EAT. PRAY. LOVE. Israel.
Israel has set the bar so high for us, it’s literally become difficult to choose our next holiday destination. But many still ask – Why Israel? Is it Safe?
To that I would answer WHY NOT ISRAEL! From its tantalizing local cuisine, its rich Jewish culture, its scenic landscapes this country has it all. A country that is so well developed, is literally like the 1st world mini America, has such a rich heritage & history, which traveller wouldn’t want to explore? So, purely after reading a lot of amazingly detailed blogs on how beautiful Israel is we decided to take a short vacation there.
As for its safety, let’s start with how we were waiting in a queue to check-in for El Al at the Mumbai International Airport and out of nowhere a security head from El Al asks us how my husband and I knew each other. Then we were called at the security counters where we were grilled for almost 30-40 minutes and were asked every possible question in the world – Who packed our bags, who dragged them down, why did we choose Israel, do we know anyone out there, who all have we told about our trip, who dragged our bags down to the car, etc. This kind of freaked us out a little and made us wonder if this was the situation before we even boarded the flight, what will be the scene there? However, turns out, this kind of grilling is absolutely normal for Israel when you are flying El Al and there is absolutely no threat out there, we felt super safe and secure throughout our trip.
When we were actually in Israel, even if we walked around alone in the middle of the night- it was absolutely safe. The political conflicts were at the border mainly near the Gaza Strip and the government took enough care of people ensuring that they do not get affected in other areas. I would say – zero crime rate; we weren’t even worried about pickpocketers because clearly there were none.
Well, now that, that’s clear- I want to lure you to plan a trip to this country as soon as possible via my experience. To make it easier, I’ve split my trip to Israel into 3 blogs: EAT, PRAY & LOVE – Each blog describing different facets of my trip to this beautiful country.
Let’s start with the first part: EAT. This one is all about the delicious, mouth-watering, palatable and tantalising local cuisine of Israel. So dig right in…
Destination #1. Sam’s Bagels at Jaffa St. and Golda Ice-Cream
We reached on a Friday morning, checked-in, freshened up & immediately left for the Old City Jaffa Gate. It was a 15 min. walk from our apartment and just the right thing to do because we got the chance to explore Ben Yehuda St. and eat at the amazing Sam’s Bagels on the way.
Then we walked across Jaffa St. and climbed down the steps to Mamilla Avenue- a shopper’s paradise in Jerusalem. This lane was filled with all the designer stores like Zara, Mango, American Eagle, Rolex, etc. and a couple of cafes & a Golda ice cream parlour – A perfect place to chill after you are done exploring the Old City of Jerusalem.
Destination #2. Focaccia Bar at Rabbi Akiva St.
On day 2 we decided to go to Bethlehem – a popular Palestine town known as the birth place of Jesus. It took us about 4 hours to travel to and explore this place, after which we headed back to Jerusalem for lunch. Despite it being Shabbath- during which most restaurants & cafes are shut, it wasn’t that difficult to find a decent place to eat. In fact we were lucky enough to find one of the top rated and amazing restaurants in Jerusalem – Focaccia Bar. They served everything Italian- from pizzas, pasta, ravioli, spaghetti and of course focaccia bread! So, we ordered for one focaccia & one ravioli, both were amazing; especially the focaccia bread which we topped with rocket leaves, baby tomatoes & mozzarella. My mouth is still watering! Not to forget the portions were huge, so if it’s just the two of you, don’t over-order.
Since it was Shabbath and most of the places were shut, post lunch we drove all the way up to Mount Zion and enjoyed its amazing view and explored its historical & religious sites. After that we headed back to Jaffa St where the restaurants & bars opened up around 9.30pm and the town was back on its toes. This stark difference between Shabbath & as soon as it ends was something we loved seeing in Jerusalem.
Destination #3. Mahane Yehuda Market
On day 3 we went to the one and only – Dead Sea. A must must must do and one hell of an experience! But don’t forget to carry a towel, lots of sunscreen, water, and food if you are vegetarian. Swimming in the Dead Sea was a surreal experience, post which we returned back to Jerusalem town and headed straight to Mahane Yehuda Market. A place that sells fruits, vegetables, meat, etc. during the day and is a completely different sight at night – turns into a drinking hub, buzzing and how!
Destination #4. Decks Restaurant in Tiberias
On our fourth day in Israel, we started driving up north towards Tiberias to see the Sea of Galilee – a freshwater lake situated between the Golan heights and the Galilee region. On reaching there, we went straight for lunch to Decks Restaurant in Tiberias. This place was just perfect with the view it provided of the Sea of Galilee. We had a sumptuous lunch there and left for the mountains (the region of Golan Heights). At Golan Heights we also drove to Mount Bental – Another must do when in Israel. Mount Bental even has a coffee shop up top where you can get some munchies or relax for a bit to get away from the scorching heat.
Destination #5. Soul Burger Bar
Our next destination was Akko – a beautiful white-washed Mediterranean town in the north of Israel. But we reached pretty late and couldn’t go sightseeing because most touristy attractions in the Old Town of Akko shut by 6pm. And since we were there during Ramzaan – even stores, markets, and restaurants were shut till 9-9:30pm. So we randomly walked around the entire town and took some Instagram worthy pictures! By the end the day we were starving and were totally done with our share of hummus and falafels so we walked into Soul Burger Bar. Although there was nothing vegetarian on the menu; the chef – Rob made us special vegetarian avocado wraps and served them with a huge portion of fries – THE BEST MEAL I HAVE HAD IN AGES! Also, the square that Soul Burger Bar falls on is filled with restaurants serving sheesha & projecting movies till late night – the sheesha out here is very good quality compared to all other places in Israel.\\
Destination #5. Hummus Said
The next morning we visited Hummus Said for breakfast – they open at 5am every day and are up & running till the time the hummus lasts! They grow their own chick peas, olives and make fresh hummus every single day. There are three different types of hummus which are served with fresh pita & salad- a requisite when in Akko.
Destination #6. Tony’s Vespa
After akko we left for Tel Aviv!!! This city is just amazing and it’s THE place to be. We stayed at Eclectic Aparthotel – an apartment hotel right at the intersection of Allenby & Rothschild Boulevard. The best part about this apartment was that one of the best bars in the city – Sputnik was right in our backyard. And the 2nd best part – Tony Vespa, the famous pizza parlour was literally in the next building at the intersection and they’re open till 4:00 am, what more could you ask for!
Destination #7. Shuk HaCarmel
Our first day in the city of Tel Aviv we got a chance to attend the Shuk HaCarmel Market –a fruits & vegetables selling market with a lot of good food stalls. So, we had a sumptuous late lunch at Viva Mexico and ordered veg. tacos & a veggie burrito with a huge Mango margarita. More than the food, what I really enjoyed was that the chef/owner was Mexican and I could practice all the Spanish I wanted along with him. Good food with great conversation.
We then spent our evening walking around Rothschild Boulevard where most of the restaurants/bars were literally at a 2 minute walking distance from us with the exception of the restaurants & bars at the end of Rothschild Boulevard, near Habima square – that was a 10-12 min. walk. To brag more, even Max Brenner was right across from our apartment.
So this street in Tel Aviv has it all when it comes to food or nightlife options. Speaking of which, Lillienblum St., Nachalat Binyamin St., & Dizengoff St. are filled with a crazy amount of restaurants, cafes & bars. So you can see Tel Aviv will never disappoint you when it comes to F&B.
Destination #8. The Old Man & the Sea
Just like the saying ‘Save the best for last’- the top most experience that we had in Tel Aviv was at the restaurant – The Old Man & the Sea. This restaurant is right by the Old Jaffa marina & has a lot of outdoor seating too. The moment you get yourself a table, you are served with 22 types of dips & salads (unlimited servings) & a huge portion of pita (again unlimited servings) which is absolutely free if you order something from the menu and if not, there is a 55 shekels cover charge that you got to pay. Trust me – it is totally worth every penny you spend in this place. Moreover except for one, all the dips are vegetarian and without eggs – a must visit whenever in Tel Aviv. More than the food, it is an experience in itself.
Destination #9. Sarona Complex
Lastly, Sarona Complex is a place that every resident of Tel Aviv as well as every tourist visiting Tel Aviv is going to speak about. This complex has everything you need to spend a Saturday morning (which is the day of Shabbath in Israel). For starters it has a market full of mom & pop food stalls, some stores selling the world-famous Israeli dry fruits & condiments, Max Brenner, ice cream & yogurt parlours, it has it all. It’s just filled with restaurants, shops and a park for the kids to play. I would sum it up as a place for all age groups.
And that’s a wrap on all the delicious food we experienced in Israel. Yes, it was indeed an experience! Now why wouldn’t anyone want to explore a country that has such a rich cuisine? And imagine if its cuisine is so amazing there must be so much more this place has to offer. Read our next blog in the Israel series -‘Pray & Love’.