Not long into You Don't Mess with the Zohan, the (really very funny) Adam Sandler movie about the Mossad superagent who quits to become a hairstylist in New York City, there's a great scene in which the agent's father, while mocking him for his new life plan, spoons hummus into his coffee, stirs, and drinks.
He seems to enjoy the café au garbanzo, which shouldn't surprise us, because throughout the scene we see him eating vast quantities of hummus on everything, including scooped directly from the bowl on his glasses.
This isn't far from the truth. And it's fun to tease my Israeli friends about this national cicerphilia (a word I just made up by taking the Latin word for chickpea, 'cicer' and tacking on 'philia').* What makes this so enjoyable is they often don't quite get the joke and become frustrated. They say: "What is this joke? What is this? We have more foods than just hummus!"
It's true, though. This long-winded digression (progression?) gets me to the point of the story: Food in Israel is often superb, always fresh, and more than just hummus.
Now, to be clear, "food in Israel" is not the same as "food on Birthright" (for those unaware, Birthright is the free-of-charge trip to and tour of Israel for young Jews. I've just returned from staffing a trip). Food on Birthright is generally ok, but nothing special (it's a free trip, after all, and we're mostly eating in hotels).
But then, you hit some restaurants after Birthright (I extended my trip). Here's where the magic happens:
1) Burgers in Israel are Unbelievable
Just, unbelievable. The quality of the meat is the highest, whether because it's kosher (it is) or because the Israeli palate expects it I'm not sure. The meat is so fresh and so much effort has gone into the process that I have few concerns about ordering rare. Buns are freshly made and clearly superior. Toppings are diverse, fresh, and creative. What a treat -- when in Israel, eat a burger.
2) Try Lachuch -- If You Can Pronounce It
Lachuch isn't Israeli; it's Yemenite, which brings me to another point. I'm not sure there's such a thing as Israeli food. Instead, there's just Middle Eastern food to which all the various Middle Eastern nations lay claim, and occasionally sue one another over. Hummus, tabbouleh, baba gannouj, tahini -- it's a shared heritage that no one wants to share. Israel deals with this phenomenon by just adding the world "Israeli" or "Jerusalem" to the front of everything (e.g. "Israeli salad," "Jerusalem Pine").
The point! Lachuch is awesome. It looks, sort of tastes, and is cooked like a crepe, although it's leavened, it would seem. The lachuch I tried, made by an insane Orthodox Jew in Tzfat (see above; he also tried to sell me a drink he claimed was made from coca), was stuffed with a blend of fresh-grated goat's milk, sheep's milk, and cow's milk cheese with tomatoes and herbs. Pretty incredible.
More awesome stuff after the jump!**