University of Haifa International School Student Blog
So, being a pescatarian (practically a vegetarian with the exception of seafood) is difficult in any country except maybe India where 40% of the population is vegetarian. However, it does open your eyes to certain dishes that most people won’t even give the time of day to because they lack meat.
Here in Israel, it is frustrating at times when people think that because of my diet choices, I can survive on Middle Eastern salad. I don’t even like salad. Regardless, I have found a handful of dishes that have met both my lifestyle choice and my sustenance needs.
As everyone munches on shwarma for a cheap, filling meal, I opt for falafel. This vegetarian (maybe vegan?) dish is usually a pita stuffed with salad, pickles, hummus, and fried chickpea balls (falafel), topped with creamy tahini. I always ask for harif (chili paste) to give it an extra kick. I would have to say the best falafel I have had has been in Nazareth, which also happens to be where my friend had the best shwarma of her life.
I discovered this simple, yet yummy dish at a Lebanese restaurant (Abu Taher) in the Jerusalem Shuk. As my friends ordered a rice and meat dish, I set my eyes on the eggplant taboon. This dish consists of a whole eggplant that has been baked in a traditional oven (taboon). It is then hollowed, and the inner eggplant is mixed with tahini and some other seasonings to make a baba ganoush. This mixture is then placed into the beautifully baked eggplant, and served with pita.
This dish is a traditional Druze dish usually made with veal and lamb meat. However, there is a Druze restaurant here in Haifa (El Kheir) that makes a vegetarian version of the dish. It starts with a pastry dough in the shape of a pizza. On it, they put a special type of cheese with seasonings that are probably a family secret. The cheese does not even look like cheese, but almost mimics the texture and taste of meat. They then top off the cheese with a few pomegranate seeds which give it the perfect amount of sweetness. Note: I could only find pictures of the meat sfycha since the cheese one isn’t as common.
I am not sure whether this is a breakfast dish or a lunch/dinner dish, but I can eat it all day. Found in almost any Israeli restaurant, it normally consists of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce, and is served with a loaf of fluffy bread. Whenever I eat it for breakfast, I am literally set until dinner time. Although I haven’t attempted it, I hear that it is actually not that difficult to make at home.
So this isn’t exactly a dish on its own, but more like a side dish. However, I can eat so many of them that it constitutes my entire meal. This dish is of Arab origin, and it seems almost every Arab mother has her own recipe. Seasoned rice is rolled into moist grape leaves that must have been soaked in some sort of vinegar-lemon mixture. I am not completely sure of the recipe, but this is one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes. In fact, my roommate’s mom makes the best dawali I have ever had, and I occasionally get a tupperware full of them just for me!
This list just goes to show that you can be pescatarian/vegetarian/vegan in the Middle East without solely surviving on salad. Yes, it is difficult, and at times frustrating to be limited to one or two options at a restaurant, but I get to try things that others don’t consider. If you think people with dietary restrictions will starve in the meat-loving Middle East, just take a look at my scale…..