The Israeli Hanukkah

December 6, 2010

Ask anyone who knows me well–I have an insatiable sweet tooth.  However, it’s anything but ordinary; I usually pass on cakes, chocolates, pies, and cookies.  My weakness is candy.  Pre-packaged or bulk, I’d be willing to bet I’ve tasted almost every artificially flavored option out there.  It’s a love that has brought me down the aisles of CVS Pharmacies and Walgreen’s across the country.  Because of this, I’ve been exposed to every seasonal item and decoration (the “holiday” aisle is always next to or inside of the candy aisle, isn’t it?).

Thus I anticipate each holiday, waiting for the day when the pumpkin-shaped Snicker’s becomes a Christmas tree, a heart, an Easter egg, and so on and so forth.  America has made its holidays into a marathon of consumerism.  (I would like to point out that I have no problem with this and seriously enjoy anything with a theme, especially candy).

Well, here I am; it’s December in Israel and I’m thousands of miles from a CVS.   I’m in a Jewish country and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for Hanukkah.  But as November drew to a close, I was yearning for a symbol of the next holiday; blue and silver wrapped candies, chocolate gelt, anything that would tell me of Hanukkah’s approach.

To my surprise, Hanukkah arrived quietly and tastefully (no spray-painted frost in the windows or reindeer on the lawn).  On the first day I began to notice small menorahs in store windows and tables of sufganiyot, or donuts, at the front of gelato shops.

As the sun sets on day five, I’m loving every bit of this non-Hallmark holiday.  Town squares across Tel Aviv have evening candle-lighting ceremonies with singing and dancing.  Every bakery window is filled with trays and trays of sufganiyot.  Children walk home from school with construction-paper menorah headbands.

Hanukkah in Israel is all about gatherings.  Each night I have experienced Hanukkah in a different way and with different people; every celebration includes songs, candle-lighting, and plenty of sufganiyot.  I have yet to see anyone walking down the street with gift-wrap and presents, a staple of December in America.

Maybe it’s the lack of Christmas competition, but Israelis don’t seem to care about making a big fuss over the holiday.  And although I’m left craving peppermint candy canes from Walgreen’s, it has all been a delightfully pleasant change.

Sufganiyot at the bakery by my building...

A Vegetarian in Israel

October 5, 2010

Israel was a transition; language, lifestyle, climate.  But there is one aspect of my life that has remained unchallenged: my eating habits.

I am approaching the fourteen-year anniversary of my decision to become a vegetarian.  After years of making ketchup and mustard sandwiches at barbecues, being taunted by my brothers at the dinner table, and my favorite question You’re a vegetarian, but do you eat fish?, I’ve been pleased with the recent options and developments for vegetarians in America.  I’ve eaten my fair share of tofu hot dogs, burgers, bacon, chicken nuggets, you name it.

I didn’t quite know what to expect in Israel.  Sure, I knew I’d find a variety of falafel stands and every type of hummus imaginable, but what if I got sick of these two options?

Tel Aviv, as it turns out, is full of delicious meat-free meals!

Odelia’s: By far my favorite culinary experience in Israel.  This small restaurant next to the Hotel Deborah is a MUST.  Their hummus has that perfect balance of garlic, creaminess, saltiness, and spice.  In addition, every menu item is dirt cheap.  If you get a chance to go here, get a dish served with their mejadara (Arabic rice with lentils).  Very tastey with the same brothy flavor of rice pilaf.

Thai House: Who knew there was delicious Thai food in Israel? Thai House is a little bit pricier–but it is worth every shekel.  The food is spiced perfectly; nothing is ever “too much of this” or “too much of that.” The Tom Yam soup has a sour and spicy broth and the Phad Kee Mao noodles (although very different from the ones I’ve tasted in the States) are rich in mushroom-y flavor.  I found myself trying to soak up every last bit of sauce with the leftover rice.

 

Buddha Burger: This vegetarian restaurant offers up an entire menu of meat substitutes.  Along with its health smoothies and salads, you can order a (chicken-less) schnitzel burger, seitan (a type of tofu) schawarma, and several other Israeli-inspired vegan meals.  Delicious and extremely inexpensive!

Moses: These burger joints (relatively upscale) are found all over the city, and although the menu is dominated by meat, they know how to make a fabulous veggie burger.  The “Missouri Burger” (my home-state, by the way) is a house-made tofu burger and is served with all kinds of delicious toppings! Definitely worth the semi-steep bill (even fries cost extra!!!).

Abu Adham: I personally believe that Odelia’s, a block from my apartments has the best hummus, BUT it was necessary to try one of the many famous hummus cafes in Tel Aviv.  The best part about these places is the simplicity; upon sitting down, a waitress brings a basket of 3 pita, 2 pickles, a half of a raw onion, and 2 spicy peppers.  The menu is short and cheap; pick one of the eight hummus varieties, each costing somewhere between 5 and 10 dollars.  Easy, inexpensive, and great protein for a vegetarian!

Fresh Cafe: A great chain of cafes in Tel Aviv, Fresh provides a menu of veggie-friendly dishes for very little money.  The best part? All of the items include a listing of calories and fat.  The salads are large, the vegetables are fresh, the meusli is filled with home-made granola and exotic fruits…what else do you need?!

 

Aside from my favorite restaurants, there are tons of options in Israel and every menu has a few items that will please a vegetarian.  A few evenings ago we stumbled upon one of two (that we have seen so far) Mexican restaurants in Tel Aviv.  “Mezcal” was pretty overpriced (45 NIS for a margarita!) however, each item could be substituted with tofu!  Mezcal, unfortunately, does not understand the concept of salsa and jalapenos and gave me two miniature dishes of both, which lasted me one of my four tacos.

Surprisingly, Israelis are completely sushi-obsessed! And every sushi menu thus far includes many vegetarian rolls, soups, salads, and noodle stir-fries!  And if all else fails, every street is sure to include at least one falafel stand (Hippo, a chain with a location on Dizengoff, is very yummy and has a do-it-yourself spicy sauce bar)!