tofu, etc.  The use of English words in cooking and eating is pervasive.  Grill, medium rare,  hamburger, sandwich (sometimes they use the Hebrew word krich), banana- all “Hebrew” words!  And speaking of hamburger joints- they are just as popular here as they are in the States right now. It’s not only food words that are borrowed from English- today I had my first Israeli manicure (pronounced mon-ee-kor). Remember Hebrew was a dead language for hundreds of years and when Zionists revived it, there were no modern words.  Although there is an official Academy for the Hebrew Language to develop new words from ancient roots for new things, often the English word is used more commonly. For instance, the Hebrew word for car is Michoneet, but most people say auto. To send a text message is to samais someone, from SMS.  But then the idiosyncrasies of Hebrew is a whole other topic!

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