The Decadence of Middle Eastern Food
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
Moving all the way up to Israel from South Africa required getting used to a whole new culture with a whole new cuisine. Gone were the days of Sunday lunches spent at friends lounging around a pool eating food from a braai (the South African term for “barbeque”).
However, South African braais are legendary as South Africa is known for producing some of the best meat in the world – lamb chops, T-bone, sirloin, and rump steaks, as well as boerewors, which is a special kind of spiral sausage that makes the ideal meal when wedged in between a bun and covered with onions, mustard, and tomato sauce!
Well off to Israel where the cuisine is lighter and healthier! One thing is for sure – nothing bonds Israelis more than a table full of food to enjoy together!
I kind of fell in love with hummus after many lunches with my colleagues at amazing, small hummus restaurants nestled in hidden corners of Tel Aviv streets. The thing about hummus is just that it makes you feel so damn good! It’s also very tasty and filling.
It’s made of chickpeas, and mixed with a bit of tahini (sesame seed paste) and there’s different variations – some with mushrooms, some with solid chickpeas, some with beans, and always the option of a boiled egg. There’s often a sprinkle of paprika in it, some green herbs, and olive oil.
Hummus is actually an aphrodisiac, and it’s a great meal to have on a first date – it also releases serotonin. It fills you up and you honestly feel so good eating it, it becomes addictive. It’s also very affordable and something you can eat every day!
It also goes well with pita and an Israeli salad on the side, with “lemonana”, an Israeli word for lemonade mixed with mint and sugar, and followed down by Turkish coffee – it’s an absolute delight, and if you’re looking to stay in shape, this is the meal to turn to.
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There is an art to making the perfect shakshuka – it includes the most perfectly ripe tomatoes, sometimes red bell peppers, tomato paste, and a good dash of salt and pepper. I like to include beef mince into mine, although that’s not very common.
Then the best part of it are the eggs you add to the mix – it’s what makes the dish. Have this for lunch with a big French baguette with butter and a glass of white wine – it’s really good! Most Israeli restaurants offer shakshuka, and some restaurants only offer shakshuka!
There are falafel restaurants at every corner in big Israeli cities. In one street in Tel Aviv alone there may be 5 different falafel restaurants. Falafel is fried hummus balls – and they’re rather unique in taste and quite delicious!
They make a perfect meal when stuffed into a pita full of hummus, pickles, cabbage, vegetables, “charif” sauce – a Hebrew word for spicy, and a bit of tahini on top.
Shawarmas include pitas stuffed with chicken or beef that is shaved off a rotating spit. Shawarmas are delicious and their popularity has filtered throughout the world as there are many shawarma restaurants in many different countries including South Africa.
It’s a convenient meal that you can take with you on the go! It’s pleasant to eat on any park bench while watching the sun setting into the ocean.
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Halva is a very special Israeli dessert made out of sesame seeds. It is completely unique and you just need to go to the main Israeli market on Carmel street called “Shuk HaCarmel”in Tel Aviv to see and taste hundreds of different varieties.
Some halva is mixed with pistachio nuts (my personal favorite) while some is mixed with chocolate. There are even ice cream recipes including halva, and trust me – you haven’t lived until you try a gorgeous, decadent bowl of halva ice cream – it truly takes desserts to another level.
The great thing about Middle Eastern cuisine is that it’s mostly healthy and some dishes are classified as vegan. In fact, Tel Aviv has an enormous population of vegans – more than most! Middle Eastern cuisine is definitely a treat, and you can’t visit the Middle East without trying the food – even if you go back home a few pounds heavier!