Sep 25, 2011

A City that Never Sleeps

By Taly Matiteyahu

During a recent family dinner, my uncle said, “Tel Aviv is the city that never sleeps.”  Having spent the last four years in Manhattan, I couldn’t help but object.  “New York is the city that never sleeps.”   He scoffed, saying there was no other city in the world like Tel Aviv.  My love for New York aside, my uncle had a point.

While New York may never shut down, with stores that stay open 24-7, a lively nightlife scene in various neighborhoods, and a public transportation system that always runs, the city does sleep.  The Financial District, which is overwhelmingly bustling during the daytime, becomes eerily calm and quiet after business hours.  The Upper East Side bar scene is tame on weekday evenings.  When there is bad weather, people quickly opt to stay in rather than go out.  While New York may be called the city that never sleeps, New Yorkers certainly do.

I think part of the difference between New York and Tel Aviv is weather-induced.  The climate in Tel Aviv is such that people want to (and can) enjoy spending time outside.  While it can get quite hot during the day in the summer months, the weather in Tel Aviv is pretty wonderful. Plans to go out are practically never hindered by rainstorms or snow.  Taking a walk or run on the tayelet (the boardwalk along the beach that runs from Yafo to Hatzok Beach) during the sunset, feeling the cool breeze against your skin, hearing nearby street musicians—it’s addictive in a way strolls along the Hudson River never were.

Tel Aviv is not just awake 24-7, but it’s also alive.  People go out every night of the week, whether to Tel Aviv restaurants, bars, cafes, or the beach.  That’s not to say New Yorkers don’t go out—they most certainly do.  But Tel Aviv has something New York doesn’t… and I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly what the distinction is.

In the two weeks since I’ve arrived in Israel, I know I’ve only started to experience the Israeli lifestyle.  While I am Israeli (I was raised in America by Israeli emigrants) I’ve never visited Israel for more than a month at a time.  So far, I’m thrilled with life in Tel Aviv, despite constantly wishing I were better oriented with the city structure and geography as I was in New York.  I know such knowledge and familiarity comes with time. I’m looking forward to getting to know Tel Aviv better, even if it means continuously debunking the notion that my beloved New York is not the city that never sleeps, but only city that never sleeps.

Sep 14, 2011

Taglit-Birthright Israel - With a Culinary Focus

Two of our favorite concepts are colliding; the appreciation of food and the appreciation of Israel. Taglit-Birthright Israel has brought over 300,000 young adults from all over the world to Israel for their first trip. They are planning a trip this winter through IsraelExperts, and the trip focuses on the foods of Israel! While every day we marvel at the mix of ethnicities here in Israel, as our country is made up of people who have immigrated from all corners of the globe. This phenomenon of immigration has profoundly affected Israeli culture in many ways. We will be the first to tell you how Israeli cuisine is one area where this mixing-pot effect can prominently be seen. Middle Eastern, Russian, North and South American, Ethiopian and Asian flavors permeate the streets of Israel creating a modern culinary fusion that is totally unique and incredibly delicious. It is impossible to wander the streets of Israel and not be overwhelmed by the wide array of smells and foods that are an undeniable staple of Israeli life. The culinary trip that IsraelExperts plans will allow participants to visit and learn about all of Israel's major tourist sites, with a focus on experiencing the uniqueness of Israel from a culinary perspective. I wish this trip was available when I did my trip back in 2005, or even when I staffed trips when I first made Aliyah. I enjoyed all of my experiences and made it a point to try and experience as many restaurants in Israel as possible, but joining a trip with a focus on food?! If you haven’t been to Israel and have even the tiniest inkling… I wouldn’t hesitate to join this trip.

Past Culinary Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips have included visits to the following places:

  • The spice tour in Israel’s most famous outdoor market, Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.
  • Learned how to make traditional Israeli and Middle Eastern foods such as humus, falafel and schwarma.
  • Wine tours in some of Israel’s best vineyards to learn about Israel’s award winning wine culture.
  • An innovative agricultural farm in the desert called Shvil Ha'Salat that grows some of the most unique and delicious fruits and vegetables in Israel.
  • A bakery in the old city of Jerusalem to learn about how fresh pita is traditionally made. 

If you are interested, we have gathered the following information for you:

Registration for the trip opens on Wednesday September 14th at 10:00 am EST. For more information and to sign up please visit

Need help registering? Here are more instructions. 

Sep 12, 2011

Hippo Falafel

Written By: Shira Nanus

If you were to stand on Dizengoff, stop ten people, and ask them, “What’s your favorite place to eat falafel in Tel Aviv?” you’d probably get around ten different answers. Ok, at least eight. The point is every Tel Avivian has their most coveted falafel joint, the place they swear won’t disappoint, that they happily give their business to and recommend time and time again.

But what about organic falafel? If you repeated the above experiment but asked passersby for their favorite place to eat healthy falafel, then you’d probably get the same ten responses, which would most likely be Hippo Falafel. With two locations opened in the city center in the last five years, Hippo is the place for healthier salads, falafel, and hummus that are delicious without the inflated price tag often associated with organic food.

Dima Kaminsky worked in the falafel business for many years before the mid-1990s when he noticed a healthy, organic food trend in Tel Aviv. He realized no such thing existed for falafel, a meal often associated with “deep-fried” and “fast food”. “All the ingredients in a falafel are healthy, but when put them together it can become unhealthy,” said Ido Breier, Hippo’s long-time manager. “People in Tel Aviv want to eat Israeli food but they won’t because it’s not healthy enough for them.” Thus Kaminsky set out to create a more nutritious falafel, and not just the balls but the whole sandwich and all its components.

He tested different ways to prepare falafel balls and discovered when frying falafel in canola oil it creates a fluffier ball that absorbs less oil that is “not good but not bad”. In addition, he invested in a specific deep fryer that extracts the oil while the falafel is being cooked. When the falafel is ready it is left without a single extra drop of oil.

Kaminsky further uses a recipe that satisfies the needs of his healthier and diet-restricted customers, such as those with a gluten intolerance. While Ido, shied away from sharing Hippo’s “secret” falafel ingredients, he did emphasize the elimination of flour, which creates a less dense, moist falafel ball.

This was my impression of Hippo when I tried it for the first time some months ago. The falafel wasn’t dry or too crunchy as other eateries in Tel Aviv. I didn’t get oil all over my lips and fingers. It was tasty, almost tastier than the other falafel places in Tel Aviv that I’d frequented for years, and it was a pleasure to eat. This is also the fresh factor: Ido and his kitchen staff arrive at seven each morning to prep, cut, and cook the ingredients that is delivered daily from the market. And it pays off: aside from the yummy falafel, the sauces and salads supplied as add-ons taste crisp, natural, and are packed with flavor.

Hippo doesn’t use any food colorings or added preservatives. Pita comes in white, brown, or soy. Chickpeas for the falafel and hummus are grown on chemical-free organic farms. The salads and sauces are classics with a twist: “green tahini”, a parsley and tahini puree, chimichurri, savory tomato salsa, and quinoa salad with mint. And everything is fair game: you’re welcome to all the salads behind the counter and all ten sauces at the do-it-yourself condiment bar (those are unlimited, so I highly recommend ordering your falafel to stay). The restaurant is named after a vegetarian animal, and the ingredients are so nutritious and fresh it didn’t offer fries on the menu until three months ago due to local pressures. Bottom line: this is the place to eat for a filling, healthier meal and when you want falafel minus the calorie count.

And what price do you pay for this wholesome sandwich? Twenty shekels for a plate, 17 for a falafel, and 11 for a half (but get this: it’s a shekel less at the Dizengoff location). Ido actually claims Hippo has the biggest “half falafel” in Tel Aviv because they only cut off ¼ of the pita. Did I mention you sip green tea on the house while waiting for your order?

“We believe when everything is fresh it’s better,” said Breier. It tastes better and it’s best for our customers, who are seeking healthier choices in what they’re eating.”