n my first trip to Israel a wonderfully
dreamlike experience was my first Israeli
breakfast. I was staying at The Basel Hotel on
Ha Yarkon Street, a major thoroughfare which
runs more or less parallel to the Mediterranean coastline of
Tel Aviv. Looking past the imposing Hilton and Plaza hotels
on the beach side of the street, I could just make out the
cerulean waves of the sea rolling in as I made my way to the
dining room for a buffet breakfast.
Imagine my surprise to be greeted by a fresh, colorful array
of fruits and vegetables. It included salad for breakfast
— cucumber, bell peppers, tomato, parsley, all so finely
chopped you could eat it with a spoon, but salad nonetheless.
A rich array of fruits — Galia melon, grapefruit, nectarines,
plums, Jaffa oranges… all perfectly ripe, fresh and chilled.
To complement these items, there was cottage cheese —
extremely popular in Israel and considered a “basic” food
— as well as tahini, hummus, yogurt, labane (a yogurt-based cheese), and, much to my delight, pickled herring and
smoked salmon. Bagels, blintzes and pita bread rounded
out the menu.
Israelis are big consumers of instant coffee, and in Hebrew
instant coffee is called “café nes” (literally miracle coffee).
For many years I mistakenly thought the American brand of
coffee Nescafé took its name from Hebrew, but it is actually
named after the Nestle family. Israelis also enjoy good
strong Turkish coffees in the cafes, and when Starbucks
tried setting up shop in Tel Aviv they failed miserably.
I was in Israel on business, and part of my trip took me to
Jerusalem to visit clients. Once I was there I could not pass
up the opportunity to visit the Old City. After visiting the
Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter, I found myself next
door in the Muslim Quarter, amidst an awe-inspiring melee
of sound and color. The vendors’ drab clothes juxtaposed
impressively with the multi-colored array of many different
fruits on one street, clothes and souvenirs on another,
The covered bazaars of this most densely populated quarter
of the Old City are characteristic of the Middle East, and
I was in a culture akin to the one that had dominated my
childhood home of Spain for centuries. The last bazaar I
had seen like this was in Granada in southern Spain. The
wares and the faces of the vendors were almost identical.
Ceramic plates and olivewood signs that read “Shalom” in
three languages (English, Hebrew and Arabic) were for sale
on every corner. Crucifixes and other Christian imagery
were unapologetically on display in a country where
neither of the majorities, Jewish and Muslim, believed in
any kind of religious idols. Brass and nickel coffee pots and
vases, wide bangles and earrings, beaten leather belts and
handbags, glass wares of all shapes and sizes — all vied for
attention while the hot Mediterranean sun tried to filter its
way through the palm trees and the roof tops.
by Ruthie Spiero