What Anthony Bourdain Didn’t Eat in Israel

The most shocking thing about the original food-porn star’s local debut was the near-total absence of food in the episode. Here are five food establishments he could have visited.

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Anthony Bourdain, left, with Yotam Ottolenghi, in Jerusalem.
Anthony Bourdain, left, with Yotam Ottolenghi, in Jerusalem.Credit: CNN
Liz Steinberg
Liz Steinberg

It took a decade and at least one petition circulated by fans, but celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain finally shot a show in Israel. “Jerusalem,” the first episode of “Parts Unknown, Season 2,” aired on CNN Sunday night, giving viewers a chance to judge whether it was worth the wait.

First on “No Reservations” and now with “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain travels the world, looking to meet people and experience their food. In this episode Bourdain travels through Jerusalem, a few small Israeli towns, Jewish settlements and Palestinian parts of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. He eats falafel just inside the Damascus Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, with the British-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. He dines briefly at a home in the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Levona in the West Bank, hitches a ride with female Palestinian race car drivers, breezes through a cooking class in the Aida refugee camp, has a vegetarian meal at Jewish-Muslim couple Michal Baranes and Yakub Barhum's restaurant Majda and spends time with “Gaza Kitchen” cookbook author Leila El-Haddad in Gaza.

Bourdain discusses his own Jewish identity (or lack thereof), asks his hosts direct questions about anti-Arab graffiti and street art glorifying terrorists and expresses hope for coexistence. He ends the episode in conversation with a restaurant owner in an Israeli town bordering the Gaza Strip who lost a daughter in a Hamas rocket attack.

“By the end of this hour I'll be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, a socialist, a fascist, a CIA agent and worse,” Bourdain says as the episode begins.

But in fact the most shocking thing about the episode is the near-total absence of food. The only times the episode truly focuses on food is at Majda, and to a lesser extent during two meals in Gaza. Hummus is mentioned only in passing as the episode begins, and many other dishes that are deeply ingrained in Israel's food culture are missing altogether. Bourdain also entirely passes over both Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market and Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda Market, arguably among the most prominent symbols of Israel's food culture.

So let's say Bourdain, realizing how much he missed last time, were to return to film another episode. And let's say he finally makes it to Tel Aviv, arguably Israel's cultural capital. Here are some places he might want to put on his list. He'll find traditional and modern fare from the ethnicities that make up Israel's cultural melting pot as well as the edginess his shows thrive on.

Where do you think Bourdain should have eaten in Israel? Tell us in the comments section.

Israel Mercaz Hakubbeh - This little lunch restaurant, tucked away on a side street near the market in Tel Aviv's gritty Hatikva neighborhood, has no more than half a dozen items on the menu, and that's if you count the bright-yellow pickled vegetables and the flat Iraqi pitas hot from the taboun ovens of a bakery down the street. The flagship item, of course, is the bright yellow kubbeh. In Israel, kubbeh generally refers to any one of a large variety of dumplings with a starchy shell and a ground-meat filling, and is prepared by Jews of Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian descent as well as Arabs. At Mercaz Hakubbeh, the Iraqi-style kubbeh is large, round and flat - larger than the palm of your hand, with a delicate, boiled semolina shell encasing ground beef with warm spices. Bourdain, who is known for not shying away from ethnic foods that might deter others, might want to try a coil of stuffed intestine in soup.
1 Vatik St. (corner of 25 Ha'etzel St.), Sun.-Thurs. 8:30 A.M.-3:30 P.M. Tel. 050-770-7750. Kosher.

Saluf Bakery - Around the corner from Mercaz Hakubbeh, inside the Hatikva covered market, lies Saluf Bakery. This establishment specializes in traditional Yemenite breads, including bubbly, pan-fried lahuh; a Shabbat pot bread known as kubaneh and the flat saluf for which the restaurant is named. But the real fun is on Fridays, when the music is booming, the beer and ouzo are flowing and the bar-height tables are packed with people enjoying classic Yemenite and Israeli dishes including flaky pan-fried malawach and hummus as well as a recent invention called "hamshuka" - shakshuka (stewed tomatoes with egg) dished up on top of hummus. If Bourdain is looking for an extra dose of authenticity, he could look for many of these same breads baked by a Yemenite-Israeli grandmother in her yard, on the taboun her family carried over from Yemen.
1 Hatikva St., Sun.-Wed. from sunrise to sunset; Thurs. from sunrise until slightly before Shabbat on Friday. Tel. 03-6886324. Kosher.

Mukhan Um’zuman – Crowded Bnei Brak is just to the east of Tel Aviv, but the two cities are as different as night and day. Tel Aviv is liberal and secular, while Bnei Brak is home to a largely ultra-Orthodox population. Life in Bnei Brak is vibrant, though, and the city has its own food scene. You'll find lots of Ashkenazi-style delis offering classic Eastern European foods including spicy-sweet Jerusalem-style noodle kugel, gefilte fish, kasha varniskhes (buckwheat with pasta bowties) and lots of cholent, as well as the usual selection of Israeli salads. Mukhan Um’zuman is a Bnei Brak institution, and if Bourdain were to visit on a Thursday night, he'd find the place packed as the staff dishes out bowl after bowl of cholent. If he wants to take the experience up a notch, he'd make sure the cholent contains kishke, flour dumplings cooked inside intestines.
17 Hazon Ish St., Sun.-Thurs. 11 A.M. -11 P.M.; Fri. 9 A.M. to an hour before Shabbat. Tel. 03-618-8526. Kosher.

Haj Kahil – This relatively new restaurant across from the Jaffa clock tower serves traditional, upscale Arab food dished up by chef Omar Iluwan, formerly of the famed El Barbour restaurant in Umm al-Fahm. The mezze course includes both traditional Arab salads and modern concoctions, while the menu includes traditional Arab meat and fish dishes, including beef kebabs simmered in tomato sauce and baked under a hot pita. If budget is a consideration for Bourdain's crew, they'd probably want to come for a lunch special.
18 Raziel St. (Clock Square), Sun.-Thurs. and Sat. 11 A.M. to midnight; Fri. 11 A.M. 1 A.M. Tel. 057-942-8347.

Abu Hassan (Ali Caravan) – Bourdain mentions in passing that one of the points of contention in this region is over who makes the best hummus, so he might as well dive head-first into the debate and dine at what many in Tel Aviv call the area’s best hummus joint. Abu Hassan has three branches, the small original restaurant on Hadolphin Street and two newer and larger locations, both on Shivtai Israel Street near Jerusalem Boulevard. Traditionalists favor the crowded, older branch, where the line often stretches around the corner. The menu is limited and the hummus is served warm. Bourdain would do well to order a plate of musabaha,a creamy, tehina-heavy dish dotted with whole chickpeas. If he’s impatient he can get it to go and eat while sitting nearby, looking out over Jaffa and the sea.
1 Dolphin S., Daily from around 8 A.M. until the hummus runs out in the early afternoon. Tel. 03-6820387.

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