6 Nights in Israel - Report - LONG
I came back last week from a great first trip to Israel. The friend who I visited is very aware of my love for food, so we spent a lot of time eating and making special trips to places where we could find good food. I’m happy to report that I ate very very well.
We tended to eat at inexpensive places. The most expensive meal we had (which was also probably the best – El Babor in Umm al-Fahm) was NIS 200 for two of us…so about US$25 per person. Many meals were much cheaper than this.
So, here’s the full report:
Day 1 – Tel Aviv
I arrived in Tel Aviv in the evening, and got settled in time to go out for dinner at HaMitbachon (מטבחון). We had the shakshuka, which I thought was nice as it was my first time trying it, although my friend said it was only OK. We also shared a nice quiche, some salad. Most memorable were the pickles, which were some of the best I ate the whole trip.
For dessert, we had gelato at Vagnilia. One friend of mine told me this is the best gelato he has ever had anywhere. I wouldn’t go quite that far (I’ve definitely had better in Italy and South America), but it was indeed very good. I had chocolate and Snickers, friend had passion fruit. All good.
Day 2 - Jerusalem
I went to Jerusalem for the day, and started my trip off at Shuk Machane Yehuda (שוק מחנה יהודה), which in my mind is a must-see for any chowhounds visiting Israel. The market is pretty far from the Old City, and didn’t feel very touristy at all (although I certainly wasn’t the only tourist). I had a sit-down breakfast in the market at Emil’s, which included labane, salad, sesame bread, coffee, juice. I strolled around the market, bought some excellent dried mango and fresh-from-the-oven chocolate rugolah – probably the best rugolah I’ve ever had.
I was in the Old City for a few hours, but didn’t eat much there, though I did buy a very nice lemon slush in the Muslim quarter. For dinner, we were back near the market, at a restaurant called Rahmu (רחמו), which my friend described as Israeli Soul-Food. We had kuba soup with vegetables (מרק קובה עם ירקות), a plate of hummus w/ falafel and pickles, and an order of stuffed zucchini. Good value, nice food, although we ate there just before they closed, around 7 PM. So this place is probably better for lunch.
Day 3 – Abu Ghosh
We rented a car and went to the Dead Sea and Masada for the day, bringing along a picnic lunch (hummus, avocado, eggplant w/tahini, various pita breads we had purchased in Jerusalem). On the way home, we stopped in Abu Gosh, and ate a place that we think was called Caravan Restaurant (מסדת קראבן). We had chicken kebabs, a very smoky eggplant salad, matbucha (tomato-based salad, which was very nice, made of roasted tomatoes.
For dessert, we headed next-door to Sweets of Abu Gosh (ממתקי אבו גוש). This place was great – lots of young people hanging out and smoking shisha, drinking coffee and eating desserts. We had knafe/קנפה and baklava with malabi (מלאבי) and turkish coffee and mint tea. All excellent, staff were very friendly (and let me try one of the desserts before making my final choice).
Day 4 – Tel Aviv, Zichron Yaakov, Dalia
This was the first day of our overnight trip up north. We started off with some shopping in Tel Aviv, and Shuk Hacarmel was bustling before Shabbat. We bought some bourekas which were quite greasy – probably the worst thing I ate the entire trip, though it still wasn’t so bad – and also more rugolach (good, but not as good as the ones in Jerusalem). Then we headed north.
In Zichron Yaakov I had a crepe with nutella, and my friend had some sorbet. The town was nice to walk around, and could be quite interesting for wineries and for slightly more upscale restaurant – there were many that looked good.
We had dinner later on in Dalia Hacarmel, at the Sheep Restaurant (מסעד הכבש). This was very good. Started off with an assortment of appetizers: - Hummus, eggplant salad, pickles, pickled radish, labane, other salads, etc. Then we had some young chicken kebabs (שיפודי פרגיות) and a lamb dish w/ rice and chickpeas and pine nuts (מנסף). Good food, reasonable prices.
Day 5 – Kibbutz Ramot Menashe, Umm al-Fahm
After spending the night on the kibbutz, we did some nice walks around the area. Near the horse stables of the kibbutz, there is a big BBQ every Saturday, which looked quite nice (though we didn’t end up eating there). It’s open to the public, with a set price of NIS 80 or 90 per person I think.
For dinner we went to El Babor in Umm al-Fahm, which as I mentioned, was the best meal I had the whole trip. We arrived around 5:30 PM, and there was a short wait to get in. By the time we left, it had emptied considerably, but apparently all day long it had been very crowded (and probably on most weekends). It’s a very good operation they have running, lots of waiters (friendly, constantly cracking jokes, but very professional), and I was also quite pleased that they had a menu in English (in addition to the normal menu in Hebrew and Arabic).
We started with an array of salads – almost all were fantastic: cucumber tomato salad, wild watercress salad, tabouli w/ pomegranate, eggplant w/ tahini, spicy chili and onion, potato, hummus w/ chickpeas, olives, pickles, carrots w/ dill, beetroot salad, and one or two others! This alone filled our entire table. We also had an order of spinach sambusas, which were fine but not too exciting. Then we had an order of chicken kebab, which was very nicely prepared, and the house specialty of meatballs baked in a tomato sauce w/ vegetables, all enclosed in a pita-bread bowl/pie. The bread crust was cut to expose the meatballs and stew inside – very tasty, huge serving, and delicious. We also had a huge pitcher of mint-lemonade. This was a huge amount of food, and I was also quite pleased that we were able to pack up the leftovers to take home, which meant that breakfast the next day was great! Overall, I’d highly recommend this restaurant, some of the best Middle Eastern food I’ve had anywhere – it’s very clear why this place is so popular.
Back in Tel Aviv, we got some frozen yogurt from one of the Pinkberry-like places. I forget the name of the one we went to. We had plain yogurt with fresh persimmon and pomegranate, and it was very nice.
Day 6 – Tel Aviv
Had some scrambled eggs, along with leftovers from El Babor for breakfast. For lunch I tried sabich at Sabich Frishman (סביח) – this is also up there in the best things I ate in Israel. Fried eggplant in a pita w/ hummus, tahini, salad, hardboiled egg, and mango chutney. YUM.
For dinner we ate at a café on King George, where we had a big salad and a schnitzel sandwich. Nothing too exciting, but the food was good. Overall quality of salads in Israel is excellent, and now that I’m back in London, I’m missing the great produce!
Since it was my last full day in Israel, I started entering chowhound panic-exit mode, which for me often results in fitting several more meals into a day than usual. So for dinner number 2, we went to Dabush (דבוש) for a shwarma sandwich, which was great. The meat was lightly seasoned, and I could detect a cardamom flavor.
Day 7 – Tel Aviv, Jaffo
We started off with breakfast at Milky Way (שביל החלב) in Kerem HaTaymanim (כרם התימנים). I was hoping to try some other Yemenite breakfast foods that I had heard about from my friend, but most places that had breads and things like that weren’t open yet when we wanted breakfast. But Milky Way was very good – we had a plate with a few different salads, pita w/ za’atar, and a very good vegetarian lentil soup. After going to a different café for some coffee, we walked to Jaffo, where I got a very nice fresh-squeezed juice combination of banana, strawberry and passion fruit. After walking around a bit more, we finally headed to Abu Hassan in Jaffo, where we had humus and ful. This place is definitely an institution – very crowded with people who all seemed to be regulars. I thought the food was very good, but I definitely preferred the hummus to the ful.
So, that was it. In the evening, I bought a sandwich from a shop on the way to the airport – I had pastrami with mustard and pesto (which tastes better than I expected). My flight was quite delayed, so I had time to wander around the airport as well – food isn’t too bad, but very expensive. I had one last mint-lemonade before the flight.
Overall a great trip, and lots of amazing food! Thanks very much to my friend who hosted me and helped with some of the Hebrew (and remembering things) for this chowhound post, and also to another friend of mine who sent me some great food suggestions (you guys know who you are).