Friday, December 31, 2010

More Israel Travel Tips

1) Israeli cellular phone companies do not want to do business with you. Their stores are like nice versions of the DMV: you take a number, sit and wait, and eventually someone will deal with what you need, like adding NIS 100 to your prepaid phone, but not with any alacrity. It was like they'd never done the transaction before, writing crap down on post-its and running back and forth from the mysterious back room and random computer terminals.

2) The shouks have the cheapest veggies. A "shouk," for those who don't know the term, is the descendant of that Arabian market that was caricatured in the Disney movie Aladdin as full of intolerant and pushy shopkeeps, vicious scimitar-wielding law enforcement officials, and a fez-wearing monkey.

In fact, they look like any nation's street market, but here, the shouks in Jerusalem, Acco, and Ramla all have great vegetable assortments, as well as fresh fish and baked goods, for a price far below what you'd find in the local supermarkets.

In Jerusalem, there's also a dumpling-in-soup place I hear is delicious, as well as a place that sells Judaic-themed health beverages. It would set off Penn & Teller's alarms pretty quickly, although the Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon-themed almond beverage and the angelically-themed chocolate drink looked tasty.

3) Elias's Butcher Shop in Ramla is a great place for raw meat. Elias himself will cut you pretty much anything you want of whatever meat he's got, and he stocks enough for an entire barbecue in his shop, from firestarter to bamboo skewers to frozen french fries. I'm a sucker for any butcher that has a side of meat just hanging around, and can yank a leg of lamb out from under a table.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Notable Meals in Israel

Brunch: Shakshouka and a cappuccino at Si Coffee at the gas station just below the Latrun tank museum. The Sherbs already went over this, but the tomatoey dish with eggs and cheese cooked on top was pretty amazing, even for a chain cafe. Especially with the whole grain bread.

Dinner: Italian in Tel Aviv. Pizza, appetizers (including eggplant parm in individual ramekins), and a gnocchi in meat sauce.


Brunch: "Couples Breakfast" for the Sherbs and I at Cafe Rimon on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem. Each of us got two eggs, any way we wanted, and a salad, with a plate of cheese, tuna fish, and lox to share, as well as a bread basket with two croissant and four bagels. More than decent for a remarkably touristy establishment.


Lunch: Chicken shnitzel sandwich at a small shop in Old Acco at (I think) the end of Chaim Weitzmann Street. Breaded, fried, and stuffed in a toasted baguette with all usual falafel fixings and a couple french fries for good measure. Not the best food ever eaten, but better than average and unbeatable at NIS 20 for sandwich and drink.


Samir's in Ramla. Ramla is a small city near to Tel Aviv, and contains, in one of the many 12th-century structures still standing and in use, a restaurant called Samir's.

I've probably mentioned this place before. But there is nothing bad at Samir's. Today's assortment (when we go with the Sherbs's uncle, it's always the chef's choice for the menu) was chicken kabob, ground lamb kabob, falafel, and a mixed plate of animal hearts and livers cooked with onions and pepper. I am not being facetious to say that the organ meats were incredibly delicious - as I said, there is nothing bad at Samir's. From the pitas to the salads to the baklava at the end (and the coffee with cardamom), everything was tasty-riffic.

The Sherbs's uncle's ice cream. My better half's uncle makes his own ice cream, and has spent much of his life learning and perfecting the food chemistry of homemade ice cream. The flavors which we had too much of were a pineapple sorbet, a mint chocolate made with fresh mint (so much better than that spearmint oil stuff you get at the supermarket), and a dark chocolate ice cream with coffee and chocolate chunks mixed in.

Wine and Waffles; Shakshukah

The Pedant described what we ate in Belgium well. I had a breakfast of a poached egg and some toast pieces, which was perfect. Also, the cafe gave pieces of chocolate with the coffee. Any country that does that is a friend of mine.

For crepes, I had a buckwheat crepe with cheese (Gruyere I think) that was filled to deliciousness and then topped with scallions and a fried egg. It was a lot of eggs, but really wonderful.

For the Christmas market, we had a "regular waffle" (opposed to a waffle on a stick - it was just going to be too hard!) and then topped with a chocolate sauce. I also got a glass of their muled wine. The snack was perfect. The waffle was fluffy (and I'm sure since it was a food stall not even the best waffle we'll have in Belgium) and the chocolate was divine. Creamy and delicious. Since it was cold, the chocolate sauce hardened a bit on the waffle, which made it even better. (A little less messy!) The wine was also great. TP and I traveled a few years ago to Quebec City and had Caribou, plus we've had homemade Glorgg (by TP's mother, who is not Danish but learned from wonderful Danes) and this was different. It was, of course, much sweeter, as well as spicy. Not a clue what kind of wine they used, but it was excellent.

Then we got to Israel. We've had some great food so far. The first meal we had here was at a coffee shop/cafe near my aunt and uncle that served amazing shakshukah with this incredible whole grain bread. We ate it outside with cappuccinos and espressos. I hope shakshukah catches on in the US. That night for dinner we went to an Italian place in Tel Aviv that was amazing as well. This afternoon we are likely going to Samir's restaurant, which has the best humus in the world, and I'm not even joking a teeny bit.

Israel Travel Tips

Things to Ask the Rental Car People That I Didn't:
1) Will I be unable to figure out how to turn off the radio?
2) Why can't I lift the seat above a "recumbent bike" position?
3) Will it be remarkably easy to break my lease terms by taking the wrong turn on the road to Megiddo (in Israel) and ending up in Jenin (in Fatah-controlled West Bank)?
4) Will the tire unexpectedly spring a leak and your emergency service staff tell me to change the tire to a spare and have the flat replaced myself?

Things I Learned the Hard Way:
1) Acco (aka Acre) is impossible to leave if the road you expect to get to the highway on is blocked by police with a bomb-disposal robot.
2) The Herzl Museum, on Har Herzl (and poorly signed) is not on the same Jerusalem mini-mountain as the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (which has all the charm and cheerful ambiance of the NYC Port Authority on 42nd St.). Nor is it a short walk.
3) The Herzl Museum requires reservations, and if you don't have one, they don't have any interest in helping you.
4) In Jerusalem, Yafo (Jaffa) Street is NOT perpendicular to King George Street. Even though they're really close. You make one wrong turn out of the Mamilla mall, and you're heading to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. AGAIN.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12 Hours in Brussels

Here we are in lovely Eretz Yisrael (Eretz Yisroel to you die-hard Ashkenaz), enjoying the sun and the above-50 degree temperatures while all y'all on the East Coast suffer under BLIZZARD.

But, you know, Israel's suffering a terrible drought, so the constant sunny days we're having are actually tragic for agriculture and municipal water prices. So we spend a moment of silent contemplation before enjoying our coffee at an outdoor cafe.

But back to the first day of our trip, when we were in both snow and honest-to-goodness slush: our twelve hours in Brussels prior to landing at Ben Gurion Airport.

We landed in darkness, 7AM Belgian time actually being appropriate more to Berlin, so the sun comes up at 9AM and it stays light until 6PM or so, where it should be more like 8-4. In the purplish tones of early dawn, we took a train from the airport into Brussels Central (Dutch: Brussel Centraal) station, during which I listened to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack on my iPod. Early morning Europe from the train is awesome to Daft Punk. You should try it.

Once in the city, we saw many historic sights and learned that all of Brussels is right next to each other. So we went about trying to see every chocolate shop we'd heard of. Galler was closed, but we visited Leonidas ("These...are...truffles!"), Pierre Marcolini (which wouldn't accept our credit card, and lost a sale), Wittamer (100 years of tastiness), Neuhaus (just like in the Union Station mall), and Planet Chocolate, the last of which had (unusual for these stores) free samples, and even better (and not necessarily unusual but much appreciated), great service. We bought a lot of interesting chocolates there.

For "real" meals, we went to the Wittamer Cafe in the Place du Sablon in the morning, as it was open and we wanted to miss the brief snow flurry. The breakfast was simple, but it was very tasty and the coffee came with chocolate truffles.

For lunch, we went to the Maison du Crepes at the corner of Rue des Midi and some street just north of the Grand Place. The service was leisurely, but friendly, but the crepes were fantastic. I had a crepe "Paysanne," which was creamy mustard cheese sauce, bacon, scallions, and tiny potatoes, all in thin buckwheat. Yum. I had it with kriek, the Belgian near-beer flavored with cherries, which was a mildly sweet, tart alcohol. Both Sherbs and I loved it.

Following lunch, we hit a Christmas market, eschewing buying a wedge of cheese the size of a airplane wheel-chock for a somewhat lighter snack, but I'll let my better half tell you about that. Then it was onto the plane, and off to Israel.