Exploring Israel: What Would Jesus Eat?
Travel writer and guidebook author Andrew Evans has just returned from a trip to Israel, where his eating experiences were downright heavenly.
“Don’t eat too much bread” seems odd counsel coming from the guy who baked it, but Israeli chef Moshe Basson doesn’t want me filling up on carbs, no matter how great it tastes. As a leader in the slow food movement, he values patience and tradition–the menu at his Jerusalem restaurant, Eucalyptus, is fully inspired by the Bible. Strange herbs mentioned in the Book of Psalms turn up in his appetizers and the kitchen prefers clay pots to Tupperware. The chef’s attempts at classic Old Testament meals are sinfully delicious, like his lentil soup with boiled yellow lentils and hyssop, or the braised lamb with pomegranate.
As the world becomes increasingly health conscious, both Jew and Gentile have renewed their focus on a Mediterranean diet and the natural products of the Holy Land, namely figs, barley, wheat, grapes, dates, olives, cheese, and fish. What’s more, because Israel suffers from a severe water shortage, sustainable agriculture has been a way of life ever since Noah’s ark. My drive across the Judaean desert took me past the kiwi-fruit kibbutz and date plantations that keep Europe in fresh fruit. “Clean and green” is the new culinary mantra there, and it seems like every rooftop gutter directs runoff to a nearby fruit tree.
Travelers in the land of milk and honey should check out Mizpe Hayamim, a self-proclaimed “health farm” surrounded by clean air and mountain views of the Sea of Galilee. The organic kitchen supplies two in-house restaurants (one vegetarian) with the same local ingredients mentioned in the Gospels. The daily catch of tilapia is still known as “St.
Peter’s Fish” and served with lemon butter sauce and baked vegetables. The farm animals are all free-range and hormone-free, and whatever food gets left on your plate goes back to their trough.
Also, the goats, sheep, cows (and buffalo) are milked to create well over a dozen types of cheeses, all of which appear on the breakfast buffet. But my favorite touch was the 24-hour “tea bar” loaded with fresh herbs, all picked that day (apparently, a cup of sage tea cures jet lag).
A little further north in the Upper Galilee, farmers are turning water into wine at the Galil Mountain Winery. Only seven harvests old, this label is so kosher the winemaker never touches the wine, only tastes it. So, if you’re looking for a good Cabernet Sauvignon that follows the code of Leviticus, here it is.
Back in the city, shoppers can find their own Biblical meals in the outdoor markets. Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda is down the road from the old city’s Jaffa Gate and carries everything from stewed figs and Jerusalem artichoke to frankincense and myrrh. In Tel Aviv, take a stroll down the chaotic thoroughfare of the Carmel Market and sample Sephardic specialties from across Asia and Africa. I can vouch for the pumpkin-filled Bukharian pastry, the pickled green almonds, black Persian lemons, and the Yemeni yogurt balls. Still, it’s the bread, both leavened and unleavened, that makes my mouth water and brings back forgotten Sunday school lessons. Indeed, devouring a loaf brushed with fragrant olive oil and sprinkled with salt and herbs is a religious experience.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photos: Andrew Evans