On Israel (FINALLY!)

AH! Okay, I think I have caught my breath enough now to finally sit back down and get a post out (thank you for being patient!). I promise to have a few recipe blog posts soon, though cooking at the new apartment has been slow with all the celebrations and traveling and visiting family (with a sprinkle of wedding dress shopping on top! EEK!), I can at least talk about Israel and share some of the photos! But let me start off by saying, WHAT. A. TRIP! Holy smokes! Not to mention how great it was to see Gaya! 8 years…that was the last time we saw each other, and honestly, the video Ram (her now husband) took of our reunion, which was a complete surprise to her, captures just how long overdue this reunion was.

Also, yes, that was Ram laughing in the background because we were told we weren’t allowed to hug in that spot…but whatever, I was there! ACTUALLY THERE! And what a wedding! We spent all of Wednesday getting the venue all decked out and ready for the following BIG day. The wedding was going to take place in Ram’s parents BEAUTIFUL and spacious backyard, which Gaya’s family & friends all pitched in to cultivate the space into this grove of sunflowers and orange trees, and it all felt totally like a vineyard or part of an estate, rather than a backyard. I mean, the guest list was over 300 people, and everyone fit comfortably, just to give you an idea of how big a space it was! And the way we all pitched in to decorate it? Honestly, this couldn’t have been more beautiful! And frankly, I think the funniest, but smartest thing that happened that night were the headphones everyone got at around…11 or midnight (honestly, I lost all track of time because I was having so much fun celebrating Gaya’s marriage and getting to catch up Gaya’s family, some of her family friends that I had met in Hong Kong ages ago, and another one of my close friends from high school, Tal)!! But these headphones, basically, think sound canceling headphones for newborns at sports games or major holidays that involve lots of fireworks. Everyone got a pair, put them on, and kept right on dancing because the music that the DJ was playing was coming through on the headphones! So you’re all dancing to the same music, but all the neighbors hear is the soft thumping of feet on the dance floor! INSANE!

I definitely teared up and cried a handful of times! Oh, and let me just touch on the food, which unfortunately I have ZERO photos of, but let me break it down just a little. Buffet Style, two ends that meet in the middle where all the meat was, and four smoking stacks in the back that cook said meat. There are five or six different salads (that included vegetables like celery root, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, chick peas, cucumbers, and a ton of herbs, most of which I helped slice, wash, peel, and cut for most of the day before, which also left my fingers with a slightly orange tinge to them), so many roasted vegetables (onions, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes), bread (baked and grilled pita, white bread to sop up the sauces, rolls), and then there was the meat (ribs, steak, lamb). And by the time you emerged from the line, you had this plate that was completely covered and would not require a second round. By then, I was starving, so naturally my initial thought to take a photo of it, which wouldn’t have come out even if I tried, just never materialized, BUT no doubt I can steal a photo of the food from Gaya once she gets all the photographs from her photographer. (GAYA SEND ME PHOTOS!) And then there was also dessert, but I was, then, so stuffed that I couldn’t have fit dessert into my belly even if I had tried, and missed it all together. BUT we made up for it on Saturday when Gaya & Ram took me out and about in Jaffa for a one-day food tour, since we needed Friday to clean up pretty much all of the wedding and just rest!

Jaffa: the southern and oldest part of Tel-Aviv, and is also an ancient port city in Israel. We stuck around the beach to start, then headed down into the area to walk around the port itself! But naturally, we started the food tour with the best, THE BEST, hummus in the world at Haj Kahil. Gaya & Ram did most of the ordering, but everything was so tasty and delicious! I’m including a comment with all the images to show what we ordered below, but honestly, it was absolutely the best hummus I have ever had in my life! Creamy, almost buttery even, rich and smooth! *drool* You just can’t find anything quite like it here in America, not to mention that their olive oil that’s drizzled on top is absolutely OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! It’s got a depth of flavor that you have to really hunt for in your every day grocery store in America, you know? And the ful (a fava bean puree) that went with one of the hummus plates we ordered added an earthy, slightly salty layer of flavor, and this really light texture to the creamy hummus!

Pita bread, tahini, pickles & onion, relish, tomato salsa
Additions: Falafel, French Fries, Salad, Hummus w/Ful
Tomatoes in Tahini

OKAY! So that was everything that we ordered, but let me just say! Those falafels? UNBELIEVABLE! They were actually soft and moist in the  middle, while still holding that solid crunch on the outside! UNREAL! I don’t think I’ve EVER had such yummy, perfect falafels in my life, since most of the ones I’ve tried have been super dry on the inside. The secret? TWICE QUICK FRIED! That’s right! They double fry these bad boys very quickly, which allows the oil to first cook them, but stay trapped inside these delicious little suckers without drying them out when they go in for the exterior crisping factor. YUM YUM!

So then, afterwards, it was on to the dessert that I didn’t get to experience at the wedding: KNAFEH (kin-ah-fey)! Knafeh is a Middle Eastern cheese pastry that is soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and topped with kadaif (kah-deef) which are thin noodles made of flour and water that is poured through a sieve onto a hot cooking tray. They look like hairs OR for some deserts in the Middle East, they are made to look like a birds nest! You can find these noodles in some baklava too!

Regular & Chocolate Baklava, and the kadaif wrapped around pistachios


So after filling our second stomachs with some much needed dessert, it was off on a walking tour along the streets of Jaffa (where we got to see a lot of the cool graffiti that is painted on a lot of the walls around the city, the beach (where a sand castle competition had been held the day before), and to the Jaffa port to view a few art installations, an arts pop up craft store (where I purchased a few knick knacks and hand printed cards), and some of the stalls around the port! Even for just a day we were able to see so much which was an absolute delight! Obvious this was only the tip of the iceberg, but still a good chunk for only having one day to see what I could before heading back to Chicago!

And to top off this incredible trip, we made sure to meet up with Tal for dinner in downtown Tel Aviv at a burger joint called Susu & Sons, and boy oh boy were those burgers something to write home about! I got a double cheeseburger with bacon (yes, I said bacon) and guacamole with a side of onion rings! At first I was only going to get a single patty, but Tal said I had better go big or go home, so I went big and got the double! I knew I wasn’t going to finish it all, which was totally fine, but it was such a good burger! The bun was solid enough to hold all the fillings, but soft enough to not overpower the burger itself. The meat was so juicy, but not fall apart juicy, and the guacamole was rich and creamy, which is how I like my guac, and how can I forget the bacon? Perfect crisp, as it should be! And those onion rings were so yummy! The batter was soft, and not too oily, and the onions were soft and not so cooked that they were mushy and weren’t able to bite through. NOM!!

It’s been about a month since this trip, and some days I’m still trying to process the experience and the memories, making sure to remember all the finite details as best I can, but what I still can’t fully wrap my head around is how much fun I had and how incredibly unique and vivacious Tel Aviv was, how much more there will be to see when I go back again, which I have ever intention of doing. And even though this trip was more about seeing Gaya than seeing Tel Aviv, I know I got to see some incredibly beautiful parts while I was there and couldn’t have imagined a more memorable trip! Until next time Israel!

– Cooking Maggie


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