In another world, I think I'd be a food critic. Eating out is one of my favourite things to do, especially when I get the chance to try new dishes. So, naturally, when on our recent trip to Israel, Rach and I leapt at the chance to try the many wonderful foods the country has to offer. I was that annoying girl who took photos of our meal before anyone was allowed to eat, but capturing these sexy pictures was worth it. Today, I want to give you the down-low on our favourite Israeli-Middle Eastern dishes.
Since returning from Israel I've been making an effort to adopt more sustainable kitchen practices, so this post will also offer a few of my thoughts on how this process is going. I'm going to write a more in-depth post on this topic at a later date, but for now I invite you to join in with this food-filled conversation.
So, my fellow foodies, the ones who don't know what to cook for tonight's dinner, and my sustainable kitchen warriors, let's get into it.
Shakshuka is an Israeli classic - and for good reason. Originating from The Maghreb, also known as Northwest Africa, Shakshuka is a popular Israeli dish and is as common in Israeli cafes as a fry-up is in British ones. Made from poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onion and spices, Shakshuka is both easy to make, healthy, and delicious. Benedicts - Israel's favourite breakfast restaurant - wins first place for their Shakshuka. Served with bread rolls and a fresh Israeli salad, it was the perfect post-beach brunch.
2. Frozen Yoghurt
I've always been an ice cream lover, so I was slightly sceptical about frozen yoghurt. However, I must eat my words. Light, refreshing and customisable, the frozen yoghurt from Golda's - the popular ice cream and frozen yoghurt shop in Israel - quickly became the topic of our evenings. With Golda staying open until 11 pm, Rach and I spent most nights eating frozen yoghurt and playing cards with locals who were passing by for ice cream. As you can see, Rach opted for a respectable berry and granola topping, whilst my sweet tooth couldn't resist a sugar overload.
3. Sloppy Joe Burger
I totally appreciate that this is not strictly Middle Eastern nor is it particularly relevant to you unless you're planning a trip to Florentin, but I thought this burger deserved some recognition. A small restaurant hidden amongst the bustle of Florentin's busy streets, Benz Burgers offers the best sloppy joe burger I have ever tasted. In fact, this burger was so unbelievable that we ate here about five times and each time was just as mouth-watering as the first. Benz Burgers is rightly popular, which was good news for the stray kitten who lived on that street. Customers would often be seen sharing their food with the cat, who we named Lila. She also has great taste and ate half my Sloppy Joe.
4. Falafel and Hummus
When I say that this was the best falafel and hummus I have ever tasted, I say it with conviction. Rach and I spent a day a few hours north of Tel Aviv, in Haifa, where Rach's sister lived for a year. Upon recommendation, she told us to visit Abu Shakker, a small, humble cafe on the side of a busy main road. Ran by an older woman, the cafe was welcoming and incredibly cheap - even by British standards. Fourteen pieces of falafel, two boxes of rice, vegetables, a huge bowl of hummus and five pittas, only cost us around £14 - and it was all included in their 'falafel meal'. PSA: the hummus we buy in Britain is unsurprisingly not the real deal, and a trip to the Middle East should be on the bucket list of all chickpea lovers.
5. Lemonade and Fuze Tea
Last but by no means least is Israel's lemonade. Again, the lemonade we drink in Britain has nothing on this sweet, still and minty refreshment, and once we discovered that the lemonade served to us wouldn't be the artificial 7-up we're used to at home, we ordered this with practically every meal. Whilst fresh, 'proper' lemonade can be found back in Britain, it is not as widely available as it is in Israel. Fuze Tea was another drink we lived for. Similar to Lipton's ice tea - but better - Fuze Tea's peachy, refreshing flavour makes it a much-loved favourite.
I did spend the majority of our holiday bloated but I easily have no regrets. One of my favourite things about travelling is discovering new cuisines and exploring other cultures, of which food is always a massive part. The Middle East is a region I've barely touched and I can't wait to continue exploring it.
So, was this food-filled adventure sustainable?
When we returned from Israel we only had to endure a couple of weeks of rainy Scottish weather before the heatwave hit the UK. With temperatures reaching unprecedented levels - in some parts of the UK temperatures were higher than in Tel Aviv - the heatwave was not simply a freak of nature but a sure sign of the damaging effects of climate change.
As a politics student interested in sustainable development and climate politics, the heatwave was a dangerous example of how climate change is eroding away not just our Earth, but also the life we live and know. This got me thinking about where the responsibility to combat climate change lies: it is often pushed onto the individual as opposed to the corporations and politicians who call the big shots.
In Israel, Rach and I bought food most days and as a result, we were consuming a large amount of plastic. To make matters worse, Tel Aviv had little to no recycling stations and so all of our waste ended up going straight in the bin. The environmentalists inside of us were deeply uncomfortable as the situation was out of our control.
This got me thinking about how I consume food back home in the UK. The kitchen is the one place I consume the most plastic and similar to in Israel, how to dispose of this plastic is often not in our control. The vast majority of plastic food packaging I consume is non-recyclable, and the recycling bins on my street also don't permit plastic packaging to be recycled there. Consequently, my food journey in Israel reminded me that regardless of how to dispose of plastic, consuming it will always be problematic.
Consequently, until corporations and politicians take more stringent action against environmentally harmful practices, individuals must continue to do their best; and everyone's best is different. This is just food for thought (pardon the pun), but if we are to enjoy eating out and trying new cuisines, we must also be aware of growing food insecurity, and of how we consume and dispose of the food we eat.
I'm going to write a separate article at a later date offering some of my favourite sustainable kitchen tips and habits that I've learned, so keep an eye out for that. And of course, if you have any tips yourself, be sure to let me know.