Monday, July 28, 2008

Food and history

Well, I’ve been back from Israel for about a week, and I haven’t posted. I have no shame! I actually had a terrible, terrible cold and jetlag, and had to consume large quantities of chicken broth and hot water with lemon and honey to feel better. But now I’m feeling almost back to normal (physically), and I’ve been doing lots of thinking about my time in Israel.

It was a really amazing trip, that’s for sure. The people I was with were incredibly awesome—Best. Group. Ever. I definitely recommend the Taglit program, if any of my readers out there are Jewish, under age 27, and want to go to Israel for free. Yeah, there’s some propaganda and sometimes its annoying to travel in a group of 40, but it’s FREE! And Israel is an absolutely beautiful, breath-taking, complex country that deserves a visit. Or 6.

Anyway, this is not a travel blog, it is a food blog. And the food in Israel was….interesting. Now, the nature of the trip definitely restrained me a bit in terms of food, but I think I got to do a fair sampling of Israeli cuisine. We ate generally the same thing every day—I don’t know if this is the status quo, but it’s the norm for these big group trips. I actually loved the food—there was so much fresh produce! The Israelis use lots of watery fruits and vegetables, like cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon. There was also a lot of eggplant, which I don’t eat. But at almost every meal, there were lush prepared salads and lots of cold cheeses and pickles, olives, and, of course, hummus. The hummus is to die for, seriously. I didn’t eat a lot of the meat, because it gave me stomach aches, but the lamb and chicken were especially good. The cottage cheese is out of this world! I actually couldn’t identify a lot of the cheeses on the trip, but they were mostly younger cheeses, often very salty and possibly goat-based.

I ate a HUGE amount of falafel and shwarma. I definitely preferred the falafel. It was infinitely better than the falafel you can get here in Philadelphia (though, Philly folks, if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!). The falafel was also crispy-fresh and delicately seasoned, resting on its bed of lettuce and, in my case, pickled vegetables. The pitas were always fresh and incredibly soft and warm. I’m a little falafel-ed out for the time being, but I know that I will certainly daydream about Israeli falafel in a couple of weeks.

Now: the thing that Israeli cuisine does not do well? Pizza. Who knew that the concept of tomato sauce and cheese on bread would present such issues? All the pizza I had in Israeli was very flat and cardboard-like in consistency, while the toppings were often inadequate and/or burnt. And talk about interesting choices for toppings! I mean, I was obviously not expecting pepperoni pizza while I was there, but even I was a little confused by the pizza that had only green olives on it…

The thing that Israeli cuisine did the best? Chocolate wafer cookies. I picked up a package on a whim while buying wine during a night out in Jerusalem, and they were delicious. The Israelis sure know their way around chocolate! It is more delicious there than anywhere else I’ve been.

My most exciting eating experience while in Israel: Eating fruit right off the trees! Israel, according to the Old Testament, has a fallow year for its crops every 7 years. During this fallow year, the fruit is not harvested—it is free for everyone to pick from. I ate a peach while we stood in the orchard, just a stone’s throw away from the valley where David battled Goliath. I munched on grapes just off the vines as we hiked to columbarium caves where Jewish rebels once hid from the Romans. I hate part of a just-plucked pomegranate in the ruins of an amphitheatre. That intertwining of food and history really touched me. Peaches nor grapes nor pomegranates will never taste the same.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Holy Land

Well, if this blog has been a wee bit neglected of late, it's been because I am quite busy. Why am I so busy? Too busy to cook? Too busy to browse online for recipes?

Because I'm about to fly out of the country for a 10 day hiking trip in Israel, that's why.

I fly out of Boston on Thursday, and will be back in Philadelphia on the 22nd or 23rd. I'll see you when I see you!

And, yes, I'll eat a falafel for you...