תל אביב, ישראל [Tel Aviv, Israel]

Ah, Tel Aviv. So badly have I wanted to come here for so long, so bittersweet that I’m finally here. The nightlife, the beaches, the Bauhaus, the art, the cafés on Rothschild Boulevard… I’ve been enchanted by it for years. if Jerusalem feels like a living museum, Tel Aviv feels like a living, beating heart. Imagine a Mediterranean Berlin, and you get Tel Aviv: a graffiti-plastered paradise that drinks juices from sidewalk kiosks and coffees from marble countertop clad cafés before heading to the beach to play. And to think I only have three nights here…

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Tel Aviv coast from Jaffa
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Beach life

On to the food! One of the things on the top of my list to eat here in Israel, anywhere in Israel, was shakshuka (شكشوكة or שקשוקה), a Moroccan dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce that’s made its way east through North Africa.I thought I’d be eating it as much as hummus; it’s supposedly a common breakfast/brunch food here. I was baffled: I didn’t see it anywhere. (Okay, granted, I barely sought out a full breakfast in Israel. I prefer my cappuccino and a newspaper.) I had to seek it out the last morning of our trip at a place in Jaffa (the southern neighborhood/co-city of Tel Aviv) fittingly called Dr. Shakshuka, and even then I had to come back at night to eat it for dinner since it was closed for Shabbat.

Along those lines, I was told that Tel Aviv is just like any other city and isn’t really impacted by Shabbat. Not true. Sure, relative to Jerusalem, where it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop in the street during Shabbat, Tel Aviv is more lively and more places are open. But there is still a lot that is closed during the day of rest. When you too go to Tel Aviv, be forewarned.

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Shakshuka (شكشوكة or שקשוקה), finally, on the last night of the trip… plus some skhug and bread

Like I said above, Israel/Tel Aviv loves its juice. (Remember my pomegranate juice?) Juice stands and kiosks are everywhere in Tel Aviv; you can barely go a few blocks without seeing one on the side of the street or in the middle of a plaza, identifiable a block away given the bags of hanging fruit jutting out into the sidewalk. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Israel’s major export crop is citrus. And since Israel is also a leader in agriculture and irrigation research (you have to be a leader in R&D when you live in a region of the world that doesn’t see much rain for a large part of the year), it’s no wonder they’re producing citrus that is improved for export. Like the Jaffa orange, which is green when it’s ripe, that has a thick skin making it a great export crop. And it was delicious on the beach.

A Jaffa orange, locally grown, it turns green when it’s ripe
Juice stand in Neve Tzedek
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Everyone’s juicing

I’d also be remiss to not talk about Israeli wine at all during this trip. Israeli has several wine producing regions, including the Negev desert surprisingly, and it’s more than just Kosher/Manischewitz wine. Most of the wines I sampled were from the Golan Heights. Sadly, we didn’t actually visit the Golan Heights region thanks to its proximity to Syria and those risks, but the wine was excellent. Israel may less than 5% the size of California or France, but it produces a striking amount of quality wine. You also get to enjoy it on the coast of the Mediterranean, like I did here with a Barkan special reserve Gewürtzraminer. Not pictured: the sea crashing against a stone wall a meter away from me and the Tel Aviv skyline. Awesome.

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A glass of Israeli wine on the seaside

The Mediterranean was a big part of this whole trip, and it gave me possibly some of the best fish I’ve ever had. One our last night in Tel Aviv, another Shabbat night, we struggled to find a lot of good restaurants open. So we walked a few miles to Ibn Gabirol Street near Dizengoff Square and found ourselves under string lights on the patio at Ha’achim (The Brothers) and it was fantastic. The sea bream–a fish found in the eastern Mediterranean–I ordered was charred and salty and so, so flaky. For the table, we ordered some fried artichokes with labneh, some grilled hot peppers (emphasis on the hot!), tabbouleh, and masabaha. Don’t worry, we still got in our hummus quota for the day; masabaha is basically hummus except the chickpeas are whole (masabaha fittingly means swimming in Arabic).

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Grilled sea bream
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Fried artichokes and labneh
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More mezze! Some amazing bread, grilled hot peppers, tabbouleh, and masabaha

We also HAD to sample the infamous gelato at Anita, aka La Mamma del Gelato. It was some of the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy, and even though we were stuffed from our feast at Haachim, I obliged and got my usual scoop of pistachio plus a scoop of Lotus Biscoff (it’s like a cookie butter to you Trader Joe’s fans). We actually went to a different gelato place the night before since I had gotten the address wrong and just figured that I couldn’t read the name of the store correctly because it was in Hebrew. It was also open on Friday (Shabbat) evening, so… I figured it was correct. It was good, but the trip to Anita was worth it. Also, there are 3 Anita stores within 20 meters of each other—two are on the same street corner—offering slightly different flavors. Keith ended up getting some super fresh frozen yogurt that actually tasted like frozen yogurt, not just another ice cream. Anita, you put the frozen yogurt chains in the States to shame…

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Gelato at ANITA: La Mamma del Gelato… some of the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy
Yes, I will eat all the gelato please. Pistachio and lotus Biscoff

And of course, we had more kanafeh. Enough said.

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You know what this is by now, and you probably know I’m going to eat all the kanafeh

So, this ends my time in Israel and a holiday that has just been unbelievable. It’s so hard to leave!! It’s pointless to compare the different trips I’ve taken to each other, but if I did, this one would be near the top of the list. It’s hard to beat: the Pyramids, Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, hiking up Massada, scuba diving in the Red Sea, Petra, Tel Aviv, long layovers in Germany… and I can’t wait to go through all my pictures, which constantly remind me of the small (and personally meaningful) parts of travelling that begin to fade after a few weeks, months or years.

But all is not lost… I have a fun schedule of traveling in the months ahead. Stay tuned!

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