Recently in Middle East category

Lebanese Breakfast

za'atar croissant

Whenever I’m at home, all I want for breakfast is coffee, orange juice, and some bread and butter – and I’m good.

Khobz fresh white cheese with olive oil

But going to the Middle East, when they start bringing out all the fresh salads, candied fruits and jams (such as eggplant and another made from unripe walnuts, just below) and all sorts of beautiful fresh cheeses and pickles, I am helpless to resist. Well, once I’ve had at least one very strong cup of coffee in me.

candied eggplant and walnuts

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Tel Aviv

seeded bread

Tel Aviv was always hovering something in the middle of the ever-growing list of places I wanted to visit. But in recent years, I kept hearing what a hip place it was, and how it was sort of the “San Francisco” of Israel. Stretching along a massive beach, as soon as I arrived in the city, I wanted to ditch my luggage and jump right in. Then eat.

Tel Aviv restaurant

bagels

Tel Aviv is a lively place and the vibe is decidedly different from Jerusalem. I don’t think you could visit one without the other. Whereas Jerusalem is historic, Tel Aviv has a somewhat more modern look and feel because many European Bauhaus architects fled to Tel Aviv, so there are lots of Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired houses and apartment buildings across the city, making this a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Jerusalem

hummus in Jerusalem

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was talking to someone at the airport, just after my arrival in Israel, who had asked me what I was doing in her country.

fried dough in syrup

When I told her I was there to learn about the cuisine – by eating it, her eyes lit up, and she said – “Whenever I leave Israel, after my family, the thing I miss the most is the food.” And after one week, I could see why. I was missing it, too, the moment I stepped off the plane and returned home. In fact, my home kitchen has become a mini hummus factory, churning out batch-after-batch of hummus. And it lasts just about as fast as I can scoop it onto pita bread.

falafelspice mixes
old jerusalemhummus

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The Hummus Factory

eggplant, tahini, parsley

Almost all of the people I spoke with said they rarely make their own hummus, simply because the store-bought stuff was as good – if not better – than what they could make at home. (I guess it helps to think of it like peanut butter, where the homemade is very good, but store-bought will suffice.) People have very strong opinions about hummus, like they do about other things, in Israel. And if you mention a particular brand, or a place that makes it, you’re likely going to be told – with absolute certainty – that there’s another one, or place, that’s definitely better.

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Haj Kahil

fried cheese

When I left the restaurant Haj Kahil after lunch, I said to someone – “That was the best day of my life.” When Erin, who was dining next to me, took a bite of the fried Halloumi cheese, her whole body softened, her eyes dimmed, and she looked as if she had been lulled into a trance.

Labna with wild mustardpomagranite juicefried haloumi cheesewaiter at Haj Khil

And when someone tried to talk to her, she said – “I’m sorry. I’m just…having…a…moment..with…this….cheese…”

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Sharjah Market

coconuts

I have a really dumb habit of always wearing flip-flops, or similar sandal-style shoes, then discovering that I have to do something really precarious a little while later. I remember scaling down rocky cliffs at beaches and almost killing myself, as well as assorted other idiocies attempted with rubber-clad feet. Really, it’s amazing I’m still alive.

market in Sharjah ripening dates

Like the flowing robes, sandals are part of the uniform in many Middle Eastern counties, so I took advantage of the warm weather (and freedom from packing all those socks), and donned sandals when we headed towards the market in the Emirate of Sharjah.

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