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Friday, June 26, 2015

12 of the most surprising, tantalizing gifts from Israel–dirt cheap

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Are you sick of all the standard, cliché Israel souvenirs:  olive wood plaques, “SuperJew” magnets, cheap metal kiddush cups?  Do you feel like a sucker every time you walk into a souvenir shop and pay too much money?

I know I do, and I’m not a tourist – I actually live here.  (Maybe you live here, too, and you wish there was something different you could bring back with you the next time you travel back to visit family and friends?)

I bet you wish there was something original you could bring them instead without spending a fortune.

Why not gift your friends and family where their stomachs are - with the gift of special foods from Israel? 

Here are twelve tantalizing suggestions to tickle their tummies:

1.  Bamba

These are Israel's most beloved snacks.  If you live in a major Jewish centre, then forget this one, because you can probably buy them closer to home.  If not, share the crazy novelty of Israel's beloved "peanut-flavoured cheesies," now also available with a variety of fillings.  There's also Bissli and other crunchy snack aisle faves to round out the gift basket.

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2.  Olive oil

They're all local and delicious, so just pick the most beautiful or unusual bottle.  If you know someone who's in the know about olive oil, get them to introduce you to a truly special "vintage" or artisanal producer, or to an organization like Galilee Green, which is working to revitalize a regional economy.

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3.  Fancy salts

Even the "plain" table salt we buy says it's from the Red Sea,

which could be quite exotic for someone who's never been there.  You can also get gourmet salts in specialty stores, with and without herbs added to fancy things up a bit.

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4.  Spices or seasoning blends

Give them the taste of Zaatar (sumac), hawaj, a Yemenite spice, or shawarma seasoning you can buy at any grocery store.  If it comes in a plain bag, consider buying a nice jar at a 5-shekel or “stock” shop.

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5.  Boxed shakshuka tomato sauce

If they’ve never been to Israel, they’ve never had shakshuka, the iconic tomato-egg breakfast dish that’s great any time.  And some would say they haven’t lived.  Israelis pack tomato sauces into sturdy plastic boxes instead of cans.  But they should travel just fine.

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6.  Lotus biscuits & spread

I love these cookies.  They're not Israeli in the least, having originated in Holland.  But Israelis love them (I haven’t had them anywhere else), they're sweet and happy, and they're guaranteed to travel better than Krembo (which will not travel well at all).

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7.  Halva

You can buy this finger-licking Israeli sweet fresh from the shuk (market) or packaged from any grocery store.  For something new, try the “frizzled” (mesulselet) variety that looks like fluffy hairs.  It’s an awesome topping for any dessert (ice cream!).  Or, for the savoury end of the sesame spectrum, bring back concentrated Techina (aka Tehini).  Just add water, lemon juice and some garlic and paprika to turn it into  authentic, dippable, pourable techina/tahini. 

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8.  Tastes of Asia

This isn’t Israeli food per se, but I recently found delicious, authentic Chinese black bean garlic sauce in a jar with a good hechsher (kosher symbol).  I never saw anything like it in North America, or many of the great Chinese, Japanese and Indian ingredients we can get here.  Anyone who keeps kosher might appreciate receiving ingredients they can’t get at home.  And technically, we ARE in Asia...

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9.  Honey or silan

Silan is a sticky date honey that is probably the authentic honey referred to in the Torah when it calls Israel a "land of milk and honey."  The bee honey here is also locally made and delicious, so you can help support Israeli kibbutzim and beekeepers.

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10.  Israeli couscous

Called "petitim" here, you can sometimes buy this in North America in kosher or gourmet shops... but if you buy it here, it's real AUTHENTIC Israeli couscous.  There are even fun varieties like tricolour and onion.

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11.  Pomegranate

Not the real deal, since there may be restrictions on importing fruit.  Instead, buy pomegranate syrup or pomegranate concentrate to add an Israeli accent to salads, drinks, marinades and more once you're back at home.

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12.  Make it a DATE

Dates are one of the seven special species Israel is known for in the Torah.  Lovely jars of date spread are available in every grocery store, and actual dates are just plain tastier (jucier) here.  Grab a bunch of both and toss them in your luggage to greet everyone back at home.

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When bringing gifts home from Israel, the Hebrew packaging is half the fun (think about all those t-shirts with the Coca-Cola logo written in Hebrew).  Hang onto any particularly Israeli shopping bags you get and use them to hand over the delicious souvenirs you've brought back with you.

By the way, they don’t have to be foodies to appreciate the gift of something delicious. 

Almost everybody loves edible gifts since a) they won't clutter up the house (at least, not for long), and b) they'll share a delicious "taste" of your journey to Israel.  Most importantly, c) they prove you were thinking of them while you were here in Israel.

Bringing home presents doesn't have to be a tedious chore.  It also doesn't have to be wildly expensive if you plan ahead and make a quick trip to a grocery store or two along the way.   Make it part of your exploration of all that Israel has to offer and you'll be feeling like a native Sabra in no time.

Happy (Israeli) eating!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


10 comments:

  1. I always take 'crackle' Elite chocolate to my family abroad. Y'know the one which the little bits that pop and crackle in your mouth. The kids love it and it doesn't seem to exist abroad.

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  2. I actually sell gifts from Israel - including olive wood plaques - but also some great zaatar and spice mixes... Please be careful if you are putting in your hand luggage some of these items - like Silan or olive oil, because if you have a connecting flight, you might be asked to throw them out for security reasons - Israel does not do this, Europe does. Also chocolate spread in your suitcase is a recipe for disaster - speaking from past experience

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    1. Thanks, Janice, for this voice of experience! I strongly suggest zipper bags around anything you don't want smeared all over your clothing. In Israel, they're available at IKEA and many other stores now. And you'll notice I didn't say anything bad about olive wood plaques - except maybe that there are only so many a person can have. :-)

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  3. Thanks for the great ideas. I went abroad a few weeks ago and took halva, 778 jam and chocolate biscuits. But I like the other ideas as well. Just one comment - petitim is not couscous. It is toasted pasta. There are different shapes - one is called couscous because it's shaped like couscous, and there are also hearts and stars.

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    1. You're right, of course. But the round "ball-shaped" (couscous) petitim is what's known as "Israeli couscous" in gourmet circles outside of Israel, so I simplified a bit. I think if you ask for "petitim" in a store, they'll point you in the right direction, anyway. :-)

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  4. Thanks! Also, if you want to spend a bit more momey (special gifts), you can get nice non-standard sovieneir stuff at the art fair in Nachalay Binyamin Tuesdays and Fridays from 10:00 to 16:00

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    1. Yes, I love it there! Thanks for the suggestion. Lots of awesome pomegranate-shaped pottery things there, among other gifts. I bought my mother a beautiful miniature kaleidoscope there over Chanukah.

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  5. NachalaT Binyamin walkway, Tel Aviv

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