In February 2019 I flew to Israel for a week’s holiday with my friends Mark, Clare and Clare. It was the first time for all of us and we were very excited to finally be in the Holy Land. We were there to meet the people, see the sights, and most of all, eat the food.
Although Ben Gurion Airport looks very close to Tel Aviv it only takes 24 minutes to travel on the train in the opposite direction to Jerusalem on the newly-opened King David Line. After we arrived at Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem we took the light railway for two stops to Zion Square in the downtown area where we were staying. You’ll find everywhere I mention on my Google map.
We stayed in the small but comfortable Ben Hillel Boutique Hotel which is very well located in the area known as the The Downtown Triangle, a triangular-shaped district formed by Jaffa Road in the north, King George Street in the west and the pedestrianised Ben Yehuda Street to the east. For tourists it’s a good area to stay in as it’s well-located between the two principle sightseeing areas; the Old Town and Machane Yehuda market, more of which in the following posts.
The hotel didn’t serve breakfast, but that wasn’t an issue as it allowed us to sample some of the great breakfast spots in the downtown…
Tmol Shilshom (Intermediate A), 5 Yo’el Moshe Salomon Street, www.tmol-shilshom.co.il
Since opening in 1994 this literary cafe and bookshop has become a hub for some of Israel’s most famous writers and literary events are held regularly there. The restaurant is named after a novel by Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon. Tmol Shilshom means “those were the days” and the restaurant is located a rambling building that’s over 130 years old. The reason it appeared on my radar is that it according to some, it serves the best Shakshuka in Jerusalem.
Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, and olive oil, often spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. It was first brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews and now enjoys popularity all over the world (see my Fremantle post for example). The house menu boasts three options. We passed on the Vegan Tofu version, and although the Baladi Shakshuka with eggplant and labaneh (strained yogurt) looked interesting, we went for the classic Hearty Morning House Shakshuka with roasted peppers. This was served with small bowls of olive tapenade, tahini and pesto, with homemade bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee as well. I love shakshukas and regularly make them at home (recipe here), and yes, this was a very good one (A). I’d definitely have tried the rest of the menu with more time.
There’s another good place just down the road…
Kadosh Café Patisserie (Intermediate A), 6 Queen Shlomziyon Street,
This is a very buzzy and popular spot, for good reason as the food is excellent and you can sit outside on the street and watch the world go by. The menu has many classic dishes. I had the Croque Madame French Toast; a pair of fried brioches, one stuffed with Gouda and the other with Saint Mor cheese, served with bechamel sauce and topped with a fried egg, sunny side up. It came with a green salad with apples, beetroot, Silan (date syrup), walnuts and a coffee.
However they are most famous for their pastries and cakes which some say are the best in town. Don’t remember what it was (a Danish by the looks of it) but I do remember enjoying it. All the food and drinks here were top notch (A).
Café Betzalel Elementary B+), 8 Betsal’el Street, www.haaretz.co.il
Another breakfast spot a five minute walk from the triangle. It came up in my research but when Omer from Casino de Paris (see post) recommended it, I decided to investigate. It’s a modern spot with limited space outside but with some tables on the pavement. I had a rather healthily severe but quite traditional breakfast of anchovies with scrambled egg and unexpected side dishes of beetroot, tomatoes, pickled herring, carrot and cumin and tahini, all collectively scoring a B whilst not really being what I wanted for breakfast. Sadly the Jachnun, a Yemenite Jewish pastry that I had come to try, was off that day. While not as good as the places above, Betzalel is still a good choice on Saturdays when many other places are closed for the Sabbath.
For backpackers another place to stay is the Abraham Hostel
abrahamhostels.com at 67 Ha-Nevi’im Street near Machane Yehuda. They also seem to be the biggest tour operator around and we used them for a trip to the Dead Sea on our last day.
It was okay, our driver was a real card, but the sea itself was a bit, erm… dead.
As you can see from the pics, there’s not a lot to to attract the eye there, unless you like watching lots of elderly people smearing themselves in mud. We did a bit of that ourselves but luckily the photos haven’t survived.
The drive over the barren landscape was kind of interesting, and I guess the Dead Sea is something that needs to be ticked off, but I wouldn’t go again for fun. It turned out the spa we went to was actually in Jordan but I can’t really say I’ve seen the country.
An early morning start in the old town next…