People who try to tell me that vegetarian food is dull, boring, tasteless, are just plain wrong. The only boring vegetarian food is bad vegetarian food.
Some of the most delicious and exciting meals I’ve ever eaten have been those of the meat-free variety – meals with real depth of flavour and full of exciting spices, each mouth full more satisfying than the last. A great deal of those kind of meals were consumed over the six days that I spent in Tel Aviv, a city which is packed with great vegan and veggie restaurants which have since inspired me to be far more creative with the veggie food I cook at home. You can read more about my trip and how I felt about it, here, but this blog post is for the sole purpose of showing off some really good vegetarian meals.
Easily a contender for the national dish of Israel, Shakshouka consists of eggs poached in a rich sauce of tomato, chilli, onions, pepper and spices (often cumin). Because of the eggs, it is a popular choice at breakfast, but can be eaten at any time of the day. It almost always comes served in a wide metal pan, and thick chunks of bread are used to mop up the spicy sauce and bright yellow yolks. The one in the picture above was eaten with a Bloody Mary at the beautiful Manta Ray restaurant overlooking the ocean (see below), but the most famous Shakshouka comes from the cool and quirky Dr Shakshuka in Jaffa old town which is not to be missed.
I am on the hunt for a decent version in Cardiff – watch this space…
2. Israeli / Arabic Salad
It’s so damn hot in Tel Aviv (around thirty-five degrees every day that we were there) that the cold refreshment of a good salad is hard to beat. Bursting with freshness and flavour, my favourites were found at a gorgeous little restaurant called Puua in the old town of Jaffa. The boys in our group were desperate to watch the footie one night, so we were chuffed to find Puua on a quirky little side street with a huge outdoor TV set up at the end of it. Sitting under fairy lights on a leafy street, alongside 30 or so others drinking wine and eating great food (whilst the boys bonded over football) was one of the best experiences of my trip.
3. Extras, loads of extras!
Almost every restaurant in Tel Aviv will offer an ‘Israeli salad’ to accompany the main meal for a small price (usually a couple of pounds). The price tag may be small but the portions are massive! Plate after plate of olives, shredded salads, oils, breads, and rice – kind of like an Israeli tapas selection. Not once did we manage to finish all the extras, but they were a great way to add more variety to mealtimes, and taste a bit more of the local cuisine.
4. Silky Smooth Hummus & Crispy Falafel
It was only by eating hummus in Israel that I realised how bad the stuff from the supermarket really is. The hummus in Tel Aviv is silky smooth, garlicky, zesty, and a million miles away from the lumpy, claggy stuff we munch on over here. We tracked down the world famous Abu Hassan‘s to try what is widely considered to be the best hummus in Tel Aviv – alongside a variety of fresh salad, green chilli sauce, and some hot and crispy falafel straight from the fryer. It was dead cheap too.
Again, I am on the hunt for a UK equivalent…
5. Deep-Fried Cauliflower
I make no secret of my obsession with fried chicken; it’s one of the main reasons I’m not a fully fledged vegetarian. I have managed to search out a few free-range places, but it was the discovery of deep fried cauliflower with aioli at Puua restaurant (again) that made me start to wonder if I could actually go fully veggie after all. Every bit as satisfying as the chicken version but with half of the fuss and mess of the bone, the crispy batter covers cauliflower that still has a satisfying bite. I might have had terrible garlic breath for the rest of the evening, but it was worth it. Going to try and make this at home soon.
For more info about Tel Aviv’s food scene, check out hungryintelaviv.blogspot.co.uk.