Taste of Israel: Day 2

And the journey continues. Waking up to the beauty of Tel-Aviv is a pretty amazing sight. Tel Aviv is also known as the White City and refers to a collection of over 4,000 white international style buildings or Bauhaus built from the 1930s. Other global cities have Bauhaus buildings but Tel Aviv has the largest number of buildings in this style in the world. The photo above was taken from my hotel balcony viewing left. And to my right, I got this pretty morning view of the Mediterranean Sea...

To kick off my morning, I enjoyed a hotel breakfast which included so many kinds of cheeses. I'm still thinking about that breakfast and wonder why I don't indulge in cheese early in the morning more often!

And to pair with the cheeses, I enjoyed my fare share of salmon, Labneh {a Middle Eastern strained yogurt}, dolmades {leaf wrapped rice}, etc. Heaven. And it's all gluten free, sans any bread.

To top off my breakfast, I enjoyed this amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea....

The first day was a full one. After breakfast, we met the other bloggers joining us on the adventure: Pakus of The Lazy Blog {Spain} and Leslie of I Eat, I Shoot, I Post {Singapore}. After introductions, we were on our way to Nazareth.

Nazareth's timeline starts in 50 B.C. The city is famous for having been the home of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene and Joseph the Carpenter. During the Byzantine era, Christianity evolved and the important Christian shrines and holy sites were built by Queen Helena. In the Post-Byzantine period, the city endured a revolution and was captured and recaptured by the Arabs, the Crusaders, Mamluks, and finally, the Ottomans. Nazareth today is one of Israel's largest Arab cities and home to a cultural and political center for Arab minorities living in Israel. The city is a main attraction and tourists flock to visit the holy shrines, the original Arab market {known as the shuk}, and of course, the authentic Arab restaurants.

Our first stop in Nazareth was the The Basilica of the Annunciation. This is the most famous Christian site in Nazareth. It is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary and the place where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to bear the son of God.  The Basilica houses artwork from around the world and the remains of Crusader and Byzantine churches. The dome rises high above the city and appropriately reminds the visitor that the Basilica of the Annunciation is the largest church in the Middle East.

In the center of the Old City is a typical Mediterranean market, full of bazaars and shops, old mansions, churches, squares and coffee houses. As we walked through the narrow and winding walkways of the market, we made our first food stop of the day. Because there is a large Arab population in Nazareth, it's no surprise you'll find some Middle Eastern treats. Katayef is one of them and if you want something pretty authentic, you'll need to go to Dewan Alsaraya Restaurant. Here you'll find stacks of small fluffy pancakes freshly made on a large flat griddle. The pancakes are filled with either a sweet or savory filling, usually cheese or a mixture of cinnamon and nuts. After they are filled and folded over itself, these tasty pockets are fried to a crisp and then served immediately. The best thing to wash them down is a shot of Arabic coffee with a hint of cardamom. Although not gluten free, I did try a small bite and enjoyed the cheese and nut fillings! Just thinking about them is inspiring me to make a gluten free version. Mmmm....

It turns out that the Katayef we enjoyed was just a precursor to our next food stop. Street food is everywhere and if there's one thing you can't miss, it's a falafel stand. We stopped by this new, modern falafel stand in the heart of Nazareth - so new, it's only been open for 2 weeks! Here, we all enjoyed a falafel sandwich, which are seasoned chickpea fritters stuffed into a soft pita and garnished with an array of toppings. To me, it's like a Middle Eastern version of the Chicago Hot Dog! Once the pita is filled with falafel, you can have your choice of pickled veggies such as beets, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, etc. Once you've loaded up your pita, then a drizzle of tzatziki {or cucumber garlic}sauce and/or a pickled mango sauce finishes the sandwich. For most, that's generally a meal in itself but if you need something else to enjoy your sandwich with, the only thing to order is a side of hummus. Here, we tried our first hummus which was far different from any kind I had in the U.S. The hummus was so creamy, light, airy and much more flavorful. There are different ways to enjoy hummus {which I'll share in a future post} and the version we tried in Nazareth included a topping of beans {similar to pinto beans}, drizzle of olive oil and a garnish of fresh herbs. I would never have thought to add beans to hummus but it definitely was delicious. Since gluten free pita is pretty much impossible to find in Nazareth, I enjoyed the hummus all on its own and with falafel {which was made with chickpea flour, making it gluten free!}

With our bellies full of falafel goodness, we headed to our next food stop - Elbabour Spice House {also known as The Galilee Mill}. Here we were all amazed by the sheer amount and variety of spices and dried medicinal herbs offered at this shop. But aside from the spices and herbs, the shop is a place with an interesting story with deep history. The spice house is located inside an ancient courtyard in the heart of Old Nazareth and was founded about 250 years ago by a German Templer family. The family offered milling services to the farmers in the area and local merchants traded things such as wheat, bulgur, corn and other crops. The large doors of the Galilee Mill used to be where merchants entered with their camels that carried the grains they wanted to have grinded at the mill. When the British arrived, the Germans left the area and that was when the Galilee Mill was leased by a man named Jarjoura Kanazze. Jarjoura was in the business of importing modern grinding machines. Today, the Galilee Mill is run by Jarjoura's grandchilden. The mill is no longer active but it was fascinating to hear the story and be in the same place in which history took place. As I walked through the spice shop, I envisioned how things were years ago and it's interesting that despite modern technology available in this day in age, many things still remain the same as they were in the past. Sacks, baskets and trays fill every corner and table space throughout the shop, giving off their aromatic scents. 

It was a wonderful time in Nazareth but there was more places to visit! Next up, we traveled to Ein Camonim where we took in the countryside. In 1979, Amiram and Drora Obrutsky started the Ein Camonim farm. The name Ein Camonim was"borrowed", with the permission of Efraim Kishon, from his book, "The Fox in the Chicken Coop", a story about a god-forsaken place inundated with bureaucracy. The Ein Camonim farm raises prize breeds of goats. The herd grazes in wide fields of natural pasture and is milked every morning and evening. 

This boutique dairy, one of the first in Israel that specializes in specialty cheeses, operates on the farm. Considered to be one of the best, the dairy produces roughly thirty kinds of cheese, some French cheeses and some privately developed cheeses, all made from the milk of the goat herd. All the milk is whole and pasteurized and all the ingredients are natural with no preservatives or food coloring. The dairy shop offers an assortment of homemade cheeses, as well as the excellent ice cream they produce. Here, we enjoyed some amazing cheeses with a few accompaniments and wine. It was such a beautiful setting with the rolling hills surrounding the farm. Being gluten free, the challenge for me was enjoying the cheeses without any bread or crackers. I knew I should have packed rice crackers and gf bread with me! But even without the bread, the cheeses were truly wonderful. We were provided a sampler platter of seven different cheeses along with bread, olives, jams, herb butter, fresh figs, wine and ice cream/sorbets to end on a sweet note. To be able to see the dairy farm and how they are milked really made me appreciate the cheeses even more. I loved that it was very natural, organic and clean. Who knew Israeli cheeses could taste so good?!

After a delightful snack of cheese and wine, we headed to our next food stop - a cooking workshop in the town of Jish. Jish is an Arab town located on the northeastern slopes of Mt. Meron, about 8 miles north of Safed, in the northern part of Israel. The population is predominantly Maronite Christian and Greek Catholic with a Muslim minority. Archaeological finds include two synagogues, a unique mausoleum and burial caves. According to Roman historian Josephus, Jish was the last city in the Galilee to fall to the Romans. Sources from the 10th-15th centuries describe Gush Halav (Jish) as a large Jewish village. A small Druze community lived there in the 17th century. It was then re-established in the 18th centure by farmers from Mt. Lebanon.

While in Jish, we visited the home of a local chef who hosts culinary classes in the area. {My apologizes - I cannot find her name in my notes!}At this cooking workshop, we got hands on in the kitchen and made tabbouleh, lady finger anise cookies and fried dough pockets. The first thing we tackled was tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is a light salad made with fresh herbs {parsley, mint and green onion}tossed with bulgur wheat, diced cucumber and tomato in a simple lemon and olive oil dressing. Unlike the tabbouleh I've made and had in the past, this version we prepared had very little bulgur wheat and much more herbs. A tip I learned is to steep the herbs in the olive oil to impart some flavor - something I'll be trying soon! Next we prepared a dough for the dough pockets. The dough was made with margarine, flour, yeast, carbonated water and salt. Once the dough was made, we each took a small flattened round piece and stuffed with herbed goat cheese. They looked like mini empanadas when we were done. These were then fried until golden and the cheese inside melted beautifully.The last dish we prepared were lady finger anise cookies. The cookie dough consisted of flour, sugar, ha'arak {an anise liquor similar to Greek ouzo. The fun part of making these cookies were rolling them out into "fingers" and using a woven mat to create bumps and ridges into the cookies. If you didn't have a woven mat, one could use the sides of a grater or even a colander. After all the dishes were made, we had a chance to enjoy them. Despite all of the dishes being made with all purpose flour, I did take a few bites and everything was delicious! I hope to recreate the dishes here at home to share with family and friends...

By now it's evening time and after the full day we had, we had one more food stop on the agenda. This time, we headed towards the Tiberias. Tiberias is a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is also called Lake Kinneret) in the Lower Galilee. Established in 20CE. it was named in honor of the emperor Tiberius. Tiberias has been venerated in Judaism since the middle of the 2nd century CE, since the 16th centure has been considered one of Judaism's four holy cities along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. In the 2nd-10th centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee and the political and religious hub of the Jews of Palestine. According to Christian tradition, Jesus performed several miracles in the Tiberias district, making it an important pilgrimage site for Christians. For thousands of years, Tiberias has been known for its hot springs, believed to cure skin and other ailments.

Lake Kinneret, the only natural freshwater lake in Israel is located in the norther part of the Dead Sea rift in the Afro-Syrian rift valley. It is one of the largest sources of drinking water and irrigation in Israel. The depth of the lake ranges between 208.8 meters to 214.87 meters below sea level. It's the lowest lake in the world! When we arrived to Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee, we had several of the students greet us by a fire. They had prepared a poyke, which is a large cast iron pot or cauldron cooking for several hours over a fire. This is a common weekend pastime where folks gather around a fire, throw in random ingredients and leftovers at home into the pot and let it cook all day while they relax. For our poyke, we enjoyed a mash up of ingredients including chicken, onions, potatoes, carrots and spices. It was delicious and so comforting too. It certainly was the perfect ending to such a food-filled day, especially with a bright moon shining on the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by new friends, delicious food and smiles all around. For us U.S. folks, we loved ending {our} Labor Day holiday abroad with Israeli style. 

Finally, I made it back to the comforts of the hotel. I was exhausted after this first full day in Israel! From the beauty of Nazareth's religious past, the sights, smells and tastes of the original Arab market, amazing fresh cheeses of Ein Camonim, interactive cooking in Jish and the magic of slow cooked poyke at the Sea of Galilee under the moonlight, it was an amazing beginning to a Taste of Israel. Below is a view of my hotel room towards the city of Tiberias and Sea of Galilee beyond it. Stay tuned to tomorrow's post on Taste of Israel: Day 3!...


  1. Wow, nice post my friend. I'm willing to see you again, may be in another trip. Best regards,


  2. Joelen! I can't even imagine this!! Jam packed and full, and this was all in ONE day!! OMG, I'm going to have to fast for weeks leading up to this event otherwise I'll be two axe handles wide when I come home! Can't wait to taste the Katayef and other things!! xo ~~ally