ISRAEL: Israeli food and drink megapost / Aroma coffee / Palestinian beer

There’s no way I can get into detail about all the food in Israel, but I’m going to do a megapost of some of my favourite/notable things. The food is broadly Mediterranean / Middle Eastern – a lot of Israelis have Sephardic or Mizrahi backgrounds – and more importantly, my god, the food is FRESH.

The quality of the ingredients that go into everything, from falafel to sushi to ice cream, was out of this world. I’m sure this is common among most Mediterranean countries, but likely even more so as Israel doesn’t have much trade with it’s direct neighbours, so many foods are grown or made locally.

It’s also probably because food in Canada just isn’t that fresh, and with our climate, we rely so much more on the mass global food industry.

The first thing that stunned me was the quality of the hotel breakfasts. This isn’t a sad little dry croissant and an overpriced orange juice, every hotel I stayed in across the country had massive buffets, with dozens of choices of dips, cheeses, breads, salads, fresh shakshuka made to order, and more.

Most of the hotel restaurants were dairy kosher, meaning there wasn’t any meat available. The exception is fish, which doesn’t count as meat under kosher rules, so there were good amounts of smoked salmon and pickled herring too.

Restaurants as a whole in Israel are either dairy kosher, meat kosher (no dairy), or not kosher at all, so meat and dairy are mixed. A lot of the secular Israeli majority, alongside the large Arab Muslim and Christian population, don’t follow kosher laws and generally don’t care if a restaurant is kosher or not. However, with the large Orthodox (both Modern and Ultra-) population, a lot of restaurants make sure to keep kosher to keep those customers. Pork is the only thing that’s really not served anywhere (I think Libiria in Haifa was the only place I saw it on the menu), but other non-kosher animals like shrimp are pretty widely served.

There’s great food markets everywhere – on our first day, we went to Jerusalem’s shuk, and ended up at a little hole in the wall Kurdish / Iraqi restaurant. There were wonderful veggie dishes, and spiced meatballs, aromatic rice, stews, and great pickles.

The dishes started coming … then kept coming … then kept coming, even after the table was covered. It was all so delicious, but the restaurant definitely won that battle.

There were some other amazing finds at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I went to a little falafel stand in Paris Square in Haifa and had possibly the best falafel pita of my life. I had no idea falafel was even supposed to be so tender, it’s often a bit dry or gritty in Canada. It’s worth it to get all the toppings – pickles, garlic sauce, preserved turnips, cucumbers, hot peppers, and lots of sauce.

The food in Israel isn’t all just Mediterranean or from the Jewish diaspora, there’s are many good international options – especially sushi. I’m picky about my sushi quality, since I used to live in Vancouver, which arguably has the best sushi outside of Japan.

The sushi in Israel was extremely high quality, with very fresh fish, though the options were mainly the basics of tuna, salmon, and veggie rolls.

When my friend Pauline took me on a great tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, we went through the Muslim quarter to try some Arab food. We stopped at a cold-press tahini factory that still uses a huge millstone to grind sesame seeds. We got to taste-test a few of their offerings – the smoked tahini was my favourite.

I also got to try knafeh, a great sweet-and-savoury pasty of warm goat cheese, layered under kadaif and covered in syrup, as well as some really top notch kebab, spiced beautifully, and hot from the grill into a pita with tomato, cucumber, and yogurt.

As I had made the brilliant plan of going to the Middle East in August as a Canadian, I was also keeping my eyes on ways to stay cool. Lemonade is almost universally paired with mint, and there’s fresh fruit juice stalls everywhere, which are particularly good blended with ice. The ice cream game in Israel is particularly strong, Golda and other ice cream chains are ubiquitous. The cookie/chocolate flavours seem particularly popular, and the portions are extremely generous.

One of the things I relied on to beat the heat were all the coffee shops, particularly Aroma. Aroma is an Israeli coffee chain, and it’s so dominant there that it’s likely part of the reason Starbucks failed in Israel.

Israelis are big coffee drinkers, and in the hot weather, either a cold coffee (what I’d call an iced coffee) or an iced coffee (a coffee blended with ice) was essential.

The food at Aroma was also fantastic – the picture below is their breakfast plate – eggs done the way I want, fresh salads and bread, cream cheese, coffee, all about $15 CAD. And this is from a chain coffee shop?

Aroma has expanded into Canada, the US, and Ukraine. There’s spots all over Toronto, so when I was there last week, I went to a location to compare to what I had in Israel. The blended iced coffee is just as good, and I did appreciate that they made my breakfast sandwich fresh. I’d say it was miles better than Starbucks or Tim Hortons, but the Israeli Aroma is still much better than the Canadian one.

As for drinks in Israel, of course, wine is immensely popular – this has been a wine-growing region for quite literally millennia. While not much of a wine connoisseur, I did get to try a great variety of their offerings, almost all of which are home-grown. There’s reds and whites, mainly common grapes, as well as rarer “bilblical” varieties. The prime growing regions are up north around the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights, where it’s cooler and there is good elevation – though you get the wild sight of vineyards right up to the Syrian border.

I’m more of a beer drinker, so I was happy to see how many local beers there were. There seems to be a lot of pale ales, lagers, ambers, and blondes (who wants to drink a cream stout in 35C heat?) but not much in the way of IPAs or sours. Some of the local beers I tried were from breweries like Negev, Malka, Shapiro, and the ubiquitous Goldstar. I also tried a nice flight of offerings from Libiria brewpub in Haifa.

I also got to try a beer from the first Palestinian brewery – Taybeh in Ramallah. I bought it at a little cafe in Nazareth, which is an almost entirely Arab city in Israel. I was politely discouraged from drinking it on their patio, since it was a mainly Muslim neighbourhood, so I took it back to my hotel and chilled it.

It was a light lager, straightforward but refreshing. They have several other beers, with a lot of German-styles like Marzens, Witbiers, and dark lagers.

ISRAEL: Kadaif and a flight of microbrews

The microbrew scene is pretty strong in Israel – there’s brewpubs everywhere, usually with good restaurants. So after a hot day exploring Haifa, I took the Carmelit down to Libira Brewpub, in a cute port-side neighbourhood full of restaurants and bars.

I tried a tasting flight of all their beers – a Weiss, and Double Pils, a Bitter IPA, a Smoked Stout, and a Belgian Ale. I’d say the beers were very drinkable, but a bit lighter than I’ve normally had for each style. For example, the Weiss had good but not overwhelming banana esters, the IPA was pleasantly hoppy, and the Belgian really nailed the wild yeast notes, but I felt I could probably down a pint of the Belgian where I would normally sip one.

There was one that knocked my socks off, however: the Smoked Stout. Here, the lightness kept it from being too cloying (perfect for a hot day), and the smoky flavour was absolutely stunning – a little bit campfire, a little bit BBQ, with a slight caramel edge to round it out. Out of this world good.

Of course, I went for something completely new to me for dinner. The menu listed “Kadaif” as an entree, describing it as a “noodle-like pastry filled with creamy leek and goat cheese. Served with fresh tomato salsa, soft boiled egg, and tomato chutney”.

Kadaif isn’t really a dish itself, it’s an ingredient – fine shredded phyllo, like angel hair pasta, that’s mainly used in desserts in the Middle East. There’s also savoury uses of kadaif, especially with goat cheese or lamb. This is a upmarket restaurant take, and the warm goat cheese and soft egg made it a very rich and creamy, countered with the crunch of the kadaif and the acidity of the tomatoes.

UKRAINE: Wine and kvass

I have a LOT of questions about the only brand of Ukrainian wine available at the LCBO. First of all, sparkling white is a natural, but sparkling red? Second, KrimSekt’s website says it’s really popular in Germany, but the website is hosted in Canada, out of date, talks about how the wine is grown in Crimea – which Ukraine lost control over most of its historic vineyards in 2014. The two wines are dated after that, but are labelled “Product of Ukraine” – so likely the grapes were grown in a different part of Ukraine. The back of the label says the company is based in Bakhmut, which is just on the Ukrainian border of occupied Donbas and has been near the frontlines since then.

These wines may not even be sold under this brand anymore – owner Artwinery now lists on its own website just “Krim” under a different labelling. When I grabbed these two bottles, they were some of the last ones in the store. The LCBO is now totally out of them, so I may have the last few bottles that are going to make it to Canada anytime soon, especially since the region is facing terrible shelling and fighting – but they’re still active and working to re-open their stores in other parts of Ukraine.

As for the wine itself?

KrimSekt Red 2019 – Smell and first sip is kind of like kosher grape juice, but then there’s a nice bubble, some good acidity, and the vaguest hint of tannin in the end. I’d say this is more of a sweet wine than a semi-sweet, but I really vibe with the idea of a sparkling red.

KrimSekt White 2015 – Aged white wine is an odd though to me, but it seems 7 years isn’t unthinkable. Again, this really should be a sweet wine rather than semi-sweet. It’s very sweet, but again a bit of acidity at the end.

And while I’ve tried both Ukrainian wine and vodka, here’s a non-alc option: kvass!

Poltavskiy kvassKvass is a fermented malt drink that’s popular in Slavic and Baltic countries. It can be anything from pretty light to quite dark – this one from the Poltava brewery in Ukraine is on the dark end. It’s got a roasted, slightly smokey dark flavour with nice carbonation and a bit of sweetness, kind of like a non-alc porter, but with the really clear malt drink flavour. I really like this.

UKRAINE: Vodka vs horilka

When the Russian invasion started, people here in Canada flocked to buy Ukrainian vodka as a sign of support (and because, well, it’s good). Liquor stores also pulled Russian vodka from their shelves. I’m not sure if Ukrainian vodka is still being produced and exported here – active warzone and all – but it’s still available on shelves.

There is an interesting semantic difference between “vodka” and the Ukrainian word “horilka” – they’re often used interchangeably. Some sources say that vodka was originally made from mixed grains, while horilka is made from just wheat, but since most are all made from various grains / potatoes these days, that difference isn’t really relevant anymore. Realistically, horilka is the Ukrainian name for 40%-ish clear spirits. Most bottles exported to Canada are labelled vodka, since that’s the term people are familiar with.

These are the two main brands of Ukrainian vodka available in Ontario – Nemiroff and Zirkova. Nemiroff has a historical connection going back to 1872, originally founded by a Count during the Russian Empire, then nationalized by the Soviets, and restarting as a private company in 1992. It’s unclear if it’s really a continuation of the company or a new company using the old one’s branding and distillery, but that feels like I’m putting too fine a point on it.

Zirkova has it’s own interesting history – the company was founded in Canada by Katherine Vellinga, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, but the vodka is entirely distilled and packaged in Ukraine, then the whole production run is shipped for sale in Canada. When the war started, she began to donate 100% of profits to humanitarian aid, turned the distillery over to medical sanitizer production, and worked to use it as a hub to help employees and their families to safety. It’s understandably unlikely that any more bottles will come to Canada, but there’s still over 7000 bottles in stock at the LCBO across Ontario right now.

As for flavour comparision – vodka tends to be hard really tell apart, especially with good quality brands since the better a vodka is, the purer and less flavoured it is. Side by side, I would say Zirkova is more neutral, while Nemioff is a bit sharper and grassier.

A really distinctively Ukrainian angle is the love of infusing flavours into vodka – chili peppers or horseradish are common, as well as berries or spices. There’s also a hot spiced version that’s kind of like a mulled wine. I’m going to make a few from the vodka, the recipes tend to be simple: put the flavouring in, let it sit for a few days or weeks, shake occasionally, strain, drink.

I’m trying spotykach (“stumbling”) with a recipe from Authentic Ukraine – vodka infused with spices like cinnamon, cloves, saffron (what I call “Christmas spices”), then boiled with some sugar and served cold. The straight vodka itself tasted wonderful after steeping for a week – cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg come out strongest, though the saffron isn’t too present. Boiling in some sugar makes it wickedly easy to drink, hence the name, and feels like it could be used in a lot of mixed drinks – instead of rum in a rum punch, or mixed with black tea would work great.

I’m also making a flavoured lemon horilka with a recipe from Ukrainian Diaspora. It’s very simple – take off some lemon peel with a vegetable peeler (the peeling is important so you don’t get bitter pith) and let it steep in vodka for a few days. It is also absolutely delicious – it’s got a strong, fresh lemon flavour that is beautiful. This is a total winner – it’s good on its own right out of the freezer, but mixing it with a bit of sparkling water knocks it out of the park for a summer drink. This also keeps in the freezer for a long time.


We’re suddenly into hot summer weather here in Ottawa, so perfect for a little Ukrainian dinner al fresco out on the deck. I’m going to try something really Ukrainian: salo.

Salo is cured fatback (like pork belly but mainly fat rather than meat). There’s lots of ways to serve it – cooked into cracklings, mashed with raw garlic, or even included in chocolate (kind of like the bacon chocolate craze a few years back). I’m going to try it the truly classic way: cold of out of the freezer, sliced thin on bread or crackers, and accompanied with vodka, pickles, and other punchy things.

I picked up from Lakomka Deli both plain and smoked salo, as well as several jars of imported Ukrainian goodies from the brand Veres (Верес is Cyrillic, but I still want to call them “bepec pickles”). I’ve got:

  • Beans with mushrooms in tomato sauce
  • Garlic pickles with dill and horseradish
  • Adjika hot sauce
  • Roasted zucchini and tomato sauce with hot peppers

And of course, I served the whole thing with an ice cold glass of Ukrainian vodka, Zirkova One, plus some cherry tomatoes. The salo literally melts in your mouth, and vodka and pickles help cut the richness of the fat. I really love the smoked salo in particular, it’s got a beautiful flavour.

Adjika is actually a Caucasian hot sauce from Georgia, but it’s not surprising that these flavours migrated, probably through the Soviet era. It’s dark and thick, salty and smokey, kind of like a more spreadable gochujang. I ended stirring it together with the zucchini sauce (itself a lot like Balkan ajvar) to spread on top of the salo and that worked wonderfully.

NEW ZEALAND: Non-sauv blanc wine

I love New Zealand sauvignon blanc – it’s my favourite wine. New Zealand is justifiably famous for it – you can get dozens of different brands here in Canada. I recently tried Main Divide (it’s my new fav), Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay are always good standbys, and Cloudy Bay is a special treat. It’s such a treat that my dad would bring back a case of Cloudy Bay when he went on business trips to New Zealand in the 90s, since it wasn’t available in Canada then.

NZ sauv blanc has a really distinctive taste, mineraly, dry and tart like gooseberries. Sometimes you hear it described as “cat’s pee” – which actually has been used in branding. I remember bottles of Cat’s Pee On A Gooseberry Bush being popular several years back.

But as much as I love their sauvignon blanc, the point of Locally Foreign is to try new things! I’ve gone out and picked up three bottles of New Zealand wine, none of them are sauvignon blanc. I looked for a red, a rosé, and a white. I was warned that NZ chardonnays are can be pretty oaked, which I personally dislike, so I went for something completely different!

Loveblock Gewürztraminer – A vegan wine (yeast doesn’t count?) from Marlborough – it’s dryer than other Gewurtzes, with a distinctly lychee flavour and some nice floral and orange water hints. I really like this – it’s less sweet while still being fruity.

Hãhã Rosé – From Hawke’s Bay around Napier on the North Island. A Merlot and Malbec blend, aroma reminds me of cranberry juice. Nice and dry, with some raspberry notes. It’s pretty light in flavour, but I appreciate how it’s a bit tart. Would be a decent summer picnic rosé. Hāhā translates from te reo to “delicious” (though when used as a verb, it could mean to be out of breath).

Kono Pinot Noir – Kono is a Maori-owned winery from Marlborough, named after a style of welcome basket. They produce a pretty wide range of wines – sauvignon blanc, chard, rosé, several pinots – as well as grow fruit, make cider, and farm oysters (sounds like you could have a pretty good winery tour there). Their pinot noir has an earthy old wood scent, while the flavour makes me think of black cherries – it’s nicely tart and acidic, without too many tannins. There’s a little edge of oak, which I don’t personally love, but it doesn’t dominate.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Doubles with extra toppings and a Carib

Had a nice little takeout Trinidadian dinner – I ordered some doubles from BESS, a Caribbean restaurant near my house. Doubles are an amazing street food from Trinidad and Tobago – bara (fried dough) topped with curried chickpeas and lots of sauces. They can be served with a second bara on top, or open-faced.

The ones that I picked up had a nice tamarind sauce and cucumber chutney on them. Without any added sauces, they’re quite salty, a little bit spicy, and the flavours work together well.

I decided to boost them a little with some Trinidadian toppings from a Caribbean grocery. I added some kuchela to one of the doubles – kuchela is a pickled green mango relish with lots of spices and a bit of heat. It blended really nicely with the tamarind, adding some additional tartness.

The other double I hit with some hot sauce – Matouk’s Calypso Sauce. It’s a wonderfully spicy sauce – aged pickled Scotch Bonnet peppers are the first ingredient. It’s bright and flavourful and didn’t overpower the flavour of the double, but also was hot enough to make me break a sweat.

Washed it all down with a Carib Lager – Trinidad’s biggest beer. It’s a straightforward lager, and goes well with spicy food.


There’s a lot of variations of rum punch all around the Caribbean, some with lots of fruit and juice, some more like a highball – I’m going for the latter. I’m making this classic version from Trinidadian mixologist Raakesh Madoo from the video below:

It also a great lesson on cocktail prep and construction – the mise en place and the presentation being crucial!

Sadly, I couldn’t find any rum that was both dark and from Trinidad, so I hope folks will forgive me using a dark Cuban rum instead (I’m not that sorry, Havana Club’s 7 year old rum is great). This is a fantastic drink, really well balanced, with lovely citrus tartness from both the lime and the orange garnish, and great aroma from the nutmeg and bitters – and yet it doesn’t overpower the rum. Sipping it slowly lets it mellow more as the ice melts (also, it’s pretty strong).


Two other things – I didn’t know Angostura bitters were from Trinidad, and I just learned that ripe oranges are green normally, and only turn orange when exposed to cold – like in cold storage to ship ’em up here to Canada.

CHILE: Camahueto

At the start of the month I shared my attempt at a Chilean pisco sour with the Chile subreddit. There were lots of positive comments, and one user suggested another pisco drink, the camahueto. A camahueto is a mythical one-horned bull from the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile – if you plant pieces of its horn, new camahuetos will burst from the earth with such force as to cause landslides.

To make a camahueto:

3 parts pisco

2 parts ginger ale

1 part goma syrup

basil leaves

pineapple cubes


Reddit user ctccl

Goma (or gomme / gum arabic) syrup is a bit tricky to get, so I’m going to use simple syrup instead. They’re both neutral sweeteners – the gomme syrup really just makes things a bit smoother texture-wise. It’s also used for frothed egg drinks like Peruvian pisco sours to keep the froth up. I’m also going to use a non-alc ginger beer instead of plain ginger ale, normal ginger ale in Canada is really bland.

Oh that’s tasty. Ginger, basil, and pineapple go great together, and the bright smooth pisco melds in perfectly. Eating the pineapple chunks after finishing the drink is mandatory, they soak up the other flavours and are a treat on their own.

Addendum: The Chilean subreddit has informed me that this is an extremely uncommon drink – I’ve only found one or two other references to it online, however, the other reference is from a Chilean pisco cocktail book. It’s still delicious.

CHILE: Chacarero

I went back to Vancouver’s Puro Chile for dinner last night. Last week I tried a completo with a glass of jote, today I stopped back for a chacarero sandwich with a frosty pisco sour on the side.

A chacarero is steak sandwich topped with cooked green beans. I’ve never tried green beans before on a sandwich, but it was delicious! This one was warm shredded grilled steak, with al dente green beans, tomato, onions, jalapeno, and spicy mayo all on a focaccia-style loaf. Absolutely wonderful – sadly this specific sandwich is weekends-only but my god it was good.

I had it with a nice pisco sour – this was more Peruvian-style with egg whites (more details on Chilean vs. Peruvian pisco and my own attempt at one here) and was nicely tart with lots of lime.