Nov 11, 2012

The beauty and the beast of living in Tel Aviv

Whether you’ve lived here for 15 years or are visiting for the week, Tel Aviv exudes a unique personality that is both gleefully intoxicating and unnervingly independent.  It is a hub of opportunity with a bubble of limited access.  It is a metropolitan epicenter and a little-big city.  A city that never sleeps and could be a country of its own.

There are pros and cons to every city, every town, every village in the world.  No one place is universally flawless or disastrous.  I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for two months now, and I thought I’d share some of my experiences from the light and the dark sides of my stay.

Israeli attitude:
Pro: This has more to do with Israel in general, but since Tel Aviv is such a busy city, I’m face-to-face with more each day.  Israelis are very blunt.  They say what the feel, whether good or bad.  There is no beating around the bush.  I’ve always fought off some stage fright just before I make a phone call for an interview (it always goes away once I begin), but living in Tel Aviv has helped my desire to pull a Forest Gump and run away before I ask an obvious question or ask for someone I don’t know on the phone.
Con: The concept of constructive criticism just doesn’t exist.  If you do something wrong, you’re going to know.  If you’re used to hearing something like, “I like the way you were taking this, but maybe try this direction instead,” get ready for, “That’s not what I want, do it again.”  As long as you have a tough skin, this doesn’t necessarily have to be such a bad thing.

Grocery shopping:
Pro: I live about 10 minutes from HaCarmel Market.  I love walking there and coming home with fresh produce hanging from bags on my arms, sometimes full from a 3 shekel mint-lemonade or carrot juice.  The culture of the large-scale marketplace is new to me; I couldn’t get that in my 100,000-person hometown in Florida.  I have a pita guy, a tomato guy and an onion guy.  To cook dinner each night, all I have to do is walk down the street and take my pick.
Con: If you get annoyed by large crowds walking at a snail’s pace, try to avoid the market on Fridays.  I usually can’t because that’s when the work week ends.  But that’s when everyone’s work week ends.  Get there early for the good produce, and expect to take longer than during the rest of the week.  It would be a great time to go watch everyone swarm the stands, but if you’re going to shop, expect to walk into a few carts when the person in front of you simply stops walking.

Pro: Well, it’s bacon.
Con: I don’t eat pork in the States.  It was my reminder of and connection to Israel and being Jewish.  However, since I’ve been here, I’ve ignored that concept.  Several people have told me it doesn’t matter because I live in Israel, so why do I need to prove to myself that I’m Jewish?  I guess not by whether or not I eat bacon.  And it tastes so good.

The new workweek:
Pro: Since we work Sunday through Thursday here, Monday is almost Humpday!  I have time to do my errands on Friday, which can be crowded, but it gives me all day Saturday to relax.  Even though I work the same number of days per week, it feels shorter.  The workplace is generally more informal, too.  You’re judged based on your work and your initiative instead of your attire and formality.
Con: Saturday is a weeknight.  That took some getting used to.  I usually only get up early on a Sunday morning to go to the beach or grill outside.  The weekend does feel shorter sometimes if Friday is taken up with rushing to get my errands done before Shabbat.

My living conditions:
Pro: I live on King George Street, about five minutes from Dizengoff Center.  I could not have asked for a more central location.  Anything I want is within stumbling distance or a short walk.  Feeling spontaneous?  I’ll stroll down the street after a coffee or bourekas for some shopping.  Or to Dizengoff Mall.  Or Shenkin Street.  Feeling low on funds after a spontaneous shopping trip?  I’ll swing by the six-shekel falafel stand for dinner.  Or any type of restaurant I may crave.  Feeling a lack of melanin?  The beach is calling and is only a 20-minute walk away.
Con: If you couldn’t tell from the previous description, I have no money.  But I live in a huge city, so that can be expected.  However, my daily rant usually involves pointing out that my window is facing King George.  To say it’s loud may be an understatement.  Every bus, every scooter, every car, every screaming drunk person walking home at night.  I tried to watch a video with a friend, and she asked if we could close the window so she could hear.  I though the bottom of her jaw might fall off when she realized the window was closed.  It’s just that loud.  My kitchen also consists of a sink and a hot plate that turns off when it gets too hot.  Needless to say, home-cooking has been interesting.  Vegetables and chicken are easy, but meals with multiple parts to cook must been done one at a time.
When dinner must be made using one hot plate, it's best to make it a potluck to involve multiple hot plates.
Like this!  You can manage a nice Rosh Hashanah meal with minimal cooking conditions.

So, yes, there are some cons to every pro.  And I’m sure I’m going to experience new comparisons in the coming months to add to this list.  However, I love Tel Aviv, and since you’re reading a blog about Tel Aviv, hopefully that means you love something about it, too.  The pros beat the cons, whether it’s food, work, people or living.  So keep it coming Tel Aviv; I’m ready.

Oct 30, 2012

Follow this recipe video to make a delicate chocolate beet cake. Naturally moist and just the right amount of sweet. 

Jul 5, 2012

You Know You're in Israel When...

There is a phenomenon that has swept Israeli beaches. I can not tell you historically how long this phenomenon has been around for, but I can say, it doesn’t look like it’s leaving any time soon. It’s called “matkot”, and at first, it seems like the Israeli national sport. But I think there’s more to this game than meets the eye. 

Matkot is essentially ping-pong without the table. The paddles and ball are a bit larger, and the game is often more intense. There is no way to avoid matkot on the beach. Usually men play it at the very edge of the shore so that you have to dodge matkot balls in order to get into the waves. (In fact, I’ve been hit quite a few times, leaving glorious bruises on my arms. If only they weren’t so rough...) You can’t fall asleep in the sun without the sounds of the balls hitting the wooden paddles. And of course, it is impossible to not watch the men at play. Why? You know the answer. If there’s anything Israeli men do better than flashing you a smile and delivering a hopeless pickup line, it’s playing matkot. 

"Matkot" injuries. : )

Their sweaty bodies drip with each smack of the matkot ball. They grunt as they reach for a hit. And then when the ball drops... well they have to bend down to get it, naturally. (And since most of them are wearing underwear as bathing suits, it’s usually a good show.) 
But I think there is more to matkot than some athletic sport. In fact, I think matkot is a plumage demonstration, a peacock show if you will. It gives the men an opportunity to show off, not only their skills, but their bodies. And it works! Because how do we respond, ladies? We sit and we watch! (And we drool, and we breathe hard, and we stutter when our friends try to elicit responses from us.)

We whisper to our friends, “Oh, he is CUTE!” And after each ball drops we stick out our chest, flip our hair, and pray, “look at me, look at me, please look at me”, as they run over to get the ball, without giving us the smallest glance. Another missed opportunity. 

To the ladies who sit and watch matkot all day, with the prayer that one of these studs will put down the paddle and sweep you off your feet... you’ve been sitting in the sun too long. This won’t happen; stop waiting for him to come to you. The days of lying on your towels and waiting for your hunk of Middle Eastern glory to notice you are no more. There are hundreds of girls just like us on the beach, nothing differentiating us from the beautiful Israeli girl lying next to us. (Except for the fact that she is a beautiful Israeli girl. And since she will steal the show... get up and do something!) 

So here is it, my solution to your daydreaming woes: volleyball. I realize that not everyone has the “bump-set-spike” down pat. Don’t worry about it, this is not about your skills. It’s about... your feathers. You’re going to want to make sure that you do NOT play this game in your t-shirt. Remember, this is about sticking out... so stick them out! Take your hair down, head into the shallow water, and with a friend, commence the game. 

Since you are in the shallow water, you will be awfully close to those matkot men. The ball will roll away, and they will have to stop to get it for you. Furthermore, now that there is actually something to watch other than matkot, many eyes will be on you. Put on a smile. Let the ball fall in the water as you crash into the waves. Say “todah” when your knight in shining armor rescues the rogue ball for you. And when you are done, walk back to your towel, lie down... and wait. They’ll be there in a few minutes. 

Gentlemen, the beach is the world’s largest catwalk. And I’ll be damned if I let you steal this show. So, ladies, when you have to compete with delicious Israeli men, grab the bigger balls (the volleyball that is) and assume the position. You'll get the attention you want. Don’t forget to dodge the matkot balls on the way into the shore. They will be there; that’s how you know you’re in Israel.

Jul 4, 2012

Cooking with ONE Hot Plate

If you've just moved to Israel, will only be staying for a short time, or simply haven't gotten around to buying a stove... you'll want to know how to cook with nothing but a hot plate (which is likely the only thing you have). Fortunately, I've created a video that details the perfect hot plate meal, and what you can do with your extra time while that meal cooks. (For the record, "Beit Leni" is the name of an apartment building in Tel Aviv. This will make more sense once you watch the video.)

Enjoy this short clip, and of course... "beteavon"!

Jul 2, 2012

Baby Bites: Child friendly places to eat in Tel Aviv

Cafe Sonya
Simtat Almonit (off King George) Tel Aviv

Highchair availability: Yes
Price: Moderate
Kosher: Not Kosher

Ahhh, Summer in Tel Aviv. Whether you are a native or an import, it means one thing for sure: guests. There are always weddings and occasions in Israel over the Summer that means overseas guests will be around and about and of course, need to sample the local fare, but not in a falafel/shwarma sort of way - more in an ice coffee, limonana barad sort of way. For anyone who has made an international trek with a toddler on board, they deserve the very best, most relaxing experience possible. 

Now, everyone always wants to go to the landmark places; Dizengoff, Sheinkin, Shuk HaCarmel. That's fine. But when you need a bit relief from the sun and craziness, Cafe Sonya offers quite a treat. It's a beautiful, very family friendly little oasis just down the road from all of these ventures. Located on a tiny alleyway called Simtat Almonit, just off always-manic King George Street, Sonya offers a huge, shaded courtyard out the back of a small storefront where you can enjoy a wide range of goodies, with an excellent kids menu too. 

On my most recent visit a few weeks ago, I was with my son and had met with friends of mine visiting from Australia with their 1.5 year old in tow, or "Hurricane Tal" as they liked to refer to him. We had just been at the shuk and were looking for some cool, quiet, tasty relief. The staff immediately showed us to a table out the back with ample space for both strollers. Though it was a little difficult to move them around the stone covered courtyard, we could be sure they weren't going anywhere. They brought us menus in both Hebrew and English and again, like any good place should, brought water straight away. A particularly lovely element of Sonya is their kids menu, which is part of the larger menu and has some really cute drawings in it. Often, kids menus can mean staple crap - plain noodles, shnitzel (or nuggets) and chips - Sonya instead offers the kind of food you would rather see your kids eat -  sliced veggies and a hardboiled egg or omlet, toasted cheese sandwiches on whole wheat (which my little one devoured), sliced fruit, and shoko (chocolate milk) in those awesome plastic cups everyone had when they were little with the inbuilt straws. So three iced coffees, a toastie and a shoko later, we were set. 

I have the privilege of a kid who likes to sit on my lap and eat. Most likely just because he isn't quite walking yet so eating is the next most fun thing to do. My friends' son, however, IS already walking and is super curious and excited, so he was enjoying the garden and his shoko on-the-go. No problem; the staff helped him navigate his way around and gave him a napkin to wipe off his milk moustache. When the little explorer came and joined us for a cuddle and some toastie, we managed to have a little accident with the shoko. My son loved it, licking the sweet treat off his hands and sucking on his shirt. I was just drenched. The staff was great; they came to help clean me and my handbag off and even refilled the little monkey's shoko because he lost a bit of it. The way it should be. Truly family friendly with a smile!

Sonya's menu is diverse and delicious; their shakshuka, lasagne and salads, from my experience, are always fresh and beautifully presented, and they offer several kinds of each, as well as vast array of huge sandwiches, gorgeous cakes and a variety of other baked goods. They also have a great breakfast and strong, fresh coffee, all set upon a bright and colorful stage with stylish Tel-Aviv vintage architecture in the background. As a mum, this a quite a nice place to be able to eat and relax and take a quick breather from the madness of the city just outside of the shaded walls of the courtyard. Although not the most immediately accessible place for a bite, its a great "hidden secret" amongst the many little laneways and side streets that so often get missed by tourists in the grander scheme of enjoying the city for a few days. Highly recommended with or without guests or kids, but totally worthwhile for both as well.