Musician Abroad! Part 3
My Adventures with Israeli Food
Sophie Lippert, concert pianist and ACP’s 2022 International Arts Correspondent, is currently living in Tel Aviv, Israel. In this edition of Musician Abroad!, she takes us on a journey through the food of Tel Aviv.
Food and music are two of my favorite things, and two of my favorite ways to connect with different cultures.
I think it’s so neat how I can experience a foreign country by sipping a cup of steaming soup, eating a bowl of spicy noodles, or devouring a delicious dessert.
In a similar way, I love how music takes me on a journey. When I play my piano or cello, or listen to a song on the radio, I “travel through sound” to the part of the world where that song was written or performed.
In fact, I think food and music are pretty similar, because they both help us experience cultures that are different from ours. Because we interact through our senses, instead of through our words, we don’t even have to speak the same language as other people to share a meal or a piece of music with them.
How cool is that?!
Eating My Way Through Tel Aviv
Part of the adventure of moving to Tel Aviv has been cooking and eating a LOT of Israeli food. And wow, it has been delicious.
The food in Israel is really amazing. In today’s post, I’m going to focus on three categories: pita bread (and the many ways it is served), salads (hint: they’re different than what we call salads in the United States!), and delectable desserts.
Let’s dive in!
Meals in a Pita
In Israel, pita bread is fluffy, thick, and crazy tasty. It’s served on the side of most meals at Israeli restaurants, and is especially good when dipped into big bowls of hummus.
Israel’s popular street foods are almost always served in pita breads. Here are three most common ones:
Shawarma. This tasty meat is cooked on a giant rotisserie or spit. The meat is sliced, shaped into a huge cone, cooked, and then shaved off in thin strips. Shawarma is usually served stuffed into a pita with tahini-garlic sauce, pickles, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, and some pickled vegetables. When I order shawarma, I usually get french fries on the side.
Falafel. Have you tasted falafel balls before? They’re made of a mixture of ground garbanzo beans, spices, and herbs, which are shaped into small balls and then deep fried. When I order a falafel sandwich in Israel, it comes raw and pickled vegetables, a layer of hummus smeared inside the pita, and then three sauces: tahini (sesame seed paste with lemon), amba (a sweet and spicy mango sauce), and zhoug (a spicy green sauce). Soooo good.
Sabich. Sabich is one of the most popular street foods in Israel. The main ingredients might surprise you: fried slabs of eggplant and hard boiled eggs! These are paired with various vegetables, herbs and chives, and tahini sauce to top everything off. It might sound a little strange, but wow, does a sabich sandwich taste good. These are usually eaten for breakfast or lunch.
Next up: salads!
All The Salads
Here in Israel, the word “salad” doesn’t just mean something leafy and green. Instead, salads are loosely defined as small portions of cold dishes, usually vegetarian, that are served as appetizers.
When eating at a traditional Israeli restaurant, they usually serve 10-20 salads, which come for free when you order a main dish! Here’s an example:
Also, believe it or not: salads are served and eaten at any time of day. Yep: even breakfast! In fact, a traditional Israeli breakfast spread consists of bread or pastries, and perhaps a side of eggs—and then, an array of all those amazing vegetable dishes.
But now, enough of savory—let’s turn to the treats.
Make Way for Sweets
If you walk through an Israeli “shuk” (outdoor market), you’ll be greeted by many people selling unique and colorful desserts. Usually, they’ll be yelling and gesturing for you to come over and taste a sample of whatever sweet treat they are offering!
There are several types that are most common:
Nut and honey-based pastries.
So many yummy choices! There are nutty options (consisting of pistachios or walnuts and honey baked in flaky phyllo dough), cream-filled pastries (with a soft and gooey center), and an assortment of softer, more Turkish-based confections (with nuts surrounded by a gel-like base, and smell like a strong perfume!). Also common are kataifi, spiced honey-nut bars made with crispy shredded dough—they look like little orbs of crispy noodles—and there’s even a round pie-like pastry called knafeh that’s stuffed with sweet syrup and melted CHEESE!
There are many candy stores throughout the country, which are loved by people of all ages. I’ve been surprised to discover how popular gummy candies are; people seem to favor fruity flavors and bright colors over chocolate.
Most of the time, candy is displayed in big bulk containers, and vendors will scoop and bag exactly the quantity and combination of what you ask for. The common flavors often resemble the fruits that are eaten here in Israel: watermelon, grape, strawberry, orange, lemon, banana, cherry, and more.
There’s no question that Israelis really love their frozen desserts. The freezer section at every grocery store or bodega is filled to the brim with ice cream bars, popsicles, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s greatest hits. And I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a city with so many gelato shops!
Along with all the great flavors made from normal dairy, I love that there are also tons of vegan offerings. There are fruit sorbets, “creamy” options made from coconut or cashew milk, and “chocolate sorbets” that are as rich and sumptuous as any chocolate ice cream. What a treat!
Celebrating Food and Music
Just like music, I love how food takes me on a journey through my senses, and lets me experience a different country without even leaving my own home.
And I’m so grateful for the way that both music and food help me feel a sense of connection and togetherness with different cultures.
Listening to music, and having a meal filled with delicious food, are experiences that bring people together—no matter their language, culture, and skin color. What a gift to share sounds and flavors with people around the world.
I’ll leave you with a challenge: sometime this week, can you enjoy a meal or a piece of music from a different culture, country, or period in history, and see what it feels like to “travel” through your senses to that new land?
Thanks for reading and see you next time!