I recently returned from a two-week galavant across the 8,630 square miles that comprise Israel. While there, I observed a hub of religious convergence in Jerusalem, I felt true buoyancy in the Dead Sea, and I experienced the stress that is traveling with 39 other 22-26-year-olds. The purpose of the trip I went on was to further my spiritual education and while I found the program incredibly valuable and eye-opening, I made it a priority to focus my extracurriculars on bolstering my knowledge of Israeli food. Although I am currently in the midst of my shawarma hiatus, I am already experiencing withdrawals from the culinary schooling I received during my trip. If anyone knows where to find these five Israeli delicacies in the States, let me know and I’ll be on the next flight to your city.
Before you all start sending me flight options to your locale, I am fully aware that falafel can be found in many places in the U.S. I also know, that the densest Israeli diaspora resides in New York City which consistently trumps the rest of the U.S. for its culinary diversity and breadth. However, I have never experienced such a perfect balance of crisp (but not greasy) outer falafel “shell” with a fluffy light inside of fried chickpea goodness as I did straight from the source. It is disputed where you can find the best falafel in Jerusalem, but Tala Hummus and Falafel lands on the top of many lists. When writing this, I realized My Favorite Falafel, is a movie title I’d pay good money to see if anyone was looking for a free idea.
Rugelach is like that chocolate croissant you ate in Paris when you were abroad, but better. Originating from Polish Jewish communities, this little pastry can be found at cafes and bakeries across Israel, most notably Marzipan Bakery. I want to keep this one short as the pastry can speak for itself, but my last piece of advice is to eat them warm and straight from the package.
I learned quickly, that if you want to get an iced coffee as we know them in the States, the thing to order was a “cold coffee.” If you ordered an “iced coffee” what you would receive was only comparable to a frappucino, only better. I made this accidental discovery on a 100-degree day in the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and to say I was disappointed would be deceitful. The most mainstream place to seek out such a treat is called Aroma and their 380 ML size (slightly bigger than a Starbucks “tall”) packs 55mg of sugar and an infinite amount of joy when consumed.
I just had to send my Israeli friend who I met on the trip a message to ask “what was that cheesy, flaky, delicious snack we had at the Mahane Yehuda market.” Luckily, the 10 days of bonding provided her with a toolkit to understand these kinds of random messages and she pretty quickly replied to let me know they’re called Turkish bourekas. Now, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that cheese and bread of any denomination tend to be delicious, I mean think of pizza or bagels. We took our Bourekas to go and upon biting into this crisp exterior to get to the piping hot potato and feta mixture, I stopped in the middle of the busy market to relish in the joy of the experience and then promptly got hit with a stroller and caught a dirty look for stopping in the middle of a busy market.
If you’re feeling thirsty just reading this and learning about all the fried, salty delights I consumed on my trip, enter pomegranate tea. It is said that the alleged 613 pomegranate seeds per fruit are meant to represent the 613 commandments of the Torah. This is why you can typically find Rosh Hashanah tables adorned with this majestic berry. Israel produces about 60,000 tons of pomegranates per year making them a staple of any outdoor market. You can purchase pomegranates in different forms, shelled from their exterior, juice, or my favorite: tea. The pomegranate tea is made from the pomegranate skin and other fruits and flowers to produce the most delectable ruby nectar I have ever experienced. The tea tastes like the Israeli markets smell and my favorite way to drink it was on ice. It was also delicious when mixed with seltzer as the tea itself is intense.
If you’re headed to the land of milk and honey, use this as your guide to culinary satisfaction. Or just let the scents, sounds, and sights of the markets guide you to your next meal, you really can’t go wrong.
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