(March 16, 2016 / JNS) By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
As summer approaches in Israel, I have found that all the mouthwatering Israeli cuisine is starting to catch up with me. I call it my freshman 15, but thankfully I’m not talking in kilos (yet).
This is partially due to my lack of a gym membership, but mostly because of the amazing food.
The culprits? Here is what’s at the top of my list of new favorite food types, items, genres, grocery stores, and at-home meals:
Food Type: Ethiopian Food
In Israel, there is a large Jewish population from Ethiopia. Ethiopian restaurants are all over Jerusalem (kind of like Starbucks in Seattle) and you can recognize them by their colorful logos, often green, yellow and red, the colors of the Ethiopian flag. For me, the best part of Ethiopian food is that it’s exotic, super flavorful, inexpensive, and gluten free! Put your gluten beliefs aside- because I simply cannot digest gluten. But luckily, injera, the Ethiopian bread made from millet flour, is totally safe for me, not to mention it’s delicious. Injera is fermented, pancake-like bread that’s spongy and tastes like if beer and bread had a baby. My favorite Ethiopian restaurant, hilariously called “Ethiopian Restaurant” (it also has a name written in Amharic, but I cannot read it), is conveniently located a mere three minutes’ walk from my house and serves just two dishes, named “vegetarian” and “meat.” The vegetarian one comes with many dips on the injera: dips with potatoes, lentils, salad, green beans, beets, and spices. It’s heavenly. The meat dish, seasoned perfectly, is also amazing.
Food Item: Sahlav
Sahlav is to drinks as a bread pudding is to desserts—decadent, filling, sweet, and warming. A comfort drink like no other, sahlav is a creamy blend of orchid root, coconut, nuts, and cinnamon. Dried tubers of orchis mascula or orchis militaris (orchids) are ground into a nutritious flour (also naturally gluten free!) that gives sahlav its thick consistency. The varieties are just as numerous as the spellings — it’s also known as salep, sahlab, salepi, and saloop. However you spell it, I am personally obsessed with sahlav and have made it my mission to try as many sahlavs as I can. Whenever I go to a new café, I try the sahlav, even though it has no coffee or alcohol in it (its only fault). I’d put money on it that sahlav is the main culprit of my freshman 15, as it is both very sweet and filling. But don’t ask me to stop.
Food Genre: Holiday food
Is today a Jewish holiday? The answer is probably yes. There are so many Jewish holidays, and of course, each involves a different type of food. You’ve heard it before–Jewish holidays are all about “They tried to kill us, we overcame, now let’s eat.” And eat, we do! Purim, our upcoming holiday, has hamantashen. Shavuot has dairy, Tu B’Shevat has fruit. Hanukkah has all the fried things. Rosh Hashanah has honey. Passover has matzah. And don’t forget Shabbat, the holiday that happens every single week, aka “the one where calories don’t count.” Except they definitely do.
Grocery Store: Osher Ad
Osher Ad is a Costco-like food department store chain with ten stores around the country. In fact, they sell many Kirkland brand products, so it feels like home to me, minus the samples. It’s a kosher mehadrin store whose motto is “Lo trickim, lo shtickim” which is exactly what it sounds like if you know Yiddish/Hebrew. Or, in English, “no tricks or gimmicks,” which is kind of rare in Israel. There are good prices year round on normally pricey kosher items. One of my favorite wines, Efrat Judean Hills Dry Red, is just a little over $5. And their Cabernet Sauvignon is smooth and tasty! They also sell one kilo of Gouda cheese (2.2 pounds) for $9, and that’s when it’s not on sale!
At-Home Meal: Kosher Barbecue
Last but not least, my boyfriend and I bought a cheap but essential barbeque grill for less than $25, including a little manual fan and charcoal. We grill eggplants that we make into baba ghanoush, an Israeli and Arab dip made with eggplant, olive oil, garlic, and sesame paste. Especially when the weather is nice, there’s really nothing better than grilling up some meat and sipping some cold beer (or cider, in my case).
I must say: When it comes to eating, Israel is a four-star country. I’ve found some delicious new food, great cafés, low prices, and people with whom to celebrate as well as masticate. B’tayavon!
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.