I have trekked, I have eaten, I have conquered. I managed to not only survive but overwhelmingly enjoy my two week hiking trip through Israel. The land was beautiful: endless landscapes of limestone and water-sanded crevices in the south all the way to the northern vineyards and mossy hills. The heat was abounding, peaking around 115 degrees as we descended Masada one afternoon, but the sweat and burn were well worth the journey.
Israel remains for me, one of the most fascinating places on earth. The unending conundrums of space, relationships, politics, everything, all placed within a country filled with zealots and hippies. In Israel you can find yourself in the barren desert, completely alone, or in Jerusalem observing 10,000 Ashkenazi Orthodox protest Sephardic Orthodox children attending their schools, or in the green hills of Tzfat where the tie-dye clothing and bright blue railings perfectly oppose the sandy outskirts. You can go to Israel to smoke a joint and surf or enthrall yourself in exclusive, devotional religious practices, be it Muslim or Jewish. You can attend a dinner hosted by a Druze household, welcoming any outsiders to learn about their traditions, and observe the Arab-Israeli conflict where the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock collide. For me, there is no place like it.
I must admit, I did not do a ton of exciting eating on the trip. My days were filled with treks and pit stops at malls, gas stations or kibbutz buffet lines to refuel. Yet, I did eat some excellent grub. What sticks out most to me about Israeli food are their salads. Salad for breakfast, salad for lunch, and salad for dinner. Sometimes the salads changed, sometimes they didn’t. One day I found myself eating a cabbage salad with carrots and bean sprouts along side quinoa with carrots, dried cranberries and raisins for breakfast. Lunch was the same cabbage salad with hummus and a pita. Dinner, sub the pita and hummus with meat. Needless to say, the first thing I wanted when arriving home was, of course, a cabbage salad. And that’s what I’ve eaten for lunch every afternoon since I got back.
The use of lemon, vinegar, dill and mint, I have found, can create an endless amount of yummy combinations. My basic salad suggestions:
1.) cucumber, tomato, chickpeas, mint, basil, lemon juice, salt
2.) roasted beets, dill, lemon juice, splash of vinegar, salt
3.) cabbage, carrots, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt
This is not to say that Israelis only eat vegetables. Every morning there was a massive array of cheeses, yogurt, cured fish, pastries and dried fruits. The dates were spectacular and I have never tasted a feta cheese like the several I tasted there. Chocolate babka added to my waistline along with the freshly baked challahs and awesome halvah.
But beyond the food, which to be honest was rather secondary, or even tertiary on this adventure, the land and people of Israel are worth taking the time to see, to explore. The cities offer so much history along with the current political and religious battles while the hills and forests remain in large portions untouched and reminiscent of Biblical times. Whatever your religion, whether or not it is represented within the communities of Israel, the country is an unending canvas of intrigues and beauty.