If you’re a chickpea lover, Tel Aviv is your jam. Falafel shops line the streets and entrees typically come with a side of hummus. Doing a search on the best “budget eats” in a one-mile vicinity of our hotel in Tel Aviv’s Diezengoff Square (city center), six of the first fifteen results on TripAdvisor featured the chickpea:
The House of Hummus
I’m all about chickpeas as long as you delete the peas, add an “en” to the end and a “fried” beforehand. Or just strike it out completely and replace with a ribeye. For carnivorous Kasey, garbanzo beans in their many forms were not inspiring my tastebuds to jump for joy.
Most restaurants here are vegetarian and vegan friendly, with an impressive array of vegetables highlighted on their menus. Fresh, pickled, baked, fried, poached, grilled, marinated, you name it, they have it. I was pleasantly surprised to sample a baked eggplant dish that intrigued my taste buds. But an eggplant, even as scrumptiously-prepared as I’ve ever had it, still did not satisfy this carnivore.
The typical Israeli breakfast fueled my meat mania because it was wholly absent of meat. Jewish law prohibits combining dairy and meat in cooking, serving, and eating. The Torah says, “You may not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother”. As a result of this interpretation, the Israeli breakfast spread is heavy on cheeses, yogurts, cold salads, breads, and you guessed it, the omnipresent chickpea. Michael and I were both pleasantly surprised to find a boiled egg, green onion, and mayonnaise cold salad as part of the breakfast spread, which is a staple dish in both of our respective cultures (Belorussian – mine; Filipino – his). And it turns out, Israeli culinary culture as well.
For the dessert portion of the breakfast, there were glazed croissants (reminiscent of Argentina’s medialunas) and jam-filled pastries, fruit, and halva, which is a concrete-colored, brick-shaped slab of edible sandpaper. Halva is primarily made from nut butter and sugar and can be left at room temperature for a decade or two with little risk of spoiling because it’s a dense lump of sand from the Sahara Desert, which can double as a weapon. Or the foundation for your house. It’s a food that is as appetizing to eat as it is appealing to look at. And as mouth-watering to me as the chickpea, even though it was part of my culinary heritage growing up in Belarus, so I should have been indoctrinated to it from an early age. But just look at it. Are we picking out a dessert or selecting a hunk of clay to whittle into a bowl during pottery class?
Despite this assortment of breakfast food, I was sorely missing my meat. Either the sizzling bacon or sausage for the American palate, or slivers of prosciutto, salami, and bologna for the European palate. Or even better, both! But alas, I had to make do stuffing my face with glazed croissants. But as much as I love my bread, there is only so much I can ingest before craving something a little more substantial. Like beef or pork. But my much-beloved pig is banned by law from being raised or kept in Jewish communities in Israel for the purpose of food production. The law restricts pig-farming to specified non-Jewish towns in the north of the country as a concession to Israel’s religious minorities. So sizzling bacon or slivered prosciutto was not going to be in the cards for me as a common meal.
It also did not help that based on our personal experience, Tel Aviv was roughly 25% more expensive than L.A. in terms of food, drink, and lodging. Used to spending without much care when traveling in budget-friendly parts of South America and Asia, Tel Aviv made me slow my roll. Way down. My roll actually came to a screeching halt and was replaced by a whimpering crawl. For a meat-addict on a budget, shawarma shops turned out to be the best dining option. Averaging 35 – 40 shekels per shawarma, roughly $9-$10, this little pocket of meat and fixings satisfied my carnivorous craving without decimating my meager-by-Tel-Aviv-standards budget.