Israel is gradually reopening after the Corona lock-down. Today’s Snippet shares with you
a glimpse of 3 foodie gems that are far from the celebrated restaurants of Tel-Aviv.
Read on for a virtual taste of offerings from a multi-cultural Arab village in the Galilee, a hippy Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and a hummus shack that is out of this world.
Israel has become famous as a haven for foodies in search of something to tickle their taste buds. I am constantly travelling throughout my homeland, always on the lookout for small gems that offer not only unique food, but their own unique story. I would like to share three of my favorite spots, each with its own vibrant character. Some don’t have websites, and don’t even answer their phone…
Is there such a thing as Israeli food? If so, what makes it Israeli? This question applies to Israeli dance, art, and culture in general. We are only 72 years old – just a young culture-in-the-making, that is still struggling to define itself. I often remind myself of the point that we don’t even have a constitution yet, so as a nation, Israel is still trying to form its own identity.
Putting politics aside, we live in a geographical area that, from Roman times to the creation of Israel, was known as Palestine. Throughout history, the region passed through many imperial hands, and in the 2nd century, the Romans renamed the region Palestine, and since then, the population, be they Jew, Muslim, or Christian was considered a Palestinian.
Sharabic is a small, family-owned restaurant that has been practicing farm-to-table long before the term was invented. Sharabic offers not only classic Palestinian cuisine, but also a window into the sensitive current narrative. Located in Rameh, a small town in the heart of the Galilee that is home to a mixed community of Christians, Muslims and Druze, this restaurant is like diving into the Palestinian agrarian culture of the early 20th century. The owner, Ya'akub, grew up in a small village that was evacuated during the 1948 war, and together with most other residents, was transferred to Rameh. What Ya'akub brings to the table is a blend of the traumatic experiences of the Nakba, and his joyful childhood memories of family dining under the grapevines. My favorite dish is their eggplant – every time I visit, it is prepared differently, dressed with whatever is in season. The eggplant is served sitting sometimes in a puddle of tahini, sometimes in date honey and garlic, and in the summer it is garnished with local blackberries.
2. Café Rotem
Rotem is an indigenous desert bush, a sturdy plant that survives in harsh climates with little water. When it blooms in April, its sweet fragrance wafts over the hillsides. Café Rotem, is located in Rotem, a small village on a hill in the heart of Samaria, with a gorgeous view over the Jordan Valley and the hills of Samaria. This unassuming little café might well be your answer to that question – what exactly is Israeli food? Look carefully at the menu and you will recognize the intersection of European Mediterranean cuisine with Middle Eastern cuisine.
The vibe is like no other, while visiting you will likely share the space with a modern orthodox (knitted kippah) couple, soldiers with rifles hanging off their tuches, or a local Israeli who specializes in mud homes (complete with rasta dreadlocks). My favorite dishes here are the salads, which are somehow elevated to salad ecstasy with delicious dressings and combinations of fruit and vegetables. If you ask me what is so special about Israeli food, I think it is the perfection of salads.
3. Blue Bus
During my military service, I was stationed at remote bases in conflict zones, eating oily rice and meat loaf from a can. We used to put it inside the tank engine to barbeque it. I used to come home for weekends maybe once or twice a month. My dad would collect me from the train and take me straight to Blue Bus for a plate of hummus. Now, this wasn’t any old hummus, this was art. Two hippies from my hometown took an old bus, painted it blue, built a tiny kitchen, and put 3 or 4 cheap plastic table out the front under a rickety umbrella. Irresistible, you think? The scene was always topped off by cranky waitresses who truly believed that the customer is always wrong. They would approach, unsmilingly, demanding “Kama Humusim” (how many humus plates?). There aren’t many choices – it’s all about hummus.
This rusty bus, in my opinion, sells the best hummus in Israel. Most of the country’s famous hummus shacks are owned by local Arabs, and the shack is named Abu something, to honor the father who originally opened it. At the time that Blue Bus set up its plastic tables in 2000, its hummus was considered exceptional – how could Ashkenazi Jews make such great hummus? There are a few reasons why this hummus is exceptional. First, it is served slightly warm with a beautiful soft texture. Second, it has a distinct flavor that you won’t find anywhere else. The secret ingredient is exactly that, a complete secret. I asked them once if they blend in a little peanut butter, and they smiled and said “no way.” Being a pushy Israeli, I asked which tahini they used. Again, a smile and a friendly “Shabbat shalom, achi” (good Shabbas, bro). My guess is that they use tahini from a very special source, which gives their hummus that perfect texture and flavor.