By Lucy Mallows, Photo-reporter, Hungarian translator and beach-cleaner living near Brighton
Sunday 18 Feb 2018 9:00 am
Firstly, I must make an admission: I’ve been a vegetarian on and off for around 30 years.
I even tried, for health and eco-reasons, to go full vegan last year.
But living with, and cooking for, a rabid carnivore, it was getting complicated, exhausting and expensive.
So, I jumped at the chance to explore, and learn from, the many delights of veggie and vegan cuisine on a trip to the Holy Land.
And if, as a by-product, I got in some winter sun on the beaches of Tel Aviv, then so much the better.
We spent four days at the end of Veganuary, mooching through the markets of Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem, hands full of stuffed pittas or falafels, and with a babka (a sweet, yeast cake) never more than three paces away.
Here are some things to look out for on this veggie pilgrimage:
Tel Aviv is a vegan metropolis
Tel Aviv calls itself the ‘vegan capital of the world’ and with reason.
Even if it’s not a strictly vegan restaurant, you can always find a non-meat option.
I asked local vegan Levana about her top four vegan places, and they are:
We visited during the wonderful festival of Tu Bishvat, celebrating ‘the birthday of the fruit trees’.
We gorged on walnuts, almonds and dried fruit. I also tried the most delicious, buttery, giant dates.
Humus, hummus, houmous – which ever way you spell it, it’s delicious.
I’m still none the wiser as to spelling, but I do like my humus served with warm pitta bread, a liberal sprinkling of za’atar (a herb, or dried herb blend) and a slosh of olive oil.
The Humus Café in Tel Aviv’s Ha’Carmel Market serves it by the bucket-load.
Our visit to the 150-year-old Al Jebrini tahini factory in Jerusalem’s Old City was unforgettable.
The same block of basalt stone has been grinding sesame seeds from Ethiopia, Chad and Nigeria since the place opened.
Tahini must be healthy, as grandpa worked in this family business from age six to 106 and lived to 118 years.
This tahini is so fresh, it will keep in the fridge for two years.
Tel Aviv’s favourite falafels are found here and £5 buys an enormous lunch or try the sabich (£5.50), a scrumptious mix of fried aubergine, hard-boiled egg, potato, tahini and salad.
A glass of freshly crushed juice is a wonderful way to get vitamins on an energy-sapping hustle around the markets.
It’s ruined the supermarket carton liquid for me for ever.
This tasty blend of ground sumac berries, thyme, sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt is everywhere.
It’s sprinkled on pizzas, breads, soups, you name it, it’s taim (delicious).
Sabra and tonka
At Mousseline ice cream parlour in Jerusalem, I was intrigued by the tonka and sabra flavours.
The Tonka beans come from Venezuela and have an intense vanilla flavour.
Sabra is a prickly pear cactus. Our guide, Mika, said: ‘It’s what we, Israel-born Jews, call ourselves, as from the outside we appear tough and prickly, but inside we are sweet and soft.’
Mahane Yehuda Market
Jerusalem’s popular shuk (marketplace) is a whirlwind of sight, sound, tastes and aromas.
We tried knafeh; a cheese and syrup concoction, vine leaves stuffed with rice, lemon and za’atar, and handfuls of almonds.
Don’t miss this Georgian bistro in Jerusalem.
They offer the classic hachapuri; a divine dough roll filled with soft, white cheese and egg and a generous knob of butter, baked to a crisp in the oven.
Shakshuka is a comforting north African dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce.
Bino Gabso, also know as Dr. Shakshuka, sits in his Jaffa restaurant, surrounded by his fans.
He’s a legend of lunchtimes.
Visit Hanan the Cheesemaker at his little paradise farm at Herut, north of Tel Aviv.
Hanan and his family make a variety of cheeses, and the menu offers the chance to pick your own lunch from the vegetable patch.
The Garden Vegetable Plate (£7.50) comprises of salad, kohlrabi, carrots, and avocados, straight from the tree.
Anita Gelato and Yoghurt
At Anita Gelato in Tel Aviv’s leafy, arty Neve Tzedek district, I tasted dairy-free halva ice cream and a scrummy, icy blend of caramel cookies and soya milk.
Pull the Carrot
Pick your own giant strawberries, tomatoes and carrots at Pull the Carrot, a family-run farm, which is a 30 minute drive north-east of Tel Aviv, near Tzofit.
This area is known for its Turkish, Greek and Iranian immigrant heritage, dating back to the 1920s.
Top chefs visit Levinsky’s timeless shops for fresh spices, dried fruits and hand-roasted coffees.
Café Levinsky 41 has superb teas, coffees and pastries, which you can enjoy in a converted van parked outside.
A woman on a mission, Adi Cohen Siman Tov, holds vegan cooking workshops in her apartment in the village of Modi’im.
We chopped and blended, and Adi converted even the most stubborn carnivore in our party.
We seemed to spend the whole time stuffing our faces with homemade chocolate halva (sweet, dense confections), Turkish-style gözleme (folded and filled flatbread) with tabbouleh and lemon and incredible bourekas (stuffed pastries) with mashed potato and egg, deep-fried and served in a pitta pocket.
Jaffa Orange Juice
The breakfasts at the Market House hotel were quite spectacular, with fresh breads, eggs, avocado toast, fried aubergines, olives, fruit salad, cheesecake and nuts.
But, when in Jaffa, I had to start the day with freshly-squeezed orange juice, except when I drank fresh beetroot or fresh carrot juices. Wow.
More information at Go Israel
How to get there
British Airways flies London Heathrow to Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion International, with a flight time of around five hours.
No visas are required for British passports; instead of a stamp in their passport, travellers receive a removable slip of paper.
£1 gets you 4.4 NIS (Israeli New Shekels)
Where to stay
Arthur Hotel, Jerusalem
Charming boutique hotel in the heart of the city
Market House, Jaffa
Boutique hotel in Jaffa, superb breakfasts, all-in happy hour(s), convenient for everything.
The Norman, Tel Aviv
Stunning hotel near Bauhaus-influenced Rothschild Boulevard, with a superb restaurant.