Sunday, July 22, 2012
A small part of my nutritious daily breakfast in Israel: tomatoes with za’atar (hyssop), olives, and cheese. Not pictured: gaboons of smoked fish and multiple cups of espresso.
In Israel, breakfast is not simply a meal. It is a challenge that has been elevated to an art form.
I'm speaking of the buffet breakfasts served at the better hotels, where a veritabobble cornucopia of comestibles stares you in the face and dares you to make a selection. You cannot possibly eat everything that is laid out before you - hell, you can’t even sample everything. There’s simply too much.
Most of us have trouble making these sorts of decisions even as we are still wiping the sleepy sand from our eyes. What to eat? What to eat?
There’s typically a huge assortment of fresh vegetables and Mediterranean-style salads. Gorgeous tomatoes... cucumbers... peppers... onions. There’s a mind-boggling variety of cheeses and yogurts, including less-familiar (to Americans, anyway) items like Bulgarian feta and labneh. You like fish? There’s fish a-plenty, ranging from gravlax to poached salmon, pickled herring, matjes herring, smoked mackerel.
Now, this is a Cheese Aisle: some of the daily breakfast selections. Especially popular in the Galilee are the world-famous cheeses of Nazareth.
With all that cheese, you’ll want some dried fruit - prunes and/or apricots - to keep from getting, ahhh, backed up. Take your pick.
If you’re a carb hound, not to worry. There are breadstuffs galore: bagels (sometimes), fresh-baked loaves of whole-grain bread, croissants, sweet pastries, crackers, and crispy toast slices. Cereal, too.
Waffles? Check. Pancakes? Check. Omelettes made to order? Check. You can even get a blintz... or ten.
You want some local flavor? There are bourekas, a Mediterranean staple consisting of phyllo or puff pastry dough crammed with various fillings: potato, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, et alia. Or try shakshouka, eggs poached in a piquant tomato- and chile pepper-based sauce - Israel’s answer to huevos rancheros.
To stay hydrated, have some fruit juice, mineral water, tea, or coffee. Have a cappuccino or espresso made to order. Have several!
The one thing you won’t find at most places offering the classic Israeli breakfast is meat of any kind. Breakfast is a dairy meal, which means no meat of any kind, consistent with Jewish dietary laws. (If you want meat, come back for supper... or lunch on Saturday afternoon.)
You can eat yourself silly at one of these affairs. The Missus and I each had to adopt a food selection strategy that would enable us to survive two weeks of monster breakfast buffets. In my case, I chose to focus on a few simple items: vegetables (the tomatoes were to die for, packed with the kind of real tomato flavor that is but a distant memory for most Americans), a little dried fruit, a few pieces of cheese, and a pile of smoked fish. It’s the kind of breakfast that was the perfect jump-start to our frantic days of running from pillar to post in the broiling heat, despite its potential for generating deadly fishy ’n’ cheesy halitosis. Thank Gawd for choon gum, eh?