Listen. Let me start by saying that I don’t have anything against vegetarians or vegans. Heck, I have a good friend who’s vegan and if that’s not irrefutable proof that I don’t discriminate, I don’t know what is! I am just so obsessed with food that I can’t comprehend the superhuman discipline (see: insanity) it would take for someone to willingly cut something as delicious as meat out of their diet. I JUST CAN’T. Also, I’m Chinese so I grew up seeing the entire animal (including the head and feet) served with a dish and family members fighting over who gets to eat the fish eyes (it's good luck!) so maybe that had a role in my desensitization to the meat-eating plight.
I even conceded to enjoying the vegan “cheese” platter that my friend brought to a party. Although I do feel strongly that they should come up with a different name because IT’S NOT CHEESE and therefore should not parade as such. Call it “gelatinous squishy cubes” or something. I don’t know! I don’t work for the universal vegan marketing team, I just think calling it “cheese” is just setting you up for disappointment AND it’s a filthy lie or at the very least, vaguely dishonest.
Kind of like when your trainer tells you only have to do 10 more burpees but then makes you do more. LIAR! I’m sorry. I know they’re just doing the job I paid them to do and trying to make me stronger. I get really emotional about burpees because I believe they are the devil’s creation.
Back to my point: I don’t mind eating like a vegetarian occasionally. As long as it tastes good, I don’t really notice the lack of meat. With the innovative food scene and abundance of fresh produce available in Tel Aviv, it was especially easy to forget that a lot of the amazing dishes I ate were actually vegetarian. And I wasn’t mad about it.
Here are the 5 Times I Didn’t Mind Eating Like A Vegetarian in Tel Aviv:
1/ ABU HASSAN
Apparently the average Israeli consumes 22 pounds of hummus a year so it’s safe to say that the hummus there will change your life. An everyday staple in the Middle East, this mixture of warm chickpeas and tahini is commonly eaten for breakfast which is why we booked it over to Abu Hassan – one of Israel’s oldest and most famous hummus restaurants – before they closed at 3pm.
The creamy AF hummus – drizzled with luscious olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and parsley – was served with the standard of warm pita bread as well as chunks of raw onion that provided a satisfyingly sharp and almost acidic contrast.
Abu Hassan | Shivtai Israel St., 14
2/ CAFÉ PUAA
Retreating from the bustle of the flea market in Jaffa, we settled into the comfy floral couch in the retro living room décor of this local gem. After much agonizing deliberation, we settled on several dishes that we thought would be refreshing yet satisfying considering it was an extremely hot day.
First up was a bowl filled with large, perfectly seasoned florets of roasted cauliflower with a creamy garlic aioli. The sizeable grilled eggplant was served cold with a refreshing herb sauce and a generous dollop of sour cream while the rich chestnut gnocchi were fluffy puffs of potato and had a delicate sweetness.
Café Puaa | 8 Rabbi Yokhanan
3/ CAFÉ 65
The ideal vegetarian meal for an omnivore (like me) is one that’s so good that I don’t realize a food group was missing until after the fact which was the case at 65 Hotel’s café. Seated on a spacious patio overlooking the bustling Rothschild Boulevard we sipped fresh-pressed beet juice and tucked into a Dr. Seuss-inspired skillet of green shakshouka of marigold, spinach, yogurt and cream immediately followed by a toasted croissant slathered in almond butter, gooey gouda and topped with a fried egg.
Of course we also took advantage of Café 65’s elaborate breakfast buffet – a vegetarian’s nirvana – offering everything from beet carpaccio and chopped Israeli salad to sweet slices of watermelon and chocolate-y babka.
Café 65 | 65 Shderot Rothschild Boulevard
Vegetarian? Fine. But if you don’t like breakfast, you are a monster. I don’t mean the first meal of the day, but breakfast food like what they serve at the 24-hour breakfast institution, Benedict. While enjoying a fancy mimosa like the lush that I aspire to be (who am I kidding, I’m already a lush) I began my herbivore feast with the sabih – a layered Iraqi tower of fried eggplant, tomato, and potato fritters topped with boiled egg and herbs.
Next I devoured a traditional Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles – fried eggs draped over a crunchy mix of fried tortillas, avocado, tomato salsa and sour cream. Like any rational-minded adult, I finished off the meal with a fluffy stack of mini buttermilk pancakes with blueberry compote.
Benedict | 29 Shderot Rothschild Boulevard
5/ PORT SAID
When I’m too hungry to think straight and at a new restaurant, decision-making is impossible so I rely on recommendations from servers which is what I did at the hip night-time spot, Port Said. Full disclosure: we ordered minute steak and roast beef carpaccio as well, but the staff fav that turned out to be unexpectedly delicious was the Mesabaha of Lima Bean.
Known as the “sister-of-hummus,” this dish came with diced red onion to give it a sharp zip, tomato seeds, and spicy pepper. The lima beans were cooked till they were melt-in-your-mouth soft but still retained their shape so they were not the same blended texture of hummus. Not a dish I would’ve picked myself but I’m glad they suggested it!
Port Said | Har Sinai St 5