Before heading to Israel for the start of this year's tour, I was told it would be tough there to find open restaurants and grocery stores on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. However, I didn't expect to also find most businesses closed for almost my entire first week in the country due to Rosh-Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As employees of a traveling entertainment company, we don't get to pick when we travel--we are simply given tickets and told when our flight leaves. I couldn't change when I was traveling to Israel to avoid this tummy-grumbling situation, so I got creative in figuring out how to find food during the holidays, and I learned a lot about Israeli food culture in the process. Here are my favorite "lessons!"
Fresh hummus and warm pita bread in Tel Aviv, Israel | Photo by @officialjendano
Third lesson: Hummus to Israelis is like french fries to Americans. You can find hummus everywhere, even at the Israeli fast food chains, and it's absolutely delicious. A side of hummus and pita comes with almost every meal.
Fourth lesson: Falafel vs. kabob. They're different. They're delicious. Try them both.
A kabob at my family's backyard BBQ is a skewer strung with some chicken or steak and maybe a few peppers, tomatoes or onions. A kabob, or kebab, here in Israel is a dish of small cuts of grilled meat--not necessarily served on a skewer. You can get it as a main course with sides, or in a sandwich. You'll find lamb kabob most often, but other meats are also used for kabob.
A falafel is a fried mash of ground chickpeas or fava beans. It's usually served in warm pita pocket, and you can choose a variety of toppings (think pickled veggies and tahini).
There's also shawarma, which is a meat that hangs on a vertical spit and is cooked for hours. Shawarma can be beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, veal, or even a blend of different types of meats. Servers shave off some of the meat and pop it into a sandwich, and customers add their desired toppings. Together with tabbouleh, tahini, veggies, or hot sauce, shawarma is a popular "street-meat" treat.
First lesson: Breakfast in Israel is rightfully famous. It's incredible! It is most extravagant in touristy restaurants and hotels, and I highly recommend visiting a nicer hotel and paying for this experience. Israel is truly the land of milk and honey: if you love either, you'll enjoy breakfast in Israel. Breakfast included plates piled with meat (although, no ham products), cheese, fresh fruits, salads (fruit salads, veggie salads, cheese and tomato salads), jams and honeys to top on brown rice cakes and warm breads, and hot plates of waffles, pancakes, eggs made to order, and Israeli pastries. Freshly squeezed papaya, orange and lemon juices were also always available, along with coffee beverages made to order.
Second lesson: Tuna. Tuna on pizza. Tuna for breakfast. Tuna with your beer. Tuna with your tuna. At every meal, there is the option to add tuna. Not sure if I'm a fan of this tradition...
Salads are also super popular. Not American salads, which are full of dressing, and attached to a certain recipe. Here, heaping bowls of veggies are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you are free to combine them into your own salad. Maybe add some tuna on top?
Lamb kabob served with potatoes and salad | Photo by @officialjendano
Fifth lesson: Finally, my fifth lesson in food this week: Go food shopping when you can. Show people, take note! You will most likely be flown in right before the Sabbath, so go food shopping as soon as you get into the hotel.
On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, bars open back up around 8:00pm. Although they can't always make you food, many of them have sandwiches pre-made for hungry patrons. I ate a lot of late-night sandwiches on Saturdays in Israel...
Shawarma topped with veggies and tahini in a warm pita in Jerusalem, Israel | Photo by @officialjendano