Where Obama (and You) Should Eat in Israel
It looks like room service isn’t going to be an option for President Obama when he stays at the Kind David Hotel in Jerusalem on his upcoming trip to Israel. He’ll arrive on March 20, less than a week before Passover begins and according to The Times of Israel, the hotel’s kitchens will have already been made kosher for the holiday. (We’re taking this to mean that a pancake breakfast or late-night shwarma in bed are out of the question.)
We wouldn’t want Obama to go hungry, so we took it upon ourselves to ask some of Israel’s best food critics and most dedicated eaters where the president should go to get a taste of the Holy Land. (While we created the list with the president in mind, we won’t mind if you take advantage of it too!)
A Taste of Tel Aviv
Janna Gur, chief editor of Al Hashulchan (On The Table) magazine, suggests the president spend 24 hours in Tel Aviv focusing on gastronomy rather than diplomacy. “He’ll have a hard time pushing the peace process, so he should have some fun in Tel Aviv,” she said. Here are her recommendations:
Breakfast Obama should start his day with a proper Israeli breakfast at Manta Ray, a restaurant that specializes in fresh fish and seafood with a hearty breakfast menu, says Gur. “He should have shakshuka, and Israeli salad, because we’re the only people who eat salad for breakfast,” she said. And don’t forget to order the coffee. “He should have some good Israeli coffee,” she adds.
Lunch After a hearty breakfast, it’s time to move on to a tapas-style lunch at Chadar Ochel, “It has the feel of a kibbutz dining hall, but the food is new Israeli cuisine. I would recommend he try the chopped liver and the Sephardic dishes on the menu,” says Gur.
Market Visit Later in the afternoon, Obama can listen to the First Lady’s advice and visit the country’s most popular farmers market for a snack. The Kitchen Market, a restaurant located over the farmer’s market at the Tel Aviv port, serves light seafood, pasta and pizza dishes made with ingredients sourced fresh from the market. “The food there is sophisticated, and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset,” comments Gur.
Dinner “…should be at Haj Kahil, an authentic Arab cuisine restaurant in Jaffa,” Gur offers. The restaurant’s stellar haleb-style kebab (kebab in a tomato sauce and Aleppo pepper) and siniya (a ground meat dish with tahini or tomatoes) are items one would usually have to go to the Galilee to taste. According to Gur: “Obama should order the mezze to start, and then the stuffed lamb neck with toasted green wheat.”
Haaretz food writer Ronit Vered would want Obama to actually travel to the north of the country for what she considers the best authentic regional cuisine. But, if he cannot venture beyond Tel Aviv, then Vered recommends Rephael, chef Raphi Cohen’s restaurant, instead. “Cohen melds his family’s North African roots with modern techniques he learned in France and local ingredients to create a modern Israeli cuisine,” Vered said. The stuffed vegetables, sigarim (meat-filled “cigars” of phyllo dough), and the “haute cuisine” couscous are must orders.
Nightcap Since we’re talking about the city that never sleeps, a nightcap would be in order at Nanuchka, a Georgian restaurant-bar on Lilenbloom Street. “He can enjoy some Kerem Shvo wine along with the Georgian music,” Gur says. If he still has room for a midnight snack, the president could try some Georgian dough pockets, like lamb-filled chinakli, cheese-filled chachapuri or chebureki (also filled with meat, but also deep fried).
Take a Break From the Meetings in Jerusalem
And what about Jerusalem, where the president will be for many of his meetings and official appearances? He’ll need an escape for sure.
Food writer and The Jew and the Carrot contributor Katherine Martinelli says that if Obama has time for only one meal out in the capital, it should be at Machneyuda. “This boisterous restaurant near Mahane Yehuda [Jerusalem’s market] serves clever modern Israeli cuisine that is influenced by what’s available at the shuk,” she said. “But even better than the food is the environment, which is fun, loud, and embodies the Israeli spirit. It’s hard to leave the restaurant without a smile on your face.”
The must order item, says Martinelli is: “chamshuka/shikshukit, one of the mainstays of the otherwise constantly changing menu,” Martinelli suggested. “On the surface it’s just hummus with ground meat. But most recently it was served with tahini-yogurt sauce as well as a dollop each of amba (an Iraqi pickled mango condiment) and zhug (a Yemenite hot pepper paste), making the dish — at least in my mind — a clever nod to Israeli street food and all its international influences.”
Gur agrees that a stop at Mahane Yehuda market is a must for President Obama so that he can taste some “Israeli soul food,” as she put it. “They’ll just have to evacuate the whole market so he can do so.”
Side Trip for Dinner
A trip up north for dinner might not be in the cards, but Vered argues it’s worth the trek. If Obama can spare the time, she recommends Diana, a generations-old family-owned restaurant in Nazareth where they chop the meat for the kebabs right in front of you with a special knife bought in Bethlehem. The mezze salads there are delicious, made with local wild herbs.
Do you have any recommendations for President Obama? Leave them in the comments.