Eating in Israel for fuel and pleasure

Eating in Israel for fuel and pleasure

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I recently came back from a week-long Krav Maga training camp in Israel. This was my first time in Israel and my first time participating in a training camp of any kind. However, I had an idea of the format and intensity based on the instructors course I did in February. I had also done some research on food availability and pricing in Tel Aviv. This post summarises my experience on eating in Israel for fuel and pleasure.

Previous experience

My previous experience with Israeli cuisine included shawarma, shakshuka, hummus and falafel. However, I was unsure of how much better they’d be in their county of origin.

On the other hand, my previous experience with this kind of training led to the following conclusions:

  • I wasn’t hungry after very intense sessions
  • I had no desire to drink alcohol until the very last day
  • It was good to keep breakfast consistent: coffee, yoghurt, psyllium and peanut butter
  • The supplements that worked for me were collagen with breakfast (i.e. before the morning session) and electrolytes during/after the first session
  • A second coffee after lunch was good for alertness on the afternoon session
  • My regular carb distribution throughout the day worked well: lower at lunch, higher at dinner

Food availability and cooking facilities

I did some research to find supermarkets, cafes and restaurants close to where I was staying. This included looking for gluten-free options as I’m gluten intolerant.

My hotel room had a minibar, a microwave and a kettle. There was a supermarket literally next door and many restaurants/cafes nearby.

The strategy

I decided to replicate the model of a fixed breakfast and variable lunch and dinner. This would allow me to try enough local cuisine while maintaining a solid and consistent start of the day. I was not planning to drink until the last day of the camp.

I was told that coffee was not that good, so I packed a bag of Campos ground for cold brew, a large protein shaker and my nut bag.

Cold brew

I also packed the following supplements:

  • Collagen peptides (Bulletproof)
  • Electrolytes (Ultima)
  • Whey protein isolate (WPI, True Protein)
  • Creatine monohydrate (True protein)

Finally, I brought some snacks just in case:

Supplements and snacks

The implementation

Plane food

I flew Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong and ordered gluten-free meals. Sometimes I avoid bread and desserts, but this time I ate most of the food. I also had a glass of red wine with lunches/dinners.

The food, drinks and service were pretty good. Special mention for breakfasts, which were fantastic: steak and eggs with cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes + fruit + bread (Hong Kong to Tel Aviv), omelette and chicken with roasted capsicum and potatoes + bread + yoghurt (Hong Kong to Sydney).

Perhaps my only complain is that they don’t provide salt and pepper on trays.

Daily food

  • Breakfast: For breakfast I bought a few individual tubs of plain yoghurt, one tub of cottage cheese and a jar of peanut butter (PB). Later I bought some gluten-free crispbread to add to the mix. This is when I had my collagen, either mixed with cold brewed coffee or the yoghurt.
  • During workout: 1 sachet of electrolytes at each session (morning/afternoon)
  • Lunch: out + 1 scoop creatine
  • Post-workout: 1 sachet WPI
  • Dinner: out +/- drinks

Breakfast stuff

Food and drinks in Israel

These are my observations based on 9 days in Israel:

  • Dairy is really good
  • People eat lots of vegetables
  • Meals generally come with free pickles and bread. Unfortunately, most restaurants don’t have gluten-free bread.
  • There are many vegan/vegetarian options
  • Many labels on packaged foods are written in Hebrew. Google Translate is your friend.
  • Most restaurants have English menus (some also have French and Russian)
  • There are multiple 24-hour eateries, including a chain that serves all-day breakfast
  • Many businesses, including cafes and restaurants open until late
  • A lot of businesses close early on Fridays and don’t open on Saturdays due to Sabbath
  • Common food and drink businesses sell fruit juice, shawarma, hummus, falafel, sabich. There are also a lot of Italian and sushi restaurants.
  • There are less gluten-friendly menus than in Australia
  • You can order instant coffee in cafes (but why would you??)
  • Service is normally not included on the bill
  • Service is quite “casual” and “relaxed”
  • Alcohol is widely available at all times (including breakfast)
  • There are plenty of good beers (including local and craft) available. However, I couldn’t find gluten-free beer.
  • Wine selection is usually not that great. Prosecco is not widely available, sparkling wine choices are normally limited to cava and Lambrusco.
  • Bars and pubs do table service, which is messy when ordering and paying

Fruit stall

Eating in Israel for fuel and pleasure

In general I found the food in Israel amazing, with plenty of vegetables and flavour. This makes eating healthy very easy. Below are my highlights for the trip:

Dinner at The Old Man And The Sea

The Old Man And The Sea is a restaurant in Jaffa with a strict no bookings policy. Even though the venue is massive, chances are you will line up for at least 30 minutes for a table. Once seated, you’re served a plethora of side dishes (similar to banchan) plus a pitcher of refreshing homemade lemonade. This is included with any choice of main (you can also pay 55 shekels (~AU$22) for just the salads). Mains are pricey and, to be honest, not worth the money. The falafel, on the other side, is the fluffiest and most delicious many of us have tried ever. My suggestion: pay for salads only and order extra falafel. Mint tea or coffee and dessert are also complimentary. The 104 shekels I paid (~AU$41.50) was the most I spent in a meal during this trip.

The Old Man And The Sea

Sabich

Sabich is basically a fried eggplant and boiled egg sandwich in a pita. But it’s way more than that. It has lots of vegetables, hummus, tahini, fried potato slices, and magic. We tried it at Sabich Tchernikhovski, a very popular small shop near the Carmel market. They have regular, wholemeal and gluten-free pita. Plus, the pickles are free. I paid 28 shekels (~AU$11) for a gluten-free sabich.

Sabich

Like sabich, falafel is another inexpensive street food served in pita with vegetables, hummus and tahini. However, you can ask for it to be served on a plate (or takeaway container). This was my cheapest meal: 20 shekels (~AU$8… it was 15 in theory but the cashier put my change directly in the tip jar).

Shawarma

Shawarma is the equivalent to gyros and kebabs, except that in Israel it’s served with hummus, tahini and pickles. It’s a popular dish in takeaway and late night venues. You can choose between flatbread (wrap), pita or on a plate (my choice).

Shawarma

Shakshuka

This is a famous breakfast dish of eggs poached in a flavourful tomato sauce. It’s normally served with bread and tahini. Many places offer a variety of fillings (e.g. feta cheese, eggplant, merguez sausage, smoked goose). Many places serve it with a side Israeli salad (chopped tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and parsley). I tried a couple, my favourite was the one at Cafe Dizengoff, ordered with feta and served with salad, tahini and gluten-free bread.

Shakshuka

The markets

We visited the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. Both were great for seeing what locals buy and eat, including an amazing array of colourful spices, nuts, seeds, olives, pickles, breads, pastries, etc.

Olives @ Mahane Yehuda Market Spices @ Mahane Yehuda Market
Bread @ Mahane Yehuda Market Halva @ Mahane Yehuda Market

Hummus as a meal

Besides having it as a side dish, you can also have hummus as a main meal. You can choose toppings such as chickpeas, pine nuts, tahini, minced beef, etc. It’s served with bread and complimentary pickles. Sadly, many places don’t offer gluten-free bread, so I had to eat it with a fork or spoon.

eggplant and hummus with beef

Kosher food

There are many kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv offering things I’ve only known from TV and podcasts. We tried things like chopped liver, cabbage rolls and calf liver jelly. Interesting stuff. There was also a stall selling different types of babka, which was apparently good enough to justify an entire Seinfeld episode.

Babka @ Carmel Market

Summary

The intensity of training was not as high as I was expecting, so I ended up eating more than what I needed for fuel mainly because I wanted to try all the things and most of the food was amazing. Therefore, I did not eat any snacks.

The electrolytes were essential for staying hydrated. Drinking water is good to replenish lost fluid but not minerals lost through sweat. In addition, the electrolytes (as a supplement or in food) aid in water absorption – water alone gets peed out.

It was a good idea to take creatine and protein on a daily basis as the composition of my meals varied widely.

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