Bring the Doughnuts

If you’re anywhere near Israel or West Jerusalem during December, you are going to come across at least one doughnut. These tasty, beautiful little monsters can be found everywhere – in coffee shops, at the mall, wherever your heart desires. It’s all part of a Jewish tradition of eating fried foods to commemorate a miracle at the Temple. The story goes that there was only a small amount of oil left to burn the wicks in the lamps, yet they kept burning for 8 nights – thus the roundabout connection to Hanukkah.

The rest of the year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Jewish Israeli (or anybody else) who is in love with the idea of donuts. Certainly nothing approximating the general cultural reverence they enjoy in America. A doughnut shop that sells almost nothing but deep friend pieces of dough with a missing middle and mediocre coffee you can drink on the road? Not happening. In my neighborhood in West Jerusalem, which is chock full of Americans, the best I can find is some semi-stale specimens stuck in the back of one neighborhood grocery store next to the tortillas and loaves of bread.

Aside from the obvious issues with doughnuts and tortillas being sold side-by-side, the doughnuts aren’t covered and I often see store workers tossing them about with their bare hands. I’d love to introduce those dainty, thin plastic “self-serve” grabbers to Israel, but I don’t think it would catch on.

So in the meantime, here’s to avoiding the calorie binge that one doughnut represents until after Hanukkah has passed. Thankfully, I will be in Europe until after the New Year. I hope they enjoy treats that are less caloric for Christmas and New Year’s.


Israeli Food for the Holidays

As the Jewish holidays approach in September and October, so does one of the busiest tourist periods of the entire year. Here are a few pointers on food if it’s your first time to Israel:

  • Just go with it. Whatever it happens to be.
    • If you’re in Israel during the holidays for more than two nights, chances are you will be hosted by someone, either at their home or a restaurant of their choosing. Even if you end up with something in front of you that you don’t exactly recognize or understand, just give it a try. It will probably be fairly delicious.
  • Don’t ask for recommendations from waiters at restaurants.
    • The waiter will either put the question back on you (“Well, it depends, what do you like?”) or will recommend the entire menu. If you can read, just pick something without assistance.
  • Beware degrees of kosher.
    • This is a particular issue in Jerusalem, where certain parts of the city have groupings of kosher restaurants (as in almost everywhere). The more strictly kosher, the less inventive and flavorful the food tends to be. It can even veer toward unpalatable, though it depends on the establishment.
  • Don’t assume it’s proper to bring something to dinner.
    • If you’re a guest at someone’s home, take care about grabbing a bottle of wine as a contribution. If it’s not kosher and the hosts keep kosher, the bottle will leave the same way it came–unopened.
  • Remember that traditions vary.
    • Every household does each holiday in their own way, depending on how religious they are, so follow the lead of your hosts. Sukkot tends to have the most festive atmosphere across the board.
  • Restaurants won’t keep normal hours.
    • The holidays in Israel are a tricky time for eating out, as many restaurants will keep unusual hours based around the holiday schedule. Regardless of what it says in your travel guide book or what your local friends think–call ahead.

Useful Tel Aviv Food Guides

A photo from Tel Aviv Food:

Tel Aviv is filled to the brim with tons of cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, coffee shops, and on and on. If you are coming in cold to the Tel Aviv restaurant scene, it is very helpful to get a few tips from locals who love to eat out and share their experiences.

It complicates matters further that many restaurants in Tel Aviv do not have websites or social media sites in English. It can take quite a while to find basic information like an address. It can take even longer to find out whether it would be worth your time to go and try a place.

Two of the best and most useful blogs I have found while researching contact information for my book are TelAvivFood and Tel Aviv Food (no relation!). TelAvivFood is written by a Russian expat/part time student/part time office worker who loves to eat out, find deals, and then share information on her blog.

Her blog is categorized in a very intuitive way, allowing you to browse categories ranging from “moderately priced” to “pricy fancy” to “royal fast food.” A recent review from the blog about Nana Bar says:

Finally I went to the Nana bar. After about two years of anticipation I finally purchased two coupons on groupon and we went for my boyfriend Ayals birthday. Considering the interior everything I heard was completely true. It is a very romantic and cozy place combining natural elements with antique furniture with a very cool bathroom. The service was friendly and the food came fast, maybe even too fast. I received the food before I received my glass of wine.

The other Tel Aviv Food is written by a young couple who just love to travel, eat, and share their experiences using a fork-rating system to rank it. They also provide a large number of photographs of the food they ordered, with a blow-by-blow account of how the food in the photographs ranked. A recent review from their blog went something like this:

R2M group opens a new place, an event that food lovers like us will never skip. It’s true, it took us a while and a lot of recommendations from the people around us (usually we are the recommending side), but we got there and we will be back.

The new place is located in Yehdua HaLevi street, not really the hottest street in Tel Aviv, despite the “5 minutes walk from Rothschild”. Nevertheless, Ruti and Maty manage to bring this boring street to life.

Both sites are very, very useful for visitors and locals alike. Keep up the great work, guys!


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