The Top 10 Yummiest Gluten-free Foods in Israel

September 28th, 2011 yum Posted in Caesarea, Gluten Free Dining, Gluten Free On the Road, Haifa, Israel, Pescatarian, Tel Aviv, gluten-free international travel 12 Comments »

1. A Limonana, or mint lemonade.
The blistering heat of Israeli summer demands that you stay hydrated, and one of the tastiest way to quench your thirst in Israel is with an ice cold Limonana. According to food blogger Liz, “The name limonana is simply a combination of the word for lemonade, limonada, and the word for spearmint, nana.” Whatever you call it, this mint lemonade really hits the spot. Mercedes tells us “The mint lemonade (limon nana) you find in the Middle East is not like what you find in the States, but rather a mixture of fresh lemon juice, mint leaves, and plenty of sugar whirled in a blender until a thick green concoction is poured into your glass.” (source: Desert Candy) Yes, please! Quality varies, with some only having the mildest hint of mint (see, Aroma Coffeeshop) and with others where it tastes like they ground up an entire mint plant in your drink. I’m a fan of the latter.

Make your own with Liz Steinberg

2. Freshly squeezed juice

Freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice and Orange juice are ubiquitous in Israel. When we visited, persimmons were in season and oranges were out of season, so the ones you saw around the country were not the freshest fruits on the tree, if you get my drift. I was excited to try fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I didn’t really like it. Luckily besides the orange juice (actually very tasty), gourmet fruit stands like the one at Shukhanamal gourmet market at the Tel Aviv Port sell an amazing variety of delicious fruit drinks. I think my favorite was a passionfruit concoction with crunchy seeds and a totally unique flavor that Toddler Yum and I shared. I’d never had anything like it before or since. Jamba Juice eat your heart out. PS Looking for Shukhanamal, my favorite spot for organic produce and other gourmet goodies at the port? Walk to Aroma and then scan the horizon for the Sea Horse logo.

3. Meze or Tapas

Besides the breakfasts, my favorite dining experience in Israel was at seaside restaurants serving assorted meze with bread and grilled, salted, or fried seafood. Especially when traveling overseas, I tend towards a pescatarian diet because when you cut out gluten sometimes there aren’t enough vegetarian gluten-free options to keep well-fed and satisfied. I read another blog where they were talking about a gluten-free diet in Israel and listing the options- and halfway through said, the author commented that it would be hard to keep gluten-free and meat-free in Israel. Well, I didn’t feel the need to eat meat persay but consuming seafood really helped make restaurants feasible and satisfying options. Here is one of the nicest meze spreads we enjoyed at a place in Caesarea called Pondak Hatsalbanim (crusaders) that we read about in Frommers. Although I used a gluten-free dining card at some restaurants, after it often seemed to make things more complicated than not, I ended up just telling them “no wheat/bread” and ended up with an amazing assortment of tapas. I skipped one bean sprout dish that I suspected was seasoned with soy sauce, but I enjoyed the eggplant with mayo, baba ghanoush, olives, beets, hummus, tomato salad, and tahina without bread and then we had a grilled fish that Toddler Yum absolutely loved.

4. Roasted Eggplant with Tahina (tahini)

Make that, roasted eggplant with tahina, hummus with tahina, tahina with tahina. One of my favorite things about food in Israel has to be the availability of tahina and tahina enhanced dishes. Barring cross contamination in the kitchen, roasted eggplant with tahina was usually one of the safer things on the menu, and something that I could eat for almost every meal given the opportunity. Keep an eye on the spices, but for the most part, it was served with nothing more suspicious than a little sprinkling of paprika. I loved the eggplant itself, cooked to sweet and silky softness inside the papery charred, smoky skin, but it would have been just another burnt vegetable without that addictive sesame sauce. If you think you don’t like tahini because it is bitter, honey, you aren’t buying the right tahini. I switched from that cheapo version in the metal tin to the real stuff in glass jars available in Middle Eastern markets and wow, the difference is amazing. The un-toasted health food store variety doesn’t cut it either, if you’re wondering. I don’t know what the difference is, but hunt down some REAL stuff at a market. I think you’ll taste the difference.

5. Hummus with Pine Nuts

Speaking of Tahina, another gorgeous dish that I couldn’t get enough of in Israel was the hummus. Served like this with an almost obscene amount of toasted pine nuts, it was a transcendent dish. And I know you are supposed to eat it with lots of gluten bread, but you can ask them to bring it sans bread. The waitor may look at you strangely, but they’ll do it, and then you can just dig in with a spoon. I might have felt awkward about it, but I saw plenty of Israeli’s doing the same thing, even when they had a big mound of bread next to the dish. It is just that tasty. The stuff in the refrigerator case at Whole Foods has nothing on freshly made hummus at a good Israeli restaurant. Or, even a hole in the wall restaurant in a touristy town next to a Mosque. Try it, you’ll be impressed. Again, do watch the spices, because you never know when gluten will creep in.

6. Turkish Coffee

This stuff is thick, rich, and has a layer of coffee sediment on the bottom you could eat with a spoon, if you were so inclined. We drank the smooth coffee on top and left the grit. Very invigorating (and sometimes very necessary) after a morning hiking around events. Probably the best one we had was at a little middle-eastern place in German town in Haifa. Cardamon adds the perfect touch and I like turkish coffee best when it is spiked with the stuff. It is also naturally dairy-free and gluten-free, which is handy.

7. Olives

I could eat olives at every meal, and that option definitely exists in Israel. They are served with breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. Works for me! Toddler Yum liked the green olives, without the pit, but I liked all of them. This photo was taken at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. I didn’t actually buy anything there but enjoyed soaking up the sights and sounds. If I hadn’t gone so late in our trip I probably would have stocked up on fresh produce to prepare in our kitchen.

8. Dairy

I had no idea how central dairy was to the Israeli diet until I sat down for my first breakfast in Tel Aviv. There was an entire section of the buffet dedicated to dairy in various forms, from curdy cottage cheese to soft cuttable cheese, to my favorite, silky smooth labneh which can be enjoyed plain or with diced scallions or even fresh dill. I ate quite a bit of dairy as part of my breakfast and enjoyed it, although towards the end of the trip I felt like I had eaten so much dairy I might start to moo in my sleep. My favorite unexpected dish involving dairy was this roasted pepper stuffed with feta-like semi-soft cheese, but I only came across it once at a hotel in Haifa. It was so good I’m going to have to try to recreate it. And I’m already trying to figure out how to acquire some real Labneh in the Bay Area.

9. Breakfast Salad

I have never been that crazy about salads, but Israel tested that and made me think maybe I just hadn’t been eating the right salads. When we stumbled down to our breakfast buffet on the first morning, there was this amazing salad with fresh arugula and greens, walnuts, fresh slices of plum, and crumbled cheese. I topped it with olive oil and vinegar and dug in. That salad was a great start to the day, and I vowed to recreate it at home after we got back. Unfortunately after that first day, they switched to apples rather than plum, but it was still good, if not divine. I found that rather than olive and vinegar, I loved drizzling my salads with tahini. A hard boiled egg, some soft cheeses and some olives and I had a nutritious breakfast of champions. Later hotels had a do-it-yourself nicoise salad with boiled potatoes, green beans, and eggs, and sometimes there were basil mozzarella salads with either real fresh mozzarella or a local substitute. You won’t miss salads while on vacation in Israel, that’s for sure!

10. Health Food Store Treasures

I found quite a few health food stores in Tel Aviv and surrounding metropolitan areas, and while they were a little difficult to navigate due to my Hebrew illiteracy, they usually had clearly marked gluten-free sections with extensive selections of gluten-free breads, cakes and cookies. I was a little gun-shy after the first gluten-free bread I tried seemed to bother my stomach, but besides the breads, health food stores are full of great gluten-free pastas, cereals, and crackers. After a while I stopped trying to buy the more exotic stuff and went for the imported stuff with labels I could read. Wimpy, but safe, and it was reassuring to have a staple in my suitcase I knew that I could trust. The pictured health food store was inside the Carmel Market, and had all sorts of goodies. I loved being able to combine a tourist adventure with a quick health food store run. I picked up some gluten-free corn cakes, which turned out to be a brilliant move because the international flight home had (soggy) gluten-free rice cakes with tuna and egg sandwich fillings. I swapped out the soggy rice cakes for corn cakes and had a tolerable, if boring, lunch. I acquired one of the famous gluten-free pita pockets from Adittas at the port, and tried it in my hotel kitchen. It wasn’t bad, but tasted a little beany for my taste. If only I had the nerve to chase down one of the falafel stands offering their famous gluten-free falafel. I had some stomach issues while on my trip and was paranoid about cross contamination, so I didn’t pursue it- but if I go back, you can bet that I will get me some real falafel. I have a feeling that if it doesn’t hurt my tummy, it might be the highlight of the trip for me.

I hope you enjoyed my list of the top ten yummiest (naturally) gluten-free foods in Israel. I enjoyed my trip, and I think if I could read hebrew, I would have enjoyed it even more. I was a little surprised at how stressful it ended up being not able to read even the simplest labels. However, having waitpeople generally able to speak fluent English and researching online ahead of time did help quite a bit, and I learned a lot about a cuisine that I started out knowing very little about. Next, I’m going to try to make Shakshouka at home, one of the most popular hot breakfast dishes in Israel. I can’t wait! And never fear, as soon as I come up with a recipe that I enjoy, I’ll share it with you!

PS I know that you may have your own ideas about what you think the yummiest gluten-free foods are in Israel. I only spent two weeks there, and was a bit conservative about what I ate. I’d love to hear your list of the top 10 gluten-free yummies in Israel. Share in the comments!

PS2 While these foods generally worked well for me, there is no guarantee that they will always be gluten-free. Ask your server at every place, every time as ingredients may change and cross contamination risks will differ from kitchen to kitchen.

My Reviews of gluten-free friendly restaurants in Israel:

Fresh Kitchen: Vegetarian Friendly GF Menu
more coming soon

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Gluten Free Vegetarian Adventures at Disneyland: Our 6th Anniversary at Blue Bayou

June 10th, 2008 yum Posted in Ca, California, Disneyland, Gluten Free On the Road, Pescatarian, Travel 12 Comments »

June eighth was our sixth wedding anniversary, and we celebrated all six of those years (eight, really) in grand style by hopping into our car and driving across California all the way to Disneyland. Who would have thought, eight years ago, that the cute blond boy sitting across from me in that fateful Japanese language class, would turn out to be THE ONE, and take me around the world and back again. Oh, the places we’ve been. Mexico, Jamaica, the Grand Cayman, France, Italy, Belgium, India (twice together!), Japan (our second home), Singapore, Austria, Germany… My honey has the travel bug and he delights in nothing more than sharing it with his friends and loved ones. He also handily has a knack of finding great airline fares online or using frequent flier miles in creative ways, so happily, all our travels haven’t been near as expensive as it all sounds. But, then, as DH says, while some people buy big vehicles or houses- we travel, instead. And the magic of travel is, once you get a passport and get past the idea of everything being far, far away- you can go ANYWHERE. And while being gluten-free still makes me nervous about certain countries, you can get by brilliantly in most places with a little creative thinking and some handy language cards like those provided by Triumph Dining.

For this anniversary we didn’t have the time or budget necessary for one of our ’round the world jaunts, though, so we started thinking about trips closer to home. The two main contenders were Portland, Oregon or Disneyland, in great part because both places make gluten-free travel blissfully easy. Gluten-Free Living just did an article on travel to Disneyland. It was fluffy and didn’t have much of the nitty gritty detail I prefer, but it did indicate that Disneyland staff make serious efforts on the behalf of their gluten-free diners, and that was reassuring. DH loves his roller coasters and I was intrigued by the gluten-free friendly rumors, so finally we decided to celebrate at Disneyland.

*I would like to say Thank you to everyone at the SillyYaks Message Board for their helpful suggestions and tips. You made my visit so much easier!*
Here’s the breakdown of our experiences at various places:
We arrived and went through security. I had a few GF granola bars in my bag and no one commented or seemed to care. I think if you are trying to bring more substantial food into the park you might want to mention a medical dietary restriction. First stop was City Hall. We stood in the (short) line and asked for a gluten-free listing of foods at the park. They handed me a four page, double-sided printout with lists of gluten-free foods available at Disneyland Park and California Adventures. Sites were organized by place- Tomorrowland, Adventureland, etc. Also, vending cart offerings were listed. Guess what? We can eat the cotton candy, popcorn, and Mickey faced ice cream bars (not the ice cream sandwiches, of course.) Them as what eat meat can also have the turkey legs, but those of us of veggie dispositions won’t want that. One thing that I found somewhat aggravating was that I really wanted a breakfast, but both days, by the time we got to the park the breakfast menu was over or finishing. We tried several times to go to the Plaza Inn, where you can get GF waffles and other traditional breakfast fare, but the first day it was closed until Dinner, and the second day they had a special character meal for $23 per person. Much as I love Minnie, I didn’t think she would add that much to my meal, so we passed on that one.

Luckily, Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, a “futuristic” (think 1970s Jetsons) cafeteria, had quite a few gluten free AND vegetarian options, so we ended up having “breakfast” there both days.

*Please verify information with the latest Celiac Offerings Reference Sheet available at Disneyland as offerings may change!*

When you walk into the Pizza Port, a cast member greets you and shows you to the cafeteria line. I told her right away I needed a gluten-free meal, and so she ushered me to a spot where the line was open to the kitchen and had me ask for the chef. The ladies working there called him, and he came out. I told him I needed a gluten-free meal, and he said “no problem.” Magic to my ears. I could have had rice noodles with pasta, a salad, or a Cheese Pizza with a gluten-free shell. *If you are dairy intolerant, the pasta is fine, but at least one of the salads has cheese and both pizzas (one meat) have cheese. You can ask the chef and he could probably modify it for you but it will require a special order.* I chose the cheese pizza, out of novelty. I’d heard that they only carried Amy’s pizzas, so I was surprised when it came out- if I’m not mistaken, it was a glutino or similar personal pizza crust that was nothing like Amy’s, so they must have changed distributors. We did have to wait about 20 minutes for them to fix it. Do yourself a favor and lean against the wall or find yourself a table with a view of the pick up counter. It came out, suitably cheesy and pizza-like. And, happily, I noted that they seemed to do the prep work out of view in some safe, sequestered area, and DIDN’T cut it with a contaminated knife. I actually felt safe eating pizza in a “pizza joint”- thanks to the segregation of work spaces. We were both pleasantly surprised when our two GF pizzas (DH ordered a GF pizza too, because he’s sweet that way) only came to about $12.00, costing a little under $6 each. It wasn’t even more expensive than the regular pizza, how cool is that?!! We carried our pizzas outside and enjoyed a little Disney pizza magic. How was the pizza? Well, I’m not that crazy about the crust they use- it’s not gourmet. But it is recognizably (reassuringly) gluten-free, the pasta sauce they use is good, and the cheese is suitably cheesy. Altogether a pleasant, if not mind-blowing meal. And the best part? I felt fine after I ate it, and all day. Yay for good gluten-free meal preparation training!

The second day after we passed up our chance to eat with Minnie and Friends, DH pulled me back to Redd Rockett’s. I get grumpy when I don’t eat, so he was determined that I eat, and fast. haha.. This time I wanted to be more adventurous, so I ordered the rice noodles with marinara sauce (on the chef’s recommendation), the Planetary Pizza Salad, and one personal cheese pizza. Keep in mind the pizzas are around 4-6 inches across. Regardless, it was a lot of food, especially with the mountain of rice pasta that came with it. I was a little startled because the planetary pizza salad did come with meat- pepperoni- that I wasn’t expecting. Doh. Had I known I would have asked for it without meat, but as it was I stole some of the olives and peppers that came with the salad and added it to the rather bland pasta. Additional salt also helped the pasta taste better- salt packets were available with the plastic utensils inside the cafeteria. The pasta was clearly rice pasta, and as DH said, looked very different than the regular pasta they served. Funny the things that are comforting when eating out. We ate our GF feast (DH shared everything) while Darth Vader and other Star Wars heroes performed on a nearby stage and kids played with a sphere fountain. Altogether, I was thoroughly happy with the experience. It wasn’t fancy food, or even especially flavorful (although the olives on the salad were higher quality than one might expect), but it was gluten-free and reasonably vegetarian friendly. The salad and pasta were a bit pricier than the mini pizza, so our second bill was about double the first one, but I was glad to get the chance to try everything.

Later we went to the Tiki Juice Bar (and saw the show with the chorus birds-don’t ask) in Adventureland. I was a little confused by the gluten-free list as the names didn’t exactly match up, so I asked the servers if it was gluten-free. They didn’t know, but gave me a great ingredient list- not only did it list all the ingredients but had a “special notes” section with a nice, brightly highlighted “Gluten-free” tag. Yay! To be honest, I took one bite and left the rest to DH- it was too sweet and artificial-tasting for me, but it was gluten-free! There are also many fruit stands all over the park where you can get fresh fruit like pineapple, oranges, and apples. I’m a little embarrassed to say that we didn’t get any- but we could have!

*a few pescatarian references, but all visible photos are vegetarian*
For our special Anniversary Meal, we decided to go to the Blue Bayou, the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The Pirates of the Caribbean has always been my favorite ride and I’d always longed to join the fancy people watching over the swamp and enjoying their meal, so it was a fitting place to go. By the way, if you want to eat there, a reservation is recommended, especially if you want a traditional dinner time. We tried to make a reservation by calling their priority seating number 714-781-DINE the first day and they were full that night, but we were able to make an early afternoon reservation for the next day. When we made the reservation, DH mentioned that I was gluten-free, and I noticed that it appeared on our table note sheet when we were seated. By the way, if you want a waterside seat, you should probably ask for that when you make the reservation or make friends with the hostess, as she determines seating. You might have to wait longer for a waterside seat. We ended up one table away from the edge- not bad, and I could make out the faint outlines of boats and riders, so I was happy. One funny note- celebrity Bob Saget was actually sitting one table away from us. I saw him and heard his voice, and half thought, “oh, he kinda looks like that guy that was on Full House,” and it turned out… it WAS that guy that was on Full House. His next table-mates asked for an autograph and photo with him, which he very graciously granted. Seemed like a nice guy. Anyway. So about the food. They had about eight dishes that could be made gluten-free. Two were pescatarian (mahi mahi or salmon) and one was actually vegetarian- a Broiled Portobello Mushroom. I was nervous about the latter becuase the Celiac Offerings list said “Portobello Mushroom with couscous.” Didn’t they KNOW couscous was made from wheat? Luckily when they brought out the chef, a very nice woman with a cool accent, she knew all about the couscous and offered rice instead. BTW, only come here if you are celebrating and up for the stiff prices- we were on the lunch menu and each main course entree was around $30, including the vegetarian dish. They first brought out a salad- it was buttery lettuce with a rather acidic sherry dressing, with a side of avocado and some blue cheese. Thankfully the blue cheese was on the side, because I can’t stand the stuff, irrespective of its gluten-free or gluten-containing status. It wasn’t bad, but I thought there was too much dressing. Apparently the salad usually comes with some kind of gluten-based sausage- I was quick to tell her I didn’t need it anyway. Our main dishes were quite good. I had a pescatarian offering (sorry guys, you may or may not know I occasionally indulge when dining out- don’t think worse of me but for $30 I thought better go with the recommendation of the chef) and was quite satisfied. The cajun rice was pleasant, and I liked the side vegetables- simply prepared and seasoned white asparagus and broccolini. DH had jambalaya that he quite enjoyed, despite the fact that he’s not usually a jambalaya kind of guy. We had told our server that it was our anniversary, so, to our surprise, at the end of the meal she brought us “free” ice cream with candles and mint doubloons, along with two mickey and minnie “Happy Anniversary” pins. Altogether it was a pleasant meal that felt very satisfying, celebrating our anniversary and fulfilling a childhood fantasy all in one swoop.
So, that was our experience at Disneyland proper. Next time, I think I’d go to the Rancho Del Zocalo in Frontierland and try their corn vegetable tacos and cheese quesadillas and/or cheese enchiladas. Pizza is good, but a girl can’t live on gluten-free pizza alone.

But what about not quite Disneyland proper? When I asked people on my favorite gluten-free message board, Yahoo’s SillyYaks group, they highly recommended the Storytellers Cafe in downtown Disneyland in the Grand Californian Hotel. (Menu). We went there for an early dinner the first night. I did notice that there wasn’t a lot of variety as far as vegetarian options- in fact, they were fairly non-existent. Honestly our server seemed quite clueless about the whole vegetarian preference thing- she said, Oh, we can make almost anything gluten-free, so what would you like… and then when I asked about gluten-free and vegetarian she sort of blinked and said, er, well, there’s the prime rib. Riiiight. We ordered the gluten-free pizza, because I was looking forward to a gourmet version, and I selected artichoke hearts, red onions, and mushrooms. We also ordered the Gluten Free (pescatarian) Linguini. Photo of Pescatarian Pasta. (Remember, DH and I were sharing, so the pesc. thing was mostly for him.) When the pizza came I was pretty disappointed as it was barely warm and clearly hadn’t been cooked long enough. I would have sent it back but I was concerned about it becoming cross contaminated on the way to the oven, so I just ate it as is, but sadly enough the Redd Rockett pizza was 100 times better. Amazing what being cooked properly will do for a food. Also, the toppings were just thrown on there with little, if any seasoning- the artichoke hearts were not even cut up so it was a bit hard to eat. The pasta was better, although there was so much of it and it was so calor-ific there was no way we could eat it all. (Not that that is a bad thing- after all, the last thing you want to be after a big GF meal is hungry!) DH thought the pescatarian bits were very tasty, and I thought the sauce was nice. Actually, I got rather nervous because it was so thick and I kept wondering if it had some thickening sauce in it, so I asked for the ingredients. I was surprised at how helpful our server was with this. She actually went to the kitchen and wrote out the ingredients: cream, shallots, black peppercorn, bay leaves, lemon juice, salt, and tomato relish (tomato, onion, shallots, cajun seasoning). My mind at ease, I could enjoy the dish. Overall we had mixed feelings about our meal there. The pasta was good but extremely rich, and it felt like they put very little effort into the pizza. However, the fact that you can order a gluten-free meal there and feel confident in it means a great deal. I would ask to speak to the chef for a real gluten-free vegetarian meal next time, and maybe go for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner. Their non-vegetarian meals are probably where their real expertise lies, and I heard so many positive reviews that I feel pretty confident recommending it for that- or even for a vegetarian meal, with better communication. If you liked the tasty salsa at the Storyteller’s Cafe, here’s the recipe.

So- that was our gluten-free, vegetarian (with excursions into pescatarianism) experience at Disneyland. You will notice many of the dishes I had included cheese- if you eat meat, it’s easier to avoid the cheese, and it is probably possible to get the pizza without cheese, although I don’t necessarily recommend it. There are salads, possibly taco options, and pasta that could be made dairy free, though- and the fancier restaurants do seem to offer at least one vegetarian main dish. We had a great time and it was so nice not to worry about food the entire time. Not having to lug around food made it easier to enjoy the real point of Disneyland- the rides, and spending time with my honey celebrating our Anniversary!

I hope this will encourage you to give Disneyland a try, post-diagnosis. It really is one of the “happiest,” or at least the easiest places, to eat Gluten-free on vacation, and I highly recommend it. Happy trails, and may all your gluten-free dreams come true! (I can’t help it- the mickey ears get to you after a while…)

Looking for more tips on Disney travel? Try Disboards or wdwmagic.
Here’s a very thorough photo essay about eating gluten-free and dairy free at Disney WORLD
and various reviews of GF Disney – somewhat dated.

And now… I’d love to hear about your gluten-free adventures at Disneyland, so please share in the comments!

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