Lest I leave you with the impression that if you go to Israel, you’ll come back with a high bilirubin count, let’s talk about the food. It’s incredible, every single morsel.
Because Israel is surrounded by countries that are, at best, ambivalent about her existence, Israeli food is largely produced within its borders. In our travels we passed olive trees, date trees, banana trees, grape vines, and pomegranate trees dripping with fruit. The bananas were so tasty, J. refuses to eat another Chiquita.
(By the way, I don’t recommend eating an olive straight from the tree–it’s not a pleasant experience. Squeeze it and watch the oil ooze out, but cure your olives before you take a bite. I learned this lesson the hard way.)
Then there are the milk products, the yogurt and labneh and white cheese, which is a loose facsimile for our cream cheese but smoother and much tastier. Because so many restaurants and hotels in Israel have kosher kitchens to accommodate the religious Israeli residents and the tourists, many kitchens exclude meat from their menus. There isn’t enough space in this small country to produce a lot of meat. Rather, there is a very large sea known as the Mediterranean that is bursting with fish, and since fish can go either way–it can be eaten with milk products or with meat–the fish is aplenty.
Now imagine that all of this food finds its way into the buffets of the typical Israeli breakfast at hotels. This meal is often included in the cost of the hotel. We call it “Israeli breakfast” while Israelis call it “breakfast”. Whatever you call it, it is a perpetual exercise in self-restraint.
Imagine a variety of yogurt and cheeses, granola, dried fruits, and preserves. There’s smoked fish and tuna salad alongside a variety of breads and rolls. Add in eggs in various preparations, perhaps in spicy tomato sauce, or as an omelette to order. Of course there are sliced tomatoes, olives, and a mishmash of salads, including Israeli salad (which Israelis call “salad”). It’s finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Then there’s the stuffed pastry with savoury fillings like mushrooms or cheese.
Finally, there’s dessert breakfast, usually consisting of babka, i.e., chocolate- or cinnamon-swirled heaven, and halvah. Halvah is tahini and sugar, with added flavourings like cocoa powder or pistachios or whatever you can imagine, pressed it into a block. For immediate sugar shock, shave some halvah onto your babka.
If Israelis ate breakfast like this every day, they’d all be morbidly obese. The full Israeli breakfast is purely a tourist phenomenon, not that I’m complaining.
You won’t be surprised to learn I gained 10 lbs over the course of 14 days. But you may be surprised when I tell you that J. gained 0 lbs eating as much or more than me. Then we came home, and within one week on my strict low-sodium diet, I was back to my fighting weight.
I’ll admit it feels crummy to gain 10 lbs in 14 days, but losing 10 lbs in a week more than makes up for it. Best diet ever. You’ll come back with your bilirubin level intact, but if you gain weight, it’s all on you.