Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sahlab - An ethnic Middle-Eastern winter pudding

It seems strange to think that the winters here in Israel can be cold, sometimes even freezing.

We are so used to reading (and writing!) about the hot summer sun, camels, deserts and sand. And how one cannot survive the excruciating heat without drinking gallons of water or eating buckets of ice cream.

Israelis CAN and do basically eat ice cream throughout the winter months but there is a special warm, very local, very Middle-Eastern pudding called sahlab that should definitely be tasted.
A cup of warm sahlab topped with cinnamon on a cold winter's day

Sahlab is a sweet milky custardy pudding with a very distinctive taste. Apparently in the olden days milk was warmed and thickened with sahlab powder, made by grinding the tubers of special orchid. These days I am pretty positive that it is thickened by adding cornstarch and maybe a lick of commercial  sahlab powder.

Whatever. It is still very tasty and satisfying! :)

One can even make it at home, for an easy recipe, check out this site: Sahlab recipe. I once tried a cocunut milk version that did not turn out very successful but I think it was because I was not generous enough with the sugar.

But if you find yourself in Israel, in the winter, do yourself a favour and give it a try at the nearest sahlab stand. You are sure to come them across in the markets, beach fronts and other tourist hangouts.

My daughter and I had the cup of sahlab in the photo in an upmarket coffee shop in Dalayit el Carmel, a Druze village in the northern part of Israel. There was no wrinkled old person standing on the street and stirring the huge sahlab pot while shouting out to everybody to try a cup. Instead, after ordering it from the menu, a young Druze girl made it for us from the steaming milk of the cappucino machine.

It was warm, thick, spicy and with a distinctively Middle-Eastern taste. The methods may have changed but the warm sahlab tradition is still very much alive and tasty in the Holy land!

March 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

10 things to see and do in Acco, the ancient harbour city in Israel

The fascinating old city of Acco is found in the northern part of Israel, about half an hour's ride north from Haifa. The modern city of Acco, that surrounds it, is actually a bit boring ..or maybe it just seems a bit watered down against the historical old city.

You can however spend just five minutes in the ancient old harbour city and you will be transported in the blink of an eye to the times of the British mandate, the Ottoman empire and to when the Crusaders ruled the Holy Land.

You will surely walk were Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Marco Polo and Napolean Bonaparte have walked so many years ago.

There is a lot to see and explore and many little alleyways to get lost in. If you really want to explore Acco's old city I would suggest a pair of comfortable walking shoes, enough water to drink, a map and more time than you think you need. And oh yes, be prepared for some strong smells from the fish stands dotted throughout the market.

Fish stands with the day's fresh catch are dotted throughout the markets.
Every time I visit Acco, I see another part of the old city that I have not yet seen before. So here is a small (ish) list of ten things to see and do in Acco. Some are free and for others you will have to pay a fee.

1. Explore the Templars' tunnels
2. Have a look at the beautiful Turkish bath (hamman el Basha)
3. Explore the ancient city walls that wrap around the city

Parts of the ancient city walls are slowly crumbling away but the most of them are still intact.
4. Visit the market place that are filled with spice shops, fruit and vegetable stands, fish stalls and restaurants.
5. And of course, you HAVE to get something to eat...

I highly recommend eating at the hummus shop of Abu Zaid that is smack in the middle of the market. And for something sweet, try the freshly made baklava or knafe just a few stalls down. And all throughout the old city you can find, especially in the marketplace, stands selling freshly squeezed fruit juices

6. If you want, you can go and have a look at the Al-Jazzar Mosque which is the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem. Be sure to be modestly dressed though.

Minarets and palm trees tower over the ancient buildings.
7. If you are lucky, you may find an old Templar's church open so that you can have a peak inside like I did.

I consider myself very lucky to finally be able to peek inside this old Templar's church. I think (not 100% sure) that it is one of the few Roman Catholic churches in Israel. Most of the ancient churches here are Greek Orthodox.
8. For 10 shekels you can go for a short boat ride and see the old city from the sea.

Arab women taking selfies while we wait for our boat to fill up with people so that we can look at Acco from the sea.

9. Have a look a the Turkish bazaar. The stalls in this little market sell mostly souvenirs and clothing. It smells a bit better but is not as interesting as the main market.

10. Pay a visit to the Citadel. This is my favourite historical site in Acco. It was built by the Crusaders and was used as a prison during the British mandate time. And of course, there was a daring prison break in 1947 by members of the Jewish underground.

At first glance (and smell) Acco will seem a bit run-down and neglected but it is that very "rough-around-the-edges" side of it, that make it such an interesting place to visit. Make sure to come and experience this authentic and history-rich city.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tisha be'Av - A historical mourning day

Another year, another war.

It has been awhile, but once again we find ourselves in another war. The IDF (Israel Defence Force) and Israeli nation are standing strong but it is still a sad time here in the holy land. Not only are we vilified in the international press for protecting ourselves, but too many young soldiers are dying defending us.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Cry and Pray together

The three mothers of the kidnapped teenagers comforting each other.

Living in Israel is just waiting for for an argument to erupt.

Not only are the Israelis VERY vocal in sharing their opinions, they also never seem to agree about anything.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ode to the Israeli bus drivers and other lessons from the Universe

"Coming home" -  an Israeli Egged bus
Coming from South Africa, a country with a very dismal public transportation system, I was happy to discover the wonderful public busses here in Israel. As Au Pairs, none or my friends nor I owned a car but we managed to criss-cross the country by bus. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Counting the Omer


 The period right after Pesach (Passover) and just before the height of the summer is lovely in Israel. The days are nice and sunny though the evenings can be quite cool and one can still snuggle under a duvet at night.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten tips for photographing wild flowers in Israel

Israel may be a tiny country but you would not guess it by the amazing large range of wild flowers found here in the Holy Land.

The wild flowers bloom in the short period of time between the winter rains and the heat of the summer, or the short-lived spring time. Depending on the winter rain and the weather, this can be anytime from mid- February to April.
The shy Cyclamen usual opens the wild flower season

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Amazing Metal Work found in Israel

The architecture found in Israel is pretty amazing.

People have been building here in the Holy land since ancient times. And they left some pretty amazing buildings from the times that they lived here in Israel.

From the Western wall in Jerusalem, churches,synagogues, museums to apartment blocks build in the Bauhaus style - there is some pretty interesting buildings to see. And while you look around you a bit and try and figure who and when these buildings were build, have a look at the amazing metal work found here in Israel.

Modern balcony railing

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sukkot - The Holiday of Little Huts

A very patriotic sukkah

All the Jewish holidays have special customs and traditions that make then quite distinctive from each other.

So if you are eating doughnuts and lighting a menora, you know that is is Hanukka. In the Jewish New year, Rosh haShana, one eats pomegranates and listen to a shofar. At Yom Kippur you fast and in Sukkot you sit in a little hut.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What is the connection between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year?

Another year and another Jewish New Year, or rather Rosh haShana (the head of the year).
And again we see pomegranates ALL over the place! I mean like...EveryWhere!
  • There are pomegranates on the greeting cards we send each other for Rosh haShana
  • There are heaps of pomegranates in the supermarkets
  • There are pomegranate recipes in every single newspaper and magazine
  • There are pomegranates, real and decorative ones, on the table during the Rosh haShana meals. As a matter of fact, pomegranate seeds are one of food stuffs that have a special blessing.
  • The juice guys on the street corners are selling more pomegranate juice than ever
  • The are even pomegranates growing like crazy all over Israel. They are practically 'dripping' from their trees.