Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.
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ERUSALEM, Israel -- Every time I come to this part of the world, I end up thinking -- and writing -- about the food. Little wonder: hiking around the various sites can help one build quite an appetite!
But eating in Israel is hardly a burden. For those who follow vegetarian or even vegan diets, it's highly possible to fare quite nicely in Israel, perhaps far more easily than in some other parts of the world.
Let's start with breakfast: it's a very rare Israeli hotel breakfast buffet that doesn't have a range of salads, vegetables, fruits, breads and related items. Yes, you can find more traditional items in some places, but the standard buffet is more than adequate for most tastes. A good salad with some fresh, ripe Israeli tomatoes is a wonderful start to the day.
Hummus, of course, is a staple of Israeli food, morning, noon and night. American-style bagels are often seen at hotels, but in Jerusalem, street vendors proffer a much larger, “Jerusalem Bagel,” to which olive oil and/or hyssop – yes, hyssop! – are added for on-the-go consumption.
During our week in Israel, lunch was generally a la carte and ranged from a couple of falafel stands (fried mashed chick peas formed into small spheres, tucked into a pita bread with condiments) to more elaborate settings, Again, salads, vegetables, and pastas are widely available. On my last full day in Israel, I had a rather memorable salad of roasted sweet potato cubes, lettuce, onion, cherry tomatoes and other veggies in a delightful dressing. The price, about $15.50 at the very smart Café Café restaurant on a rather upscale shopping plaza in Jerusalem, was a bit high, but it was worth every penny. (By contrast, you can get a good falafel plate for around $5.)
Dinners were rather sumptuous affairs; our hosts were eager to impress. But again, the vegetarian will find plenty to enjoy, from (once again) copious salads to well-prepared veggies and other alternatives to meat courses.
Our most memorable dinner was at the Eucalyptus restaurant a short walk from the Old City and the Mamilla Hotel. Here, owner Moshe Basson practices “slow food,” cooking that aims to supplant “fast food” with better tastes and more local ingredients. The meal was amazing, and largely vegetarian. The desserts, pictured, were delightful and a great compliment to the evening’s meal.
One interesting note: if a restaurant is certified as "Kosher," i.e., as observing the rabbinical dietary laws, it will either be a "meat" or "dairy" restaurant. This comes from Deuteronomy 14:21, which reads, in the Authorized Version, “…Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.” (You can also find the prohibition in Exodus 23:19.) A Kosher restaurant that serves meat will not offer any dairy products, and vice versa for a “dairy” restaurant, although the latter, again, under rabbinical law, can serve fish.
Thus, a handy guide for vegetarians, and even vegans (if you carefully look over the menu) is to seek out “dairy” restaurants, which likely will have far more suitable items than the “meat” ones.