where do i even begin? i don't think there is a proper starting place, so i'll start with me as a little babe.
my father was born in jerusalem, and i spent most of my toddler years traveling to the country. it wasn't until a trip at age 14 that i really bonded with the country. i was old enough to understand the beauty of the place, but young enough to make gutsy affirmations to the tune of, "i will live here one day". fast forward four years later, with lots of strong nudges from my parents and sister, and i ended up moving to herzilya, a sleepy beach town north of tel aviv, for university. i spent three years eating way too many pastries because for the first time i could walk to a main street [sokolov!] and pick up a casual box of rugelach and a coffee. for a gal who grew up in the actual woods where the only places you could drive to once you got your license was the dumpy mall nearby OR a movie [or both because they were in the same place], walking to a bustling street with buses that could transport you to anywhere in the country was downright revolutionary. i would meet friends for shakshouka and chai lattes at cafe cafe, study under palm trees at espresso bar, and friday mornings were always reserved for adventures to the best craft market known to man, nachalat binyamin. it was a great three years. i was full of persistent acne and awkwardly going through experimental fashion phases that one usually overcomes in high school [thanks late-blooming genes!].
leaving israel was like going through a really, really bad breakup. i spent an entire year pining for the country, even spending four months in barcelona because it was on the mediterranean and had to be kind of the same, right? [not at all, although alluring in its own, unique way]. i visited for graduation and realized how romantically immature i was when every man of every age that passed me by was just straight gorgeous, [wtf was i doing?! i could've snagged one if i only had my damn eyes open] and i spent every morning sucking down cafe afuchs. i've since visited about four times. each visit is unique, yet i always find a way to sneak in my staples:
a (thousand) cafe afuch(s) [latte]. literally anywhere. they're always good. i order mine, "chazak im harbe ketsev" which means, "strong with lots of foam". My favorite cafe is Landwer's and its a chain, spotted all over tel aviv, and other cities in the "merkaz" or "center" of israel.
crushed fruit, nuts, and halvah frozen yogurt. there's a machine that basically smoothie-fies a block of yogurt, and a myriad of toppings including but not limited to fruits, nuts, chocolate, and halvah, and blends it into a soft serve swirl of crunchy, fruity, flavor-melding goodness. the best is at Dr. Lek.
aruchat boker. literally meaning, breakfast, "aruchat boker" is hands down one of my favorite things about israel. i love having many options when i eat-- i blame it on my bird-like eating tendencies from my tall and awkward string-bean childhood years--i love picking at many different dishes and flavors in one meal. breakfast in israel is traditionally served on approximately 8 small plates and consists of an egg cooked any way [make sure you order "havita and not "beitzim", the latter being slang for balls, yes, testicles on a dude-man], "salat catzutz" or chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and purple onion, a bread basket, tahina, jams, and other dipping options for said bread. its salty, sweet, sometimes even spicy, and satisfies every morning craving you might have.
nachalat binyamin. when i say this is the best craft market, i'm really not joking. and its not cutesy crafts like you may be thinking, its the real deal. of course you have your puppet man, and soap lady, but you also have gorgeous metal and precious stone rings, embroidered tel aviv vignettes, and hand-dyed silk scarves. during my time spent living in israel on a student's budget, i spent way too much of my weekly food allowance in this place, but every item i've bought here i truly cherish to this day.
a cool ass, hipster tel aviv dinner or bar spot. one of my proudest moments happened this past trip to israel. i was wearing a flowy jumpsuit from anthropologie with a patterned head scarf and was just rocking life. we were told to dine at Port Said, a new[ish] spot in tel aviv, known for its innovative yet approachable dishes, vinyl on deck, and hipster crowd. but seriously, the person who recommended it to me told me that she won't dare go unless she is feeling really, really, cool. [tel aviv takes hipsterism to a whole other level, and the city is truly dripping with bohemian awesomeness at every turn.] we decided to go on a whim, and arrived at the spot around 6p which is quite early for dinner in this city. we lucked into a corner spot on the patio and sipped israeli red wine while we made our way through a charred baked sweet potato with coarse sea salt and creme fraiche. by the time we began to dig into a paper bag filled with juicy string beans, the line for seating poured out onto the street and the speakers pumped with grainy jams from vinyl records. this place is a real gem, and totally made my life when upon leaving a local singer we became friends with named Tamara told me that a few patrons touted my sister and i the "coolest people there". that's right, i'm cooler than you.
¡fresh juice! on almost every street corner in tel aviv, theres fresh juice being contained and served with a bright orange straw. my sister lived in tel aviv for a number of years and she led us into Uzi Eli, at the mouth of the shuk hacarmel. sage burning, reggae music pulsing, and elbow to elbow crowds fill the narrow space. one wall is lined with crates of citron (citrus fruit that looks like a cross between a lemon and a lime) and medicinal powders like maca and cinnamon. most guests are welcomed with a "health shot" served by maayan, a bubbly, bronzed-skin beauty, who also happens to be the daughter of the yemenite medicine man who owns the shop. we pounded back a pucker-y, salty + spicy shot of turmeric, cayenne, and olive oil and then spoke to maayan about our ailments and taste profiles. a couple of minutes later, we were presented with bespoke juices. on the lids of each sits artfully positioned fruits, seeds, and sauces that represent the ingredients inside. pure deliciousness is what this place is, and for a natural remedy sucker like myself, the healing properties of these juices totally roped me in to visiting this spot three times within three weeks.
neve tsedek. tucked away behind the bustling streets of tel aviv lies neve tsedek, a small neighborhood within the city lines. everything is blooming, cobblestone streets weave in and out of luxurious boutiques, and quaint coffee shops transport you to europe. visit Dallal for delicious pastries and coffee. eat outside as bicycles whir by, and pink flowers flutter in the breeze. if you have time, catch a show at the Dallal center to be dazzled by incredible modern dance performances.
spices, spices, spices. go to the shuk machne yehuda in jerusalem or shuk hacarmel in tel aviv and pick up these: turmeric. sumac. zaatar. curry.
abu ghosh. if you happen to drive to jerusalem, it is always worth it to stop in abu ghosh for a real hummus experience. this arabic village really nails this dish, and its worth every swipe of pita. you also should buy a large jar of authentic tahina here, and be sure to leave enough weight in your suitcase as i did not and had to sadly leave a beautiful jar in my second home.