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Sharna’s top ten foods to eat in Israel

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02/11/2011

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This week Shorashim will speak to thousands of applicants for Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. They will have many questions about Israel, about the Israelis who are on the 10 day trip, the accommodations, and what clothes to bring. They also will ask about the food.

Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim provides meals to the participants, with one meal per day that the 18 to 26 year olds supplement. The participants are fed really well, and that's what they want to know. What I want to tell them though is very different. First let me say, I am not a foodie. While some people like going to fancy restaurants, I like to eat foods that are flavorful, but not necessarily considered delicacies. So while Israel has amazing cuisine up to par with European standards, I simply have some favorites that I cannot live without while I'm working there. Some are readily available to Taglit-Birthright Israel participants; some they have to seek out. Like the United States, Israel is a melting pot of cultures from around the world that have brought their traditional foods to the country. So while Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim participants will experience Israel's multiculturalism when they meet Israelis from all backgrounds, they will also taste it.

1. Cucumbers
Israel has the best cucumbers in the world. They are crisp and mouth watering and available at every meal. The only substitute in the U.S. is something called Persian cucumbers and I've seen them occasionally at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

2. Dannon Yogurt with accessories
In Israel they have Dannon Yogurt with little containers of chocolate candy, sprinkles and cereal attached to it. You dump it into the yogurt, stir, and yum. The yogurt tastes better as it is because the dairy is so fresh there and with the added bonus of a little dessert attached, it makes for a great snack.

3. Marzapan
At the Mahane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem, you can find yourself elbowing, like a football player trying to make a first down during the Super Bowl, to get a dozen or so of the freshly baked chocolate rugelach as well as the other tasty baked goods. You may leave with a bruise or two, but it's entirely worth it when that first tasty piece of dough with chocolate melts in your mouth.

4. Hot Chocolate from Aroma
Aroma is a cafe that is ubiquitous throughout Israel. They put their own chocolate pieces at the bottom of hot milk and then you stir to make the best hot chocolate in Israel and maybe the world. Even if it's 90 degrees, you will see me with a cup of hot chocolate from Aroma in Israel.

5. Schweppes Pomegranate
While pomegranate has become the rage in the United States with costly Pom in every grocery store, in Israel for a few shekels you can buy Pomegranate Soda that carbonates this delicious fruit into a delicious drink. If I become desperate for Schweppes Pomegranate in the U.S., I will buy the Pom and combine it with seltzer. It isn't the same, but it does get me through until my next trip to Israel.

6. Halumi cheese
Typically found in salads throughout Israel, this is fresh goat cheese in pieces, fried so that it is partially melted and extremely flavorful. Sometimes Halumi cheese is made with cow's milk, but it isn't as good.

7. Hummus/Tehina/Babaganoush
While these foods are found throughout grocery stores in the United States, their taste just does not match the freshly made preservative free versions throughout restaurants in Israel. There are even restaurants dedicated solely to hummus with toppings. If you find yourself in Tel Aviv, check out Mashausha on Pinsker and Bograshov Streets in Israel. If you like mushrooms, get the hummus im pitriyot, a delicious combination.

8. Kubbeh
Kubbeh was brought to Israel by the Kurdish and Iraqi Jews. Kubbeh is a dumpling filled with meat and bulgur and can be found frequently in meat based or beet soups. It's similar to kreplach, but more flavorful.

9. Krembo
A chocolate covered marshmallow treat atop a light crust. Unfortunately, it's hard to find Krembo in the summer because it would melt too easily. In the winter, it is a staple of Israeli children.

10. Halava
Again, while there is Halava in the United States, there is nothing like the Halava found in the Shuks of Israel. This sesame based dessert has many flavors and I like to drink it with sweet hot tea.

In the comments section, tell us what your favorite food is in Israel. Is there something I should try on my next trip? What must every Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim participant try while they are in Israel?

Registration for Chicago Community Taglit-Birthright Israel trips is on Feb. 15. Go to http://www.israelwithisraelis.com to register.

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