ISRAEL! (Pt. 1)
I’m not an impulsive person. At ALL. But a few months ago, I stumbled upon an Instagram post from the wonderful Molly Yeh (of my name is yeh) saying that there were only a few days left to sign up for a culinary birthright trip she would be leading to Israel. First of all, WHO HERE KNEW THAT CULINARY BIRTHRIGHTS WERE A THING, AND WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?! A free trip to Israel to eat everything in sight sounded REALLY good on that too-cold-to-be-March-day. At that very moment it became opposite day, and I spent the next 48 hours scrambling to produce a ridiculous number of forms and applications. Within a few weeks, I had me some plane tickets and a formal invitation to eat alllll the hummus.
And so, for 10 days this month, that’s exactly what I did. Here are some anecdotes from the first half of the trip:
PART I: Northern Israel, Haifa, Akko, Tzfat
Day 1: The first thing we did (fresh off of a 10-hour flight at 6 AM) was head to a goat farm to have breakfast. On my plate landed roughly five different variations of goat cheese, two fresh salads, delicious warm breads, jam, silan (date honey), olives, and omelet with herbs. Here we also saw a presentation by Janna Gur on the history of the cultural, regional, and biblical influences behind the literal melting pot that is the Israeli food scene. Things I learned here: Salad is not only an acceptable breakfast food, it’s an amazing breakfast food. You can never eat too much goat cheese. The simpler the omelet, the more salad and yogurt you can put on it later. And, freekeh is not pronounced “freak-eh,” but “freaky.” Hehe.
After breakfast, we drove to Haifa and visited the beautiful Baha’i Gardens. Later at lunch, I ate some of THE best hummus and shakshuka I have ever tasted. This officially put my hummus-eating count for the day at 2 (we had some on the plane).
After lunch we drove to the old city of Akko (Acre). Upon our arrival, we had a hummus tasting (3!!), which seemed to underwhelm some people, especially those that had also eaten the crazy good hummus in Haifa. Honestly, I don’t remember well how it tasted because I was still full from lunch and already thinking about bedtime. But I think it could have been more tahini-y?
The market in Akko was the first of many we would visit during our ten days, and the variety of sights and smells was amazing (sometimes in a wonderful way, sometimes in a not so wonderful way. I’m looking at you, fish markets). Once we reached the end of the market, we came to the water. Weirdly, I think that was the exact moment it hit me that we we had left the Hudson River and were actually on the other side of the world.
After Akko, we drove to our kibbutz (i.e. SLEEP) in Northern Israel. We were served a tasty dinner which also featured, you guessed it, HUMMUS (4!!).
Day 2: We visited a tahini/olive oil factory and were given a tasting of a variety of different products. I’m told everything was awesome, though I was unfortunately unable to eat – probably the doing of my hummus-eating contest with myself from the day before. Note: there are indeed MANY ways in which you cannot win a hummus-eating contest with yourself. Later, we hiked to Mount Arbel where we overlooked the Galilee and chewed on fresh, sweet wild fennel, and then continued to the Jordan River, where we rafted slowly and only moderately successfully through 3.5 miles of winding waters.
Day 3: The ancient city of Tzfat, where we explored ancient synagogues, perused artisans’ booths and shops, heard musicians perform, slipped on the stones, and climbed a lot of stairs. It was here that I started but could not finish my first and only shawarma of the trip. It was delicious, but also ginormous. Then we went to a winery where we tasted liqueurs ranging in flavor from passion fruit to coffee, and hung out by the Mediterranean. Not too bad.
Oh… This also happened.
PART 2 (Coming Soon): Jerusalem, The Negev, The Dead Sea, Tel Aviv
MORE FOOD HIGHLIGHTS:
- Cooking workshop in a Druze village. The sweetest couple brought us into their kitchen and taught us how to make stuffed courgettes, vine leaves, and sambusak. We then sat down to a delicious, plentiful dinner of some seriously flavorful food that they cooked for us.
- In Akko, we ate this dessert that was basically hot, melty cheese with honey and stringy phyllo. I think I wrote down what it was called, but I don’t have it on me. It kind of changed my life, though.
- After dinner on Day 3, we walked down to a Georgian restaurant near our kibbutz. The owner’s hospitality toward our huge group was so generous, and he offered us a tasting of some of his dishes. We then ordered about 2 more rounds of food and beer.