The Israeli Food Scene: Fruit, Bread, and Cheeses

Part one of a two-part series on sophomore Gabe Gerry’s experiences with Israeli food.

This past August I got the incredible opportunity and privilege to go to Israel. I was slightly nervous going there as acts of terror that are fairly prevalent in Israel, although once I arrived in Tel Aviv it felt like a very modern and vibrant city. Our trip consisted of a ten day journey all over the small country with an amazing and new food scene for me. Due to the climate in Israel there are always so many fresh fruits available which puts our fruit to shame. For example, we went to houses of my grandfather’s friends and they all had some amazing fruit trees. Some of the most remarkable were the figs. In America the figs are usually either dried or have taken so long since they are picked they never taste quite right, but these incredible fresh figs straight from the tree changed everything for me.

Figs were not the only fresh fruit that stood out to me. The grapes were always super crunchy, which is hard to find in the states. Also, the peaches and mangos were super fresh and juicy. One of the coolest things was the dates. Medjool dates were abundant in the Jordan River Valley and there were hundreds of acres of date trees, which look just like palm trees but hanging of their branches are big bags full of dates. The bags meant that if they were to fall, they wouldn’t hit the ground.

If the dates and figs weren’t enough, I also enjoyed the bananas, which surprised me since I only thought of them as coming from South America. Finally, the pomegranates were all over the place, not only in little clay bowls but also from street vendors, who squeeze them for juices. Right in front of you, they squeeze all of the juice out, leaving a deep purple elixir. I had tried POM in the states and never liked it – it never tasted like the real thing and was always so bitter. This fresh juice, on the other hand, was amazing. It tasted just as if you had bitten into a pomegranate with seeds floating around, too. It was a little expensive at about three dollars but was definitely worth it.  

For most breakfasts, we ate at the hotel buffet, which I approached with skepticism due to my experiences with American hotel buffets. I was pleasantly surprised that the Israeli hotel buffets – or at least the three I went to – were nothing like the continental breakfasts here. At all three of them my highlights were the crazy amount of cheese options. You have fifteen to twenty cheese options alone ranging from the hard cheeses that looked familiar to me to over ten different types of soft cheese. The one downside to the Israeli cheese selection was that each identification card had the fat percentage on it. That did not turn me away from them, though, which was very lucky considering some of the 25 or 30 percents were the best.

Another one of the gems of Israel was the soft, pillowy pita bread. It was in the stressful and packed streets where this high quality pita could be found, and it is anxiety inducing to purchase the pita with hundreds of people shuffling around, yelling in rapid Israeli. Once you get it though the stress, however, it is worth it, as for only 5 Shekels or about $1.4 USD you can get ten steaming fresh pitas. That’s only $.14 per pita for the best pita I have ever eaten. Highly recommended.

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