Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Italian
Kosher
46 Ben Yehuda
03-716-6432
Sunday – Thursday (11am–12am)
Friday (11am–3:30pm)

My friends and I may have ended up at Pizza Cosi on its first night open—I’m still not sure.  Either way, the group was quite happy to be seated in the attractive restaurant after roaming about the streets aimlessly, unable to settle on a place to eat.

I found the name of the restaurant to be deceptive. When I hear “Pizza Cosi,” I think of a simple pizza joint.  But don’t be fooled, the restaurant was quite lovely, with booth tables and simple décor.  The music, however, made it seem like they were trying a little too hard to be hip.

Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi

After we placed our orders, our oddball waiter (who looked like he must have had a second job as a mime) brought us some delicious, warm bread with a tasty olive tapenade.

Our oddball waiter…

Bread and olive tapenade

Doug and I a ordered fried goat cheese salad to start, which was delicious.  The nuggets of cheese were perfectly crispy, warm and creamy on the inside, doused with an amazing dressing.  A few juicy plum tomatoes and mushrooms that came with the cheese made the dish seem fuller, but without need.  As one of our friends commented, the fried goat cheese nuggets were “hella bomb”—they could have been a dish of their own.

Fried goat cheese salad

Our friends ordered the bruschetta antipasti, which was nothing special—doughy bread with grilled veggies.

Bruschetta antipasti

My gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese was good.  The gnocchi was light, chewy, and soft, providing a pleasantly delicate texture with each bite.  The Bulgarian cheese definitely contributed a salty touch that was just right at first, but managed to get a little overwhelming as I continued to eat.

Gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese

My friend’s Napoletana pasta was basic—a classic that wasn’t done excellently or poorly.  Meanwhile, Doug’s Pestito dish was a little lacking. It was a little too oily and could have used some cheese and, surprisingly enough, more pesto.

Napoletana pasta

Pestito pasta

Our other friend’s pasta dish, salmon fesa, was tasty.  The salmon was well cooked and had a good flavor, but the dish itself would have benefited from some spiciness.

Salmon fesa

All in all, our restaurant experience was solid.  The food was good, the waiter was incredibly attentive (perhaps because we were practically the restaurant’s only patrons), and the environment was lovely.  What they lacked, however, was diners.  I’ll chalk it up to bad publicity for the restaurant’s opening, though, and wish them more diners in the future.

Mama’s Borekas

Mama’s Borekas
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Borekas
Not Kosher
16 King George
03-525-1111
Open 24-7

With the days of my grandmother’s homemade borekas recently behind us, I can’t help but think of our singular borekas outing in Israel.  While the borekas absolutely does not compare with my grandmother’s, it could certainly do in a pinch.

A mound of my grandmother’s DELICIOUS homemade borekas

Mama’s Borekas

Mama’s Borekas is open 24-7 and I could have actually imagined myself going a lot more often, if my grandmother hadn’t spoiled us with her delicious borekas.

We ordered a potato mushroom borekas, which was quite heavy, but in a nice, filling sort of way.  The potato filling was well cooked, creamy, and perfectly proportioned.  The accompanying tomato sauce was cool, giving a nice light touch to the starchy treat.  The dough flaky and, while just a bit too oily, not overwhelmingly so.  All in all, quite a satisfying treat.

Potato and mushroom borekas

The cheese and olives borekas was also quite tasty.  Filled with salty Bulgarian cheese and olives, it had a sharper flavor than the potato borekas.

Cheese and olive borekas

Each dish came with an assortment of sides, including the tomato sauce, tahini, some pickles, and an egg.  It was perfectly filling and, at 21 shekels, doesn’t break the bank for a late-night snack.  For 32 shekels, they throw in a 1/3L of beer; for 35 shekels, a 1/2L of beer.

Mama’s Borekas

If you’re looking for some variety, they also serve malawach and jachnoon.

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hummus, Ful
Not Kosher, Vegetarian
46 Yona Ha’Navi
03-510-2230
Saturday-Thursday (11:00-23:30)
Friday (11:00-18:00)

From the outside, Hummus Gan Eden looks like any other hummus joint in Tel Aviv: non-notable furniture, vinyl tablecloths, a small outdoor seating area, and a Coca-Cola refrigerator for drinks.  But just one look at the menu, which lists Special Hummus Darfur (consisting of egg, ful, tahini, tomato, and chickpeas) and Special Ful Darfur (egg, grated cheese, tomato, chickpeas, and onion), makes it clear that this isn’t a typical Israeli hummus restaurant.

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden was opened in December 2009 by three Sudanese refugees, Adam, Hassan, and Muhi.   They each fled war-torn Darfur in the 2000s, making their way to Israel through Egypt.

More than five million people have been affected by the violent conflict that has overtaken Sudan since 2003.  Millions of people have been displaced and approximately 400,000 people have died as the Janjaweed, with the assistance and aid of the Sudanese government, fight against rebel guerrillas.  Genocide is ongoing in racially mixed Darfur, which is home to African peasant farmers and nomadic Arab herders; the Janjaweed are persecuting, displacing, and murdering African farmers and others in the region.  Many Darfurians have lost family and friends and have been forced to leave their nation. Homes have been torn asunder as millions have become refugees in foreign lands.

In 2007, Hassan left his hometown after the Janjaweed raided the area, burning houses and shooting people.  He survived the raid by hiding with his two brothers, but unfortunately his parents were killed during the raid.   He fled to Khartoum and then Cairo before making it to Israel with a group of Darfurian refugees.

Muhi, who also fled Darfur after an attack on his village that led to his brother’s death, lived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum until government agents began searching for Darfurians on the run.  He moved to Egypt with his wife and lived in Cairo for 18 months before determining to make the journey to Israel on his own; he and his wife decided that she would join him later if he survived the journey.  He now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.

Adam, meanwhile, left Darfur after a Janjaweed attack destroyed his village.  His family escaped to neighboring Chad while he fled to Egypt alone, where he lived for two years.  Circumstances were difficult there, he said, and Sudanese refugees were not welcome.  He left after Egyptian soldiers killed a number of Darfurian refugees.  After running from Arab country to Arab country, he said, he decided to go to the Jewish country of Israel to seek safety.  He knew close to nothing about Israel but had heard a lot of negative things.  He expected to find warfare and fighting in Israel but found nothing of the sort.  Instead, upon his arrival in 2007, he found people who were helpful and caring.  He worked at a hotel in Eilat for a year before moving to Tel Aviv, where he worked full-time at a metal factory in Azur before opening Hummus Gan Eden with Hassan and Muhi.  While at first he continued to work full-time at the metal factory and only helped at the restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, he currently only works the restaurant’s evening shift, spending his mornings in Ulpan.  One of his partners, Hassan, spends his mornings at the restaurant before heading to English classes.

“I am Israeli,” Adam says.  While he knew nothing of Israeli culture or history and knew no Hebrew upon his arrival, he now feels comfortable in Israel.  But, he clarified, he would never forget his past and would gladly return to Darfur when there is peace.

Adam at Hummus Gan Eden

The combination of an Israeli present and the recollections of a Darfurian past can be seen in the food at Hummus Gan Eden.  The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas.  In Darfur, Adam explains, they eat cooked chickpeas during Ramadan as they’re healthy and provide much-needed energy and nutrition.  They also eat ful (mashed fava beans) like Israelis eat hummus.  Not only is it a divine combination, including a hard-boiled egg and some fresh tomato, but each element also stands wonderfully on its own.  The hummus has a perfect texture—not too creamy and not too chunky—and is served warm with paprika sprinkled over it and olive oil drizzled on top.  The ful, meanwhile, is amazing.  It has a gentle, soft flavor and is both well seasoned and textured.  I almost wished I had a whole plateful of it.

The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas

Luckily, I had a plateful of something else that was delicious: Hummus Shakshuka.  Traditionally, shakshuka is a dish comprised of an egg poached in a spiced tomato sauce.  Hummus Gan Eden’s version, however, was a little different.  Rather than poach the egg, it was scrambled into the tomato sauce.  I don’t know whether that made the dish that much tastier than its poached counterpart or if it was the combination of sweet paprika and warming, earthy cumin with the refreshingly garlic undertone that did it.

Hummus Shakshuka

I was hooked.  The only thing that was missing from the meal? Darfur-Style Eggplant.  The restaurant’s eggplant dish is so good that they were out of it when I visited!

As I wiped my plates clean with a fluffy, warm pita, I finally allowed my eyes the opportunity to wander away from my food.  I was in the smaller seating area in the back of the restaurant, which, with red brick accents and an inset floral painting on one wall, had a homier and more intimate feel to it than the front space.  The overall feel of the restaurant is very relaxed, even understated.  Ultimately, the restaurant’s appearance is rather unremarkable.  The story of the restaurant’s three owners, however, who fled their homelands and now found themselves preparing Israeli-style hummus with a Darfurian twist in a country they knew nothing about only a decade ago, is nothing short of remarkable.

Special Hummus Darfur and Hummus Shakshuka

Habesh

Habesh (also spelled Habash)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
http://www.rol.co.il/sites/habash/
Ethiopian
Kosher
8 HaNegev
03-516-4264
Sunday – Thursday (10:00 – 10:00)
Friday (10:00 – Shabbat begins)
Saturday (Shabbat ends – 11:00)

Back in January, we went to Habesh with some friends from our long-term Israel program just a few days before the program ended and we all went our separate ways.  Two were going to Europe to travel for a month, one was returning to the US to look for jobs, one was going to grad school, and another was just starting a Masa program in Israel, while Doug and I were continuing our stay in Israel while working full-time.  Knowing that we would soon scatter, we relished the opportunity to spend time together.  And what better way to spend one of our last chances to all be together than to dine on communal, hand-eaten Ethiopian food.

The bar at Habesh

The understated interior of Habesh

While the menu listed tons of things that appealed to us, we were limited by what was available on mozei Shabbat (Saturday night after Shabbat ends).  What with the kitchen not working all day and the staff comprising of one individual, they were unable to provide any of the lamb dishes, chick pea stew, angocha, or desserts.  Despite this, we managed to pick a fair assortment of dishes to try.

Does anyone know what this is?

Instead of lamb, we settled on a chicken dish.  The meat was still on the bone, which was interesting to get at in a communal setting, but was worth it as it was wonderfully tender and had a sweet and spicy thing going for it.

Our platter of deliciousness

While I definitely enjoyed the chicken, I liked the beef far more.  While it wasn’t what I would call tender, it was incredibly juicy and flavorful and I couldn’t help but try to sneak more than my fair share of them onto my plate.

Eating by teff

In addition to the meats, we had yakaklit wat, a mix of fresh green beans, carrots, green peppers, potatoes, and onions.  Despite my aversion to onions, the split peas were rather tasty and the potatoes looked and tasted lovely, thanks to the turmeric.

Then there was miser wat, a dish of split red lentils cooked in Ethiopian red pepper sauce.  It was beany, warm, and delicious.  Later research led me to find that miser wat contains berbere, a reddish mixture of spices that includes chili, garlic, cayenne, ginger, basil, and black pepper, amongst others, that is a staple of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.

But the kik alicha stole the day as everyone’s favorite dish.  Turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cardamom contributed to the sweet pureed root vegetables that were prepared in such a way that they fell apart in your mouth.

At this point I’d like to point out that we had no silverware.  None. So how, do you ask, does a group of six people share a single drumstick, pieces of beef, and various piles of vegetables? Using teff, the Ethiopian equivalent to bread.  With the appearance of a sponge or a pancake cooked on one side right before flipping and about the size of a standard crepe, the various dishes were served on a platter of teff.  In addition to the platter teff came several rolls of the spongy bread.  At first bite, it seemed quite sour and lemony, but as we continued to eat I came to appreciate the cooling feeling and palate-cleansing purpose it served.  Beyond that, it was the perfect thing to pick things up with as it was rather flexible and tactile.  The best part? The spongy holes absorbed and retained sauces and spices, giving the pieces under each dish an amazing flavor.

Ethiopian teff

By the end of the meal, I knew I’d be coming back for more… but next time on a day when they have every dish on the menu available for my devouring.

Devouring our food… and each other

Dining in the Dark at Blackout

Blackout (NalaGa’at)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
http://www.nalagaat.org.il/
Dairy
Kosher
Retsif Ha’Aliya Ha’Shniya, Yafo Port
(03) 633-0808
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday
(6:30pm – Vegetarian Meal 90 NIS OR Fish Meal 110 NIS)
(8:30pm – Vegetarian Dinner 140 NIS OR Fish Dinner 160 NIS)

I recently enjoyed one of the most romantic dinners of my life. Think whispered conversations, stolen kisses, quiet giggles, and completely worriless enjoyment…  What do you imagine? Sharing bites of churros con chocolate in a quiet café in Europe?  A beachside meal eaten while a gentle Mediterranean sea breeze playfully ruffles your hair?  A small table for two at an intimate, candlelit restaurant?  Outdoor seating in a quaint garden under twinkling stars?

I doubt any of you instantly thought of a restaurant where you can see nothing, where you have to be led to your table in a human train and eat your meal in the absolutely pitch black darkness while sharing your table with people you’ve never met.  But believe it or not, despite not being able to make eye contact or even see the people you’re eating with, the experience is incredibly intimate.

Na’LaGaat is a center in Yafo for the deaf and blind.  They have a café, a theatre, and a restaurant.  After many attempts to make a reservation and many cancellations due to a number of scheduling conflicts, we finally made it to the restaurant, Blackout.

Na’LaGaat

Blackout has two seatings on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays—one at 6:30pm and one at 8:30pm.  The 8:30pm seating is longer and includes more food, but trust me when I say that the amount of food you get at the 6:30pm seating is plenty.

Before you enter, the staff provides you with a menu and explains how it all works.  You order your meal before entering, but you can order drinks from your waiter/waitress once inside.  The wait staff is comprised of those who are blind or severely visually impaired.  You are seated next to your dining partner, as it is far easier to interact with them this way, although you may be seated with other diners.  If you need anything during the meal, you simply call for your waiter, as they are always nearby.  Bibs are provided for those who want to avoid making a mess of themselves during the meal (we’d recommend taking one to wear as a bib and another to supplement your napkin).

Inside Na’LaGaat. This is the area where you lock up your belongings in a locker and choose your meal before entering the restaurant.

We giddily awaited to be seated, watching as couple after couple entered the restaurant with their bibs on.  We ended up being the last couple led in.  Before entering the restaurant, you enter a small “holding” area of sorts where you meet your waiter/waitress in a dimly lit environment.  After the introductions, our waitress explained that we’ll “human train” our way to our table.  A waitress-Taly-Doug train proceeded into the void of darkness that was the restaurant.

Our waitress helped us feel our way into our seats, told us that our napkin and silverware were to our right, and suggested that Doug try to pour water into our glasses from the jug on the table.  He cautiously did so, successfully filling both of our glasses without spilling (as far as we could feel, anyways, since we couldn’t actually see of course).

I spent the first few minutes convinced that my eyes would adjust to the dark and that at any moment I would turn my head and see shadows, at least.  I just couldn’t understand how they managed to make the restaurant so dark! I couldn’t help but put my hand directly in front of my face just to see if I would see something. I didn’t.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was in the complete, utter darkness.  There were no windows, clocks, watches, phones, or cameras inside – just blackness.

We managed to get through our breadbasket without incident, but our meals required a little more effort.  I had ordered the pistachio gnocchi in creamy poppy-seed and almond sauce while Doug, being more adventurous, ordered the surprise meal.

Our waitress put our meals in front of us.  Thinking it couldn’t be that hard to eat without seeing, I found my fork and stabbed it into the middle of my plate. Only when I put my fork in my mouth did I realize that it was empty.  It took several such instances before I became more attuned to and focused on the slight pressure difference in using my fork when I actually pierced a piece of gnocchi and the tiny weight at the end of my fork when it had something on it.  As the meal went on and my plate emptied, it also became increasingly difficult to find pieces of gnocchi.  I had to use my silverware to simply push things towards the center of my plate so I wouldn’t miss anything.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many meals went back to the kitchen only partly eaten, since people couldn’t find their food in the dark.

Doug, meanwhile, had an entirely different dilemma when he got his meal. He had ordered the “Surprise Meal” and had no idea how to approach it—what silverware to use, if it needed cutting, if it would be warm or cold. Luckily, it turned out to be a rather simple dish: spinach ravioli.

As if eating our own meals wasn’t enough of a challenge, we both wanted to try the other’s dish.  We wound up having to feel for each other’s hands in order to find the fork.

Getting past the enjoyment of the actual experience, I thought the food was rather tasty too. Nothing out of this world, but definitely good.

Throughout the meal, we chatted with the couple we shared a table with.  According to the waitress, the restaurant tried to avoid having parties sit together but ultimately couldn’t help it (why is beyond me as I obviously couldn’t see the layout, size, or shape of the restaurant).  While at first they were worried that people wouldn’t enjoy sharing tables, they found it was a blessing in the end.  It doesn’t surprise me at all, considering we thoroughly enjoyed talking to our faceless tablemates.  We talked to them about the experience at the restaurant, our meals (our neighbor got fish—I couldn’t imagine trying to eat that without seeing anything!), where we were from, where we lived, what we did, etc… all without knowing what the others looked like.   We joked that the restaurant would be an excellent location for a blind date, as the people would really get to know each other without any physical or visual influences.

We spoke a little more as we waited for our desserts.  When they arrived, we and the couple across from us found that our waitress had brought us each an extra treat.  She told us that they brought us the extra treat as an apology for having made us wait so long. Our tablemates received an extra dessert because it was the guy’s birthday. And with that, the waitress started singing happy birthday… or rather, the entire restaurant started singing happy birthday with more gusto than I had ever witnessed in a restaurant birthday song.  As everyone clapped and sang, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It was as if everyone, with the knowledge that they couldn’t be seen in the darkness, lost their inhibitions.  Afterwards, our tablemate was quite pleased that, despite the fact that everyone in the restaurant just sang to him, he could soon walk out as an anonymous young man.

Our desserts were good.  Doug got a chocolate mousse with almond crumble that proved to be very rich.  Meanwhile, I got the white chocolate mousse with butter cookie crumble and fresh fruit.  Our extra treat was a cheesecake.  Our neighbors, who were kind enough to share, received a dish with marzipan in it.  While none of the desserts was incredibly memorable, they were all tasty enough.  But my favorite part about the dessert wasn’t the flavor… it was listening to our tablemates as they shared.

“OW!” screamed the birthday boy.

“What? What happened? I was just trying to give you a taste of the mousse…” His girlfriend replied, confused.

“I was just drinking! You hit me in the eye with your spoon!”

With that, I lost it.  The hilarity of it overwhelmed me.  While I couldn’t see anything, I imagined I could. The guy, one eye covered in mousse and squinting slightly after getting hit in the eye with a spoon, the girl confusedly holding a spoon only half-full of mousse.

I regained my composure just in time for our waitress’s visit.  She sat down with us and started chatting with us.  We talked about the layout of the restaurant, how she managed to navigate it, and how she managed to serve patrons’ food without knocking things over.  On a more serious note, she explained that as a young girl, she attended normal school as her mother insisted that there was nothing wrong with her.  Our waitress explained that she was blind in one eye and severely visually impaired in the other, so it was very difficult for her to attend a normal school.  But, as she talked about her children and grandchildren, she made it clear that her visual impairment did not preclude her living the life she wanted.  I couldn’t help but be awed by her strength and courage.  As she told us that she worked at the restaurant since its opening in 2007 and how the restaurant never did well financially, I couldn’t help but wish I could somehow help out.

Shortly after, our waitress led our tablemates to the exit (again, human train style).  More and more parties were leaving, so the restaurant became gradually quieter.  Awed by the experience, we sat for a short time holding hands, waiting for our waitress to fetch us (we had to wait for a few minutes as a traffic jam had developed by the exit, it appeared).  Eventually, our waitress led us back out the way we entered, where we paid and picked up a cup of hot tea. Tea in hand, we made our way to one of the outdoor café tables, where we finally saw our tablemates in person and put faces to the voices we heard over dinner.

I was surprised to see that the people were less attractive than I imagined. Not that they were unattractive, but for some reason I thought they would be rather good looking (based solely on our good conversation with them during the meal).  It’s truly amazing… the basic outline we create of people we interact with without seeing (like the person you speak with on the phone every day at work whose appearance surprises you when you finally meet them, or the book character whose image in your mind is shattered when you see the movie presentation of him).

We enjoyed tea after the meal.

Thinking back, it’s amazing how the night has become a blacked out area of my memory.  With no frame of reference whatsoever (silverware, plates, tables, food, waitress…), it has turned so easily into a memory of blank, dark nothingness.  Yet the blank, dark nothingness is accompanied by memories of scents, sounds, thoughts, and touches that are all the more amplified and memorable given that they are not linked with a particular site or image.  It’s hard to explain, but in a nutshell, it’s an eye-opening experience absolutely worth having.

A Taste of Turkey at Pasha

Pasha
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
http://www.2eat.co.il/pasha/
Turkish
Kosher
8 Ha’Arba’a
03-561-7778
Sunday-Thursday (12:00 – last customer)
Friday (12:00 – 5:00)

Despite my Turkish roots (my mom’s half of the family is Turkish), I know very little about Turkish cuisine.  I grew up eating food that was classified as either Iraqi or Israeli.  I’m not sure why, but my mother’s native cuisine just didn’t end up on our plates.  When I ask her about Turkish food nowadays, she says she doesn’t know much about it.

Luckily, our familiarity with Turkish food has little bearing on its quality.  The cuisine is rich and the preferred spices, grains, desserts, and oils vary by region.  Unfortunately, I don’t know whether Pasha’s food focuses on a particular type of Turkish cuisine, but I know that the food was delicious.

Pasha was a large, airy restaurant.  The entire space is open and there is an area of the kitchen that is visible from the dining area, fostering the feeling that you’re eating a large, festive meal in someone’s home (albeit with people you’ve never met and won’t speak with during the meal… not an entirely uncommon experience for some around the holidays, I would say).

Pasha

Pasha

Pasha

We started with bread that was cloudy-soft and delicious.  A touch of salt made it absolutely addictive, but an incredible oil-based dip with pomegranate juice at the bottom was what made it truly stand out.  The pomegranate juice was syrupy in consistency, giving the oil a honey-like texture.  It was unlike any dip I’d ever had before.

The bread and amazing pomegranate-oil dip

Our next treat was lahma joun, a slightly spicy meat pizza that was surprisingly elegant and sophisticated.  The crust was thin and crispy, a perfect base for the well-seasoned Mediterranean-spiced tomato- and cilantro-filled topping.

Lahma joun, a slightly spicy meat pizza

We also shared the kubbeh hamousta, which the waitress told us was the best of their kubbehs.  While we didn’t have a chance to verify that it was better than the others, I can definitely say that it was delicious.  The outer shell was thick but soft, and the stringy-steak filling on the inside was absolutely delectable.  The slightly lemony sauce was a little bitter, but went well with the kubbeh.  Each bite left a taste for more.

Kubbeh hamousta

My urfa kebab dish similarly left me wanting more.  Each nugget of deliciously seasoned lamb was incredibly juicy and full of flavor.  While they were peppery, they weren’t too hot, which was almost a shame since I like my kebabs spicy.  The tomato that came with the kebabs was lightly charred and was marked by beautiful grill lines.  There was a side of tahini, as well, but I’m generally not a huge fan of tahini so I ate my kebabs plain.

Urfa kebab

Doug’s mom ordered the chicken steak with pistachio and cashew dish, which involved nuts wrapped in chicken breast.  Although I think it’s more common than I realize, the idea seemed novel to me.  Beyond that, the dish was amazing.  The chicken was crispy but still moist while the nuts that filled the chicken roll gave each bite a nice crunch.

Chicken steak with pistachio and cashew dish

Doug, meanwhile, ordered the chicken fillet – mas’hana. What is chicken fillet – mas’hana, you ask? It looks like foccacia bread topped with chicken and vegetables.  The chicken was tender and tasted like it was prepared shishlik-style (i.e. on a skewer).  The crust below was soft and doughy.  The spicing was lovely, but the paprika really carried the day on this dish.

Chicken fillet - mas’hana

We all shared the vegetables from the oven (also known as grilled vegetables) as a side, which were very simple but tasty.

"Vegetables from the oven" (aka grilled vegetables)

We also shared the vanilla ice cream with silan sauce and halva dessert, which was absolutely delicious.  While a little sweeter than ideal, between the smooth ice cream and crumbly halva, it had a wonderful texture.

Vanilla ice cream with silan sauce and halva dessert

As our meal at Pasha wound to a close, I couldn’t help but wish that I had grown up eating more Turkish food.

The 6-Day Trip (to Israel)

It’s been some time since Doug’s parents’ visit to Israel in January, but with the recent end of my own parents’ visit, I can’t help but reminisce.

It was their first trip to Israel.  We were excited to show them around, but were at a loss as to where to start.  Their trip was relatively short (only 6 days) and we had to work during their visit, so scheduling was very tight.

Thankfully, my organizational instincts kicked in quite quickly—I threw together an itinerary that covered most of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods and had us in Jerusalem for a day.  I don’t know about Doug’s parents, but I was definitely exhausted by the end of the week!

Tuesday

Doug’s parents arrived in the afternoon, so Doug made his way to the airport to pick them up.  He took them to their hotel, where I later met them.  We walked along the tayelet for a short time before making our way to dinner at Piccola Pasta (a restaurant absolutely worth checking out! Read about the food here).  It was close to their hotel and we figured it was a safe bet for their first night.  We had an early dinner and took them back to their hotel, where I think they promptly fell asleep.  Mission: retrieve parents from airport and ferry them to sleep late enough to avoid jet lag = success!

We had a lovely dinner at Piccola Pasta

Wednesday

We originally planned to spend Wednesday in Tel Aviv and go to Jerusalem on Thursday, but the weather forecast for Thursday indicated rain all day.  In the interest of not spending a day soaked and unhappy in Jerusalem, we switched our schedule around a little.  We met up bright and early and made our way to the Central Bus Station, where we hopped on a sherut to Jerusalem.

For those who don’t know what a sherut is, it’s basically a taxi van.  Prices are comparable to buses.

  • Cons: Depending on the time of day, you may have to wait a bit for it to leave. They wait until they’re full before heading off to their destination.  They also don’t offer any monthly/weekly pass, as far as I know.
  • Pros: They can be quicker than buses since they only stop to drop people off (or pick people up, when they have empty seats). They also run on Shabbat.

We made it to Jerusalem with enough time to stop in at an Aroma and grab something warm to drink before making our way to the Old City.  In the interest of seeing as much of Jerusalem as possible in a short time, we took them to the Old City via Mamilla Mall.

Mamilla Mall is a modern construction built very close to the Old City.  A pedestrian walkway cuts through its center, allowing you to stroll along while looking in at the posh stores and contemporary sculptures than line the walkway.

Although not from our trip to Jerusalem with Doug's parents, here's a picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

Another picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

At long last, we came upon the Old City.  While we planned to enter through Dung Gate since it was closest to the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall), we ended up going through Yafo Gate.  Initially, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the narrow, winding, indistinguishable streets of the Old City.  We had tickets for Minarot HaKotel, a tour that takes you into the tunnels under the Old City by the Kotel.  I looked at our map and craned my neck left and right, trying to find the street signs tacked onto the sides of walls.  I quickly grew frustrated by the complete lack of any side streets on my map.  As I did so, though, I realized I didn’t need the map.

While my memory usually fails me, it was astonishingly impressive in getting us to the Kotel.  I couldn’t tell you what turns to take, what stores to look for, what streets to go down—but somehow I just remembered where to go.  Within moments, we were by the entrance to the tunnels, with a few minutes to spare.  Doug’s parents finally had a moment to look around and take in the splendor of the Old City.  The cobblestone streets, secret doorways, and little stairwells charmed them.  The Kotel itself, the likes of which they had never seen before, impressed them.

Minarot HaKotel impressed them further, providing a wealth of historical information about Jerusalem and the Kotel that put things into a contextual perspective.  It emphasized just how remarkable the second temple was, of which the Western Wall was only a fraction of a much larger piece that only served as its architectural base.  We emerged from the tunnels on Via Dolorosa, each of us a pound heavier from the incredibly educational tour.

We tried to follow the Stations of the Cross (the path Jesus took, carrying the cross, from the place of his trial and condemnation by Pontius Pilate to the site of his crucifixion and burial) for a little bit, using Fodor as our guide.  Unfortunately, even the 7th edition of Fodor’s doesn’t have a built-in GPS, so we ended up giving up somewhere between where Jesus addresses the women in the crowd and where he is stripped of his garments.

Luckily, Jesus’s final path took us right through the Arab Market, which we planned to check out anyways.  There’s really nothing like it—vendors smoking in their tiny shops, hookahs laying out left and right, lemonade and pomegranate juice being purchased by thirsty tourists, all immersed amidst countless Jerusalem-themed souvenirs for people of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

The Arab Market in Jerusalem

By 11:30, we were hungry from the day’s walking and sightseeing.  We went to eat at Abu Shukri, a famed hummus restaurant in the Muslim Quarter.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as delicious as we’d heard, but the restaurant itself was pretty cool (it felt cave-like, in a way) and it was energizing enough (check out my post about Abu Shukri’s food).

Lunching at Abu Shukri in Jerusalem's Old City

From there, we went back to the Kotel.  We spent a few minutes at the wall, saying our private prayers.

The Kotel

People's notes are scattered all around on the ground--there are simply too many to fit in the wall's cracks

We then made our way to our next tour: Sharsheret HaDorot.  It took more than 5000 years of Jewish history and condensed it into an itty-bitty 45-minute audiotape tour.  If that wasn’t impressive enough, the varyingly-constructed glass pillars that were representative of the many chains of Jewish history definitely were.

Glass pillars representing the first generations of Jews at Sharsheret HaDorot

The pillar of glass with missing pieces represents the loss of millions of Jews during the Holocaust at Sharsheret HaDorot

After the tour, we left the Old City through Dung Gate.  We made our way on foot to Mount Zion, where King David’s Tomb and the site of the last supper are located.  I don’t know about Doug or his parents, but I was shocked by the lack of large masses of tourists. I actually had trouble finding the right building (they’re in the same place) because it was so deserted. For now I’ll chalk it up to drizzly weather, which reared its cold and unavoidable head.

King David’s Tomb was tucked away in a small synagogue.  Whether King David’s remains truly lie there is debated; even so, it drew a small crowd of pious individuals who hoped to pray by the great king’s resting spot.

The half of King David's tomb in the women's part of the synagogue

With King David

Just a hop, skip, and jump to a room upstairs and we were in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his last meal.  To be honest, what intrigued me most about the room were the cats that took residence there.  One sat stoically by a golden tree sculpture while another huddled atop a light on the floor, seemingly trying to keep warm and dry despite the weather.

The room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

A (blurry) picture of a cat sitting stoically by a golden tree sculpture in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his final meal

A cat huddled above a light in an effort to keep warm in the room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

I was soon to envy those cats, dry (if not warm) under a roof.  Our next stop on the itinerary was Shuk Machane Yehuda, which meant we needed to take a cab, which meant we needed to go outside to hail one.  Unfortunately, many people were hailing cabs, given the terrible weather.  By the time we got one, I was uncomfortably dampened.  Tired from the day’s sightseeing so far and cold from the rain, I enjoyed the ride in a catatonic state.

We got out of the cab and made our way into the heart of the shuk, stopping at the famed bakery Marzipan on our way.  We grabbed a few rugelach before heading over to Melech HaHalva on Eitz Chaim Street.

The famed rugelach at Marzipan in Jerusalem

Doug’s mom, Patty, had been looking for a suitable, non-denominational present to bring home.  Of course, an edible gift is almost always welcomed, so she loved the idea of getting halva, a sesame-based dessert. In fact, she loved the idea so much that she bought a kilo of halva… a KILO of halva.  For anyone who’s wondering, the chunk she bought was about the size of a cantaloupe.  I’m pretty sure that’s more halva than my entire family consumes in a year.  But on the bright side, it meant she didn’t have to gift shop for anyone for the rest of the trip.

Halva options at Melech HaHalva

Our kilo of halva in tow, we went to our second Aroma for the day to grab something warm to drink while recapping on the day’s activities.  We munched on our rugelach and some cookies while pouring over various maps of the city and reading little pieces out of the guidebook about things we saw during the day.

Relaxing and regrouping over coffee at the Aroma in Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem

Somewhat re-energized, somewhat exhausted, we made our way to Ima’s for dinner.  We initially planned to eat at Machneyuda, but our reservation was for 11pm and we knew our internal batteries weren’t going to last until then (if only we were the Energizer Bunny!)  Had we been able to stay busy and go to the Night Spectacular Show at the King David Tower after the shuk, maybe we would have been able to make it to a later dinner.  But unfortunately, the show was canceled because of bad weather. So, instead, we had a lovely dinner at the Kurdish/Iraqi-themed restaurant (check out my post about Ima for more details about the food), before making our way to the Central Bus Station, hopping on an intra-city bus, and heading back to Tel Aviv.

Thursday & Friday

Stay tuned and check out Doug’s upcoming post about exploring Yafo, Shuk HaCarmel, Nachalat Binyamin, Namal Tel Aviv, and Neve Tzedek!

Saturday

Saturdays in Israel can be tough if you don’t have a car.  While we could have taken a sherut somewhere, we would have probably needed to take a cab at some point… and the majority of things are closed regardless.  How lame would it be to take a sherut to Jerusalem only to see empty streets?  Or getting to Haifa just to find out that you can’t tour the Baha’i gardens on Saturday?

So I decided to keep things local and stay in Tel Aviv.  HaTachana (literally “The Station”) was open on Saturday, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to check it out.  Doug and I had never been, but were curious about it: it was a 49-acre compound just a mile away from us, after all, and we hardly even remembered hearing about it in passing.

HaTachana was once the terminus of the railway line that traveled between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Its use was discontinued in 1948 and the station fell into disrepair.  In 2005, the renovation process began; by 2010, it had been restored to its former glory.  While there is still an old-school train car outside the station and another one just behind it that you can watch a short, informational show about the station on, HaTachana is no longer in operation as a train station.  Instead, it is a shopping complex full of fun stores to roam about in aimlessly.

Upon arriving, we went straight into what I imagine used to be the main building at the station.  It was restored and converted into a café/souvenir shop and had an array of Tel Aviv souvenirs.

The entrance building at HaTachana which now serves as a souvenir shop

Another model train at HaTachana in Tel Aviv

Once we finished perusing the gift shop, we entered the shopping complex area.  It was smaller than expected (definitely not 49 acres, although I’m thinking not all of it is a shopping complex and we may not have seen it all), but was incredibly quaint.  Stone paths led to posh stores with glass-front windows, which sat across from stores tucked away into stone edifices.  It almost felt like we were in a small, medieval village gone modern.

My favorite store was what I now call the Dumb-Dumb store.  Why, you ask? Because it makes you feel dumb.  The store carries countless puzzles and mind-exercising games and gadgets.  Upon entering, they give you puzzles to solve. While at first you may think there’s no way two pieces of wood that combine into a pyramid could stump you, you soon realize you’re not as smart as you thought.  I could probably have spent hours trying out all the different puzzles… but unfortunately, time was short (and, as I later discovered on a separate visit there, the staff doesn’t take well to people trying the puzzles just for fun—if you aren’t going to buy anything, they won’t let you loiter long).

We had brunch planned at Manta Ray, a restaurant along the tayelet that Doug and I often ran by.  I’m not sure if it was the obviously amazing view, the renown of the restaurant, or the achingly delicious smell we inhaled every time we ran by, but we knew we wanted to take Doug’s parents there (check out my post about Manta Ray for more details about the food).

Manta Ray in Tel Aviv

After a meal enjoyed overlooking the tumultuous Mediterranean Sea on an overcast day, we strolled north along the tayelet.  Doug’s dad had some leftover seafood from his meal, which we took to go in the hopes of feeding stray cats.  We told Doug’s parents about the monster cat countless times during their short trip and were hoping they would be able to see him.  Unfortunately, the monster cat was not in his usual area (he was probably busy ordering his henchmen to off disloyal cats).

Nevertheless, we weren’t disappointed.  Cats crawled out of every crevice and nook along the tayelet once they smelled the food.  They descending on Doug before he even managed to open the leftovers box and dump the contents on the ground.  While several cats went for the food once it hit the ground, one of the monster cat’s henchmen (black and white like the monster cat, but smaller) batted them away.  He feasted alone while the other cats watched anxiously.  Three black cats ringed him, waiting for their turn, while the rest of the cat colony sat further away.  Once the henchman cat had his fill, the three black cats had their turn (I like to think of them as the second most powerful clan in the colony, often challenging the monster cat’s clan).

The cats of the Tel Aviv tayelet colony were racing to get a taste of the seafood leftovers

With our new perspective on cat dynamics, we continued our walk along the tayelet.  We stopped for a cup of tea at a café along the beach.   While there, we replanned our evening.  We initially planned to eat dinner at Raphael’s, but we decided that our big breakfast, followed shortly after by Manta Ray, left us far too full for a big sit-down dinner.  We decided to grab pizza for dinner instead.  Doug and I promptly concluded that HaPizza would be an excellent place for a light pizza dinner, so we began our stroll down Bograshov.  We enjoyed a nice, quite dinner while reminiscing over the previous days’ events and lamenting that their stay was so short—Sunday was going to be their last day in Israel.  We couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.

After dinner, Doug’s mom was hankering for dessert.  Remembering that a well-known ice cream store was just down the block, on the way to Doug’s parents’ hotel, made ice cream the natural conclusion.

We walked over to Vaniglia and enjoyed a fair number of samples before picking our sweet treats.  It was a lovely way to end our last full evening together in Tel Aviv.

Sunday

Check out Doug’s upcoming post about the visit to the Rabin Memorial and the Eretz Yisrael Museum, the final destinations his parents visited before returning to Ben Gurion Airport for their flight home!