This past week I got to take part in a very unique project titled Taste of Israel which was organized by university students from Haifa University and Technion. I was really excited when I first heard about Taste of Israel because while at first it may sound like a regular food tour or even a press trip, there was actually a lot of meaning behind it.
To give you a little background, the students who organized Taste of Israel are part of an international non-profit organization called Stand With Us and their goal is to share the country they know and love with the rest of the world. The idea is that this cultural exchange will help dismantle prejudices, create an environment that fosters understanding, and promote peace in the Middle East.
And what better way to bring people together than through food?!
This trip was all about discovering the culinary delights of Israel, but it was also the perfect platform to explore a very diverse Israel. During my visit I met Orthodox Jews and secular Jews, Muslims and Christians, and I learned about the Druze and Bahai faith. I met people from all nationalities: a restaurant owner from Tunisia, a natural healer from Yemen, Brits in the PR industry and American hoteliers. But regardless of people’s nationalities or faith backgrounds, what struck me the most was that these people had chosen to call Israel their home and they were very happy to share it with me.
I have so much to share from the past few days, but until I get around to writing about it all, here are some of the highlights:
– Discovering Middle Eastern cuisine
Hummus, hummus and more hummus! Seriously, I don’t think I have ever eaten so much hummus in my life. It was a regular staple at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I did not tire of it. Of course there was more to Israeli cuisine than just hummus; eggplant with tahini, Galilean beef stews, shakshouka, grape leaves stuffed with rice, stuffed peppers, and sweet halva for dessert. Rest assured, there will be lots of foodie posts coming up!
– Exploring Jaffa’s narrow little alleys.
Jaffa was such a charming little city to explore on foot. I really enjoyed wandering around the winding alleys, climbing and descending steps, and meeting lots of stray cats along the way. That’s another thing – there are so many cats here!
– Taking a cooking class at a Kosher cooking school.
While in Tel Aviv, I had the chance to take a cooking class at Dan Gourmet, a kosher cooking school that opened up in a run down neighbourhood in Tel Aviv in order to train the next generation of cooks. I learned 2 different recipes that day: lahmacun (which would compare to a Middle Eastern version of pizza) and charred eggplant with tahini, garlic and lemon. Let’s just say my taste buds have seen the light!
– The pop-up kitchen event with students at Haifa University.
During our visit to Haifa we got to meet up with many of the university students who helped organize this trip. A pop-up kitchen was set up on campus, and together with our new friends we got cooking outdoors. Not only did we learn some great kosher recipes, but we also had a lot of fun preparing these dishes together and getting to know each other a little better while doing so.
– Getting muddy in the Dead Sea.
After 3 days of non-stop eating with Taste of Israel, the question in everyone’s mind was – will we float? After lathering ourselves with handfuls of thick, black mud, we sprinted into the Dead Sea to put the water’s density to the test. It worked!
– Meeting Uzi-Eli at Mahaneh Yehuda Market
Uzi-Eli is a bit of a local celebrity but he’s neither an actor nor a singer. The man is a healer of sorts and he also has a magnetic personality. He calls himself the ‘Etrog Healer Man’ (an etrog is a yellow citron which he uses in many of his products), but I think he should go by ‘Happiest Man in Israel’. Walking into his shop led to a fit of laughter, especially when he adopted Sam as his personal guinea pig and proceeded to lather him up with lotions and wave a goat’s horn around his head. Expect some video footage with partial nudity. 😉
– Watching an Orthodox Jewish wedding take place
On our last night in Jerusalem our group went out to dinner at the King David Hotel, where there just happened to be a wedding taking place in the courtyard. Even though no one in our group was technically a guest, we still all rushed over to the veranda to watch the proceedings; it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever witnessed. The music was deeply moving, the bride gushed tears beneath her veil, and a joyous mazel tov was cheered when the groom smashed the glass. I have never seen so much dancing before the party even started.
– Soaking in the history
Israel oozes history! Every hill, street and valley we went to seemed to have some kind of historical significance – where Herod built his palace, where a prophet encountered God, where Jesus carried the cross, where wars were lost and won.
– Staying at Dan Hotels
While in Israel I stayed at three different hotel locations owned by Dan Hotels, and I was thrice wowed with the views! Imagine my surprise when I woke up in Tel Aviv after my 1 am arrival to discover blue seas and the ancient city of Jaffa outside my window. The trend continued with harbour views in Haifa and the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. They sure picked their locations well!
And that is a little teaser of what you can expect! I realize that 4 days in the country is hardly enough time to get to know a place, which is why I’m excited to be coming back in November to travel around with more time. I’ll likely revisit some of the cities I went to, but I’m also itching to explore some of the regions I didn’t get to this time around. If you have any tips, you can share them in the comments below. 🙂
Have you been to Israel?
What a busy 4 days! Sounds like you met some pretty amazing people. I loved reading about your time in Israel and I can’t wait for more… especially food posts 😉
The people I met were the highlight of the trip! Israelis sure know how to show hospitality – especially through food!
I love that picture of Jaffa, and the food sounds delicious. Israel looks like a destination I would really enjoy: history, good food and nice weather…
Jaffa was strikingly beautiful! There is an effort to help preserve the old buildings in town, so when you walk around, it feels like you have travelled back in time.
After reading about Israel I am adding it to my bucket list…thanks
I’ve seen the videos on Youtube and you and Sam really had a fantastic time! 😀 I would love to visit Israel too. I love the second to the last photo 😀
It was a whirlwind 4 days but we enjoyed every moment of it.
And we have lots more videos coming up! 😉
Hello Audrey, recently stumbled on your fabulous site. I will need to add Jaffa to my bucket list. Glad to see you where also in South Korea. I am currently living here, and last year married my Korean girl friend. Will be referring to your site as me and my wife will be starting our own RTW trip next year. Happy travels!
Oh wow… Since Israel is on my wish list, I love reading anything and everything about it. I am aware that it’s full of history and interesting cuisine, but I also loved the fact that there is an initiative to bring peace and harmony in the country and encourage more tourism.
Thanks for a great post!
I haven’t been to Israel, but I definitely want to go because it’s such an important place of my Christian faith. But now I’m also looking forward to going and being wow’d by the food!
There are so many historical and religious sites in this country! Our guide was constantly pointing out places of significance for different faiths.
You did all of that in 4 days!?!? Wow! Looking forward to hearing more in November – what an interesting place…and the food looks amazing!
I know! I was also surprised that we were able to cover so much ground in the span of 4 days. It does help that the travel distances are lot shorter since it’s a relatively small country.
A little taste… to Get the Big Picture.
This is a really great overview of what you managed to accomplish and experience in Israel. You’ve done well, and it’s so nice to see some really positive things like this happening to attract tourism to places wrought with prejudism and encourage peace and friendships.
It really was a unique way to experience the country. I really appreciated meeting people with different faith backgrounds and discovering why Israel is so special to each of them. 🙂
Where are you headed now??
Next up are some travels around Turkey and Bulgaria. 🙂
Israel will always be a special place to visit. The country has got a lot of history. Glad to see you enjoyed your time there..
I’m so jealous of your hummus experience Audrey. I love hummus, especially the avocado one. I made one at home last weekend and it tasted so good. I still remember my first visit in Israel and the awesome bath in the Dead Sea :).
Ooo, that sounds interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever tried hummus with avocado before. I bet it makes a great sandwich spread. 😉
Wow, sounds like such a great trip. And indeed, food is one of the best ways to get to know people, cultures and countries. Really looking forward reading more about your adventures over there. And those students have created a really great project. Props for them!
Unfortunately i have never been to Isreal so no tips to share.. But you did make it sound like it is a place definitely worth a visit!
I haven’t been to Israel yet. I can’t wait to visit! It seems like you accomplished a lot in your travel. Where are you headed now?
Wow! Sounds like an amazing experience. I don’t know much about Israel but I absolutely love hummus and you’ve certainly made me want to get lost in this stunning country!
That sounds amazing! So much yummy food, and what a great initiative of the students to facilitate understanding and peace in this way. What a great idea!
Sounds like you had a blast! I am of course looking forward to all the foodie posts coming soon…and perhaps the odd bit of partial nudity.
It looks like you guys had a great trip. I’ll be there in less than a month. Can’t wait!
Love the idea behind this tour. The food looks and sounds amazing. I don’t think I have ever tried Israeli food. Must check it out!
I love this, Audrey! You captured sooooooooooooooo much and the memories are flooding through…gosh, I miss ya’ll!! xo
I adore Middle Eastern cuisine and this seems like a very meaningful way to enjoy it! I love that these students wanted to share their home with the world!
I lived in Israel as a child and have been back many times since. The hummus outside of Israel will never compare to the hummus there. Even the gas stations sell amazing hummus (seriously, try it!). Go to the Galilee and drink Israeli wine. Head all the way down to Eilat and go on the hike where you can see 4 countries from the top. Tel Aviv has amazing art and food. Jerusalem is Jerusalem. Not sure what else to say. You could spend a month just exploring Jerusalem. Have fun!