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The safest airport in the world is in Tel Aviv. Well-trained
security officials check and re-check, barraging travelers with
questions. In the manner of a psychological profiler, the woman at
passport control asked my reason for visiting Israel.
“I’m here for the falafel,” I said.
Israel is the chosen Holy Land for 80 scattered nations on a strip
of land about the size of New Jersey, where settlers schlepped
their precious belongings including prized recipes.
People from all over the world contribute to Israel’s kitchen.
There is not one typical plate, but a variety of different
cuisines. Russians brought borscht, a delicious beet soup;
Ethiopians packed injera, a sourdough crepe; and Yemenites and
their Arabic neighbors brought to the table a bounty of foods ful,
hummus, shwarma and (my favorite) falafel, a spicy deep-fried
My holiday started in Tel Aviv at a typical Balkan restaurant,
dining on ciorba (a sour meat and vegetable soup). Olga’s is a
simple eatery with hearty goulash soups, and my jetlag wore off as
I crunched on homemade pickles and planned my food quest.
That night, I found a falafel stand (there’s one on every corner)
where the falafel balls (made with garbanzo beans) were perfectly
browned; the tahini sauce was heavenly; and the pitas were soft. I
had my choice of cabbage, onions, tomatoes and condiments which I
lingered over thoughtfully, and then decided to have them all.
Galilee, in the north, is one of the most beautiful parts of
Israel with archaeological ruins, grottos and the secretive sect of
Druze. They are known for their generous hospitality, belief in
reincarnation and fabulous pita bread.
Hungry travelers should seek out Misedit Hakeves a wonderful
restaurant just north of Haifa. There, I feasted on a traditional
Arabic Druze meal with gusto: stuffed vine leaves, tabbouleh,
hummus, labnye (a yogurt cheese), a savory mutton stew and baklava
To my delight at Shegar Restaurant in Jerusalem, I was brought an
injera topped with chicken and dips like the trademark shuru and
kik sauces. Here, eating with your hands is a must.
At the end of my trip back in Tel Aviv, I celebrated the Sabbath
at Shmulik Cohen’s restaurant, the par excellence stop for Yiddish
cuisine, including roasted goose, cholent with kishke and baked
After sampling many meals in several cities, I found that the
flavors and traditions of Israel’s cuisine are inseparable from the
country’s distinct culture. And as for where to find the best
falafel? Point your clients toward Haifa.
Misedit Hakeves (Druze)
On the highway between Daliat El Carmel and Usfiya
110 Jabotinsky St.
Shegar Restaurant (Ethiopian)
10 Agrippas St.
Shmulik Cohen (Yiddish)
146 Herzl St.