Of all the challenges in making aliyah, one that my family and I have happily tackled is exploring Israeli foods. While we certainly miss New York pizza (we have tried seven different pizza stores here and none of them measure up for this girl from Queens), we have been dazzled by the array of kosher food choices available here.
My son often feels quite literally like the idiomatic “kid in the candy store,” as he can choose to try any food he likes without worrying about kashrut. (Truthfully, kosher signs in Israel are more complicated than I choose to explain to my six-year-old or than I feel comfortable delving into here; rest assured, Modi’in has many stores that bear reliable hashgachot that make this less of a concern.)
Having lived here almost five months, we have worked our way through the classic Israeli junk food treats. While Bamba was always a favorite snack, we have discovered that in Israel, there is so much more available than plain old peanut butter-flavored. You have your choice of halva, strawberry, or even creamy chocolate-flavored Bamba.
And while America has a nice selection of chocolates, we have fallen hard for the unusually flavored Elite “Cow” chocolate bars sold here. Do you remember the candy “Pop Rocks” from your childhood? Well, now imagine those candies in a chocolate bar. Yup, that’s just one of the many ridiculous flavors made by the Elite “Cow” chocolate bars. My kids kept cracking up as the candies continued to pop in their mouths long after they had swallowed the melted chocolate.
But our sweet tooth urges have also been satiated by healthier choices – the bountiful fruits of Israel. The produce grown here is unbelievably delicious. (On any given afternoon, you will most likely find my husband and kids at the kitchen table, working their way through a crate of sweet cherry tomatoes.)
As most produce sold in Israel is actually grown here, produce is only available for certain months of the year. This only lends to the adventure. Each week when I go shopping at the local farmer’s market (which consists of a farmer and his crates of fruit on a street corner in Modi’in), I explore what wonders are now in bloom.
We have already enjoyed the sweet melon, plum, and pineapple seasons and are now excited to find that pomegranates are in bloom! The only produce we miss from back in New York is blueberries. The Israeli climate is not conducive to blueberries, which results in their being hard to find and very expensive. I could not believe that at the local fruit store, a tiny two-ounce container of blueberries cost 12 shekel!
Our favorite stores to visit here in Israel have without a doubt been the Israeli bakeries. We find daily excuses to run in to pick up just a loaf of bread, and leave with our hands laden with hot bourekas, pita, and lachmaniyot (rolls).
Surprisingly, we have been disappointed with the challot here in Israel. Challah in Israel is usually made without eggs, resulting in a more airy but bland tasting bread. After much trial and error, we have settled on a local bakery’s “half sweet” challah, which is baked with silan (date honey) that gives it a bit more flavor.
The blandness of the challah, however, is made up for in part by the array of salatim (salad spreads) used to spice them up at the Shabbat table. To date, we’ve tried an assortment of humuses, tehinas, cabbage salads, matbuchas and even a cauliflower spread! My daughter enjoys the spreads so much that she forgoes the challah entirely and eats the spreads straight out of her bowl!
My family’s favorite cuisine, though, has become Israeli bbq. While Modi’in has wonderful bbq restaurants, our family had a real treat this past week when we experienced our first real Israel mangal (charcoal bbq) at our friends, Tamar and Josh Vogel in Beit Shemesh.
While I can count on one hand the number of times we have left Modi’in since March, Tamar enticed us with the promises of hotdogs and hamburgers to leave our little bubble and join them. While the food was plentiful and masterfully grilled, it was all the tastier as it was shared with old friends.
Driving home that evening, my son voiced what we were all thinking. “That was so much fun – can we do it again soon?” I assured him that we hoped, G-d willing, to spend more time with the Vogels and other friends and family members here in Israel. Perhaps friends and family are the essential ingredients missing from our table to sweeten our Shabbat challah.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to give the new recipe a try sometime soon.