Sometimes you find yourself in a tight spot, only to find out later that what you thought was your bad luck at work turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Imagine that, I almost left Israel without tasting Eggplant and Eggs Pita Sandwich (Sabich). That would have been nothing short of a tragedy.
If you’ve followed my culinary adventure in Israel, this is the last part, the part that ended somewhere around the time a snowstorm caused all the airports in the US East Coast to be shut, and my flight home cancelled. I wasn’t a happy gal, giving my nine-year old the news that mommy might take some more time to get home almost made me want to cry. It was my luck that my friend Bren was also staying longer in Israel, so we decided to go out and explore Tel Aviv on our own.
A day with Bren is an adventure in itself. That and how we came home with several pair of shoes, including some amazing handmade ones, is a story for another day!
But first let me tell you about the last days of our tour, right before some of it slips out of my memory.
We spent most of the tour in Tel Aviv, a city that had many surprises reserved for me. I frankly had very little idea of what it would look like, aside from the fact that I knew it was a very cosmopolitan city. That part was indeed true.
Tel Aviv is a city of contrasts: buildings in serious need for some TLC right next to architectural treasures. A bike-friendly city with rental bikes available to anyone, and drivers who are a little too impatient, and where the sound of horns is the “national anthem” (or so I was told). Mind you, it’s still light years ahead of our own hellish traffic, but it was a bit of a surprise for me.
Amazingly, I loved the city, warts and all. All around there was a sense of exuberant youth to it that just clicked with my own cultural DNA.
I have to be honest with you, at this point I was so exhausted that I don’t remember everything that happened in Tel Aviv, but this much I remember: the food was memorable.
We made it to the city on Friday, on the eve of the Sabbath, and we had been invited by Itamar Davidov, a well-known Israeli Chef, to a non-traditional Sabbath eve dinner. Our gracious hosts opened the doors of their beautiful home to us and treated us to a very unorthodox (pun intended) array of dishes that mixed Jewish with Mexican traditions.
The following day we left our home in the city, the very artsy Hotel Diaghilev, for lunch at Claro, a restaurant in a most unusual location. Imagine that, spectacular cuisine served in the former headquarters of the Mossad.
A dinner at North Abraxas Restaurant turned from “I’ll hate myself in the morning but I just can’t pass on this, or that” to a 30-minute discussion on green beans and garlic. Which is what happens when you travel with food bloggers. And then a whirlwind tour of the bar scene with fancy drinks, trendy digs and crowded watering holes of which I remember little, despite the fact that I was stone-cold sober at the end of it.
After a tour of the “Shuk Levinsky” Market with culinary journalist and television personality Chef Gil Hovav — who Aunt Ilana may or may not have met in a previous life — I met the incredibly gracious Michal Marom, a local food blogger and mother of two, who invited me to her home and treated me to something I had never tried before: Polish-Jewish food. Up to that point I thought that “chopped liver” was just an expression. I loved everything, especially cooking with her, her honest answers to my machine gun-like questioning, and the trip to her neighborhood supermarket. Now I have to teach her how to make mangú.
What was supposed to be my last day in Israel started with a morning visit to Dallal Bakery in one of the more upscale and old parts of the city, and a tour of the kitchen with Pastry Chef Aner, which ended with a tasting of the sinfully-good pastries from their kitchen.
Lucky we did go around walking, because no sooner had we polished off our breakfast we were heading for lunch at MantaRay Restaurant for a Mediterranean-inspired lunch by the beach. This is where I tried the great Shakshuka with halloumi that inspired the recipe I shared with you two weeks ago.
Later that night we met for a cocktail and to meet and say goodbye to all the people who had made the trip a memorable one. I was supposed to fly home that night, alas, it wasn’t to be, but you’ve already heard about that.
So there I was, aggravated with no one in particular (the weather gods, perhaps?).
We walked around aimlessly and just found ourselves in a large craft fair that takes place, as luck would have it, twice a week on that very same day. This turned out to be the most expensive part of my trip. I can not stress this enough, but if you find yourself in Tel Aviv, do not miss the Nachlat Binyamin arts and crafts fair, it’s the perfect place to go home with some beautiful handmade gifts.
And while you’re there, try the freshly-made orange and pomegranate juice.
There are as many theories about the origins of sabich (I have seen it spelled sabih and sabikh too), as there are versions of it, but there’s one thing most Israelis seem to agree on: this is probably the first Israeli dish. Sure, all the parts seem to have come from elsewhere (The salat yerakot yisraeli [Israeli Vegetable Salad] is from Palestinian and Arab origin. The huevos haminados [Oven Eggs] are of Sephardi [Spanish Jewish] origin, and tahini is used all throughout the Middle East) but it was in Israel where somebody first stuffed all this into a pita bread.
Like you would expect, every vendor keeps their recipe behind tight lips, and some of those versions are going to be very difficult to reproduce elsewhere.
Inbal, whom we met for dinner, knew just the place to try this dish: The Happiness Joint, where two surfer dude-looking young men seemed very suspicious of my camera and questions. Luckily they relaxed once I told them why I was in Israel, and they felt at ease about sharing that the amazing drink that they serve as “Happiness Juice” was mostly based on ginger and pineapple, no psychoactive substances whatsoever. I have to say I felt ever so slightly disappointed that wasn’t the case.
- Also read: Shakshuka: Eggs on Tomato Sauce – In Israel, Part 2
- Also read: Rice with Lentils and Fried Onions – In Israel, Part 1
- Dry skin of 5 purple onions
- 1 teaspoon of coffee
- ½ teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate
- 6 eggs
- 3 medium eggplants, sliced very thinly
- 3 tablespoons of salt
- 1 cup of vegetable oil (corn, canola or peanut)
- ¼ cup of tahini
- ¼ cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (or ½ tablespoon of lime juice)
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 sprig of flat parsley, chopped
- 2 cups of diced tomatoes (about 3 large tomatoes)
- 1 cup of diced cucumber (about 2 small cucumbers)
- 1 small purple onion, chopped very small
- 3 tablespoons of chopped flat parsley
- 6 pita breads
- Place the onion skin, coffee, bicarbonate and eggs in a deep oven-safe bowl. cover with water plus 4 inches [14 cm]. Cover with a tight fitting-lid and place in the oven at the minimum temperature it reaches. Cook for 3 hours.
- Remove from the liquid, gently tap against the countertop to crack the eggshell but without peeling. Return to the oven, cover and cook for another 2 hours. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven until it reaches room temperature (about another hour).
- Remove eggs from the water (discard water and onion peels), peel and cut the eggs into quarters. Set aside.
- Place the eggplants in a deep bowl. Cover with a quart [1 lt] of water and add the salt. Let it rest for an hour. Remove eggplants from the water, rinse and squeeze as much water as possible. Pad dry with a paper towel.
- Heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Deep fry the eggplant slices until they turn golden brown. Let them rest on a paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Set aside.
- Mix all the ingredients until you have a thick but pourable sauce (you may need to add a bit more water).
- Set aside.
- Mix all the ingredients.
- Set aside.
- Halve the pita bread, stuff with salad, eggplant, and eggs. Drizzle with tahini sauce to taste.
A common addition to this is Amba and Skhug, the latter of which I have made and absolutely love.