Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Please read this blog while you're hungry. It will mean much more to you. Imagine sitting down in the restaurant with your family or your tour group, and suddenly a waiter, mostly likely from an Arab background, shows up and begins to put down all kinds of salads. I don't mean just two or three; I mean 15 or more different dishes! This is how your shipudiya experience begins.
Tel Aviv is world-famous for its restaurants. We have some of the best chefs in the world. But none of them would ever dare work at a shipudiya—not unless they were going to put some sort of swanky, Fifth Avenue spin on it. A shipudiya is not for the fancy, schmancy, but the 'ahm haaratz’—the people of the land.
Shipud is a Hebrew word that means skewer, as in shish kebab. The -iya ending is the ending we add to any simple restaurant based on their main food.
Hummus becomes Hummusiya. (Yes, we have restaurants where all they serve are big, delicious bowls of hummus, hot, with an egg, meat, and mushrooms! SO GOOD!!! The most famous is Abu Hassan in Jaffa.)
Shashukah (our famous tomato and egg-based breakfast) becomes Shakshukia.
A falafel restaurant (our hamburger) becomes a falafeliya.
While it starts with an array of salads, you then order your meat. In most Shipudiyas, you can get meat or fish. But in some, like the one we ate at last night in Jaffa, it is primarily a fish restaurant that also has shipud (skewers of meat). But the main thing that makes it special for me is the salads.
The shipudiya is normally a family experience, or it is also how we typically end one of our tours (Remember tours? Corona! 😡). You would rarely see somebody eating there alone. It is an experience. Showing people around Israel, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, is something Elana and I miss dearly. It is eight days of intense fun, learning, eating, laughing, putting mud on yourself at the Dead Sea, and so much more. Hopefully, soon we can host you and eat at a delicious shipudiya.
Israelis love to eat at shipudiyas on Shabbat afternoon (not religious Israelis, of course). As I said last night, we took the whole family, plus a husband, a boyfriend, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, to one of the more famous Arab-owned fish restaurants in Israel, located on the Mediterranean in Jaffa.
The best bit of advice I can give you before going to the shipudiya is: Stay away from the bread! If you still want to have room for your fish or meat, just eat the salads without the bread. It's easier said than done because the freshly baked bread comes out hot and is perfect for scooping up all the Middle Eastern salads.
HUMMUS: The salads begin with fresh hummus. Most hummus in the stores, even in Israel, has lots of preservatives. But fresh hummus is simply chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, tahini, and water. You can add anything else you want to that for flavor, such as peppers or spinach.
TAHINI: A Middle Eastern paste or sauce made from ground sesame seeds. You can buy the thick paste in the grocery stores and then just add about 50% of water and stir to get fresh tahini. You can dip just about anything in tahini. I love to dip my chicken skewers in it, and if I'm making a salad at home, I normally make a homemade tahini salad dressing.
FALAFEL BALLS: In a shipudiya, you would typically not order a falafel sandwich, but you would get several falafel balls, perfect for dipping in the tahini and hummus. The falafel is spiced mashed chickpeas formed into golf ball-sized balls and then deep-fried. The key to a good falafel ball is that it is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Nobody likes a dry falafel!
There's simply not enough room in a blog to tell you of all the amazing salads. While the restaurants are named for the type of meat they serve, we will often just order the array of salads for about half the price it would cost if you got a meat or fish dish as well. And you'll never leave hungry, as they will continue to bring out as much of any salad that you want. And if my wife is with you, you are sure to get extra treats as well.
Those are your mainstays, but then there are all kinds of other salads: chopped carrots, super spicy salsa (but no chips), smoked eggplant, artichoke hearts, salmon dip, tomato and basil salad, spicy guacamole and of course baba ghanoush, cooked eggplant, lemon juice, olive oil, all kinds of seasonings, and usually tahini. Like many of our dishes, it is of Lebanese origin.
Truth be told, there is no such thing as 'Israeli food.' Just Israelis who came from other nations and brought their foods with them. This applies mostly to Sephardic (from the Spanish diaspora, includes Jews from North African, Spain, Portugal, France, and South America) and Mizrachi Jews (from countries like Yemen, Iraq, and Iran, amongst others). The dishes of Ashkenazi Jews, mostly from Europe, did not find as warm a reception in the rebirthed Jewish nation as the recipes from the Middle Eastern Jews.
(Elana and I just happened to be watching the Israeli version of MasterChef Celebrity Edition this afternoon. I watch almost anything in Hebrew to make me feel more deeply connected to the culture. There was a contestant from a Yemenite background (Mizrachi). And he spoke with such passion about the food and the spices that the leading constant (Ashkenazi) said he was jealous. He could not relate to the passion but wanted to. When one of the other leading contestants, a Yemenite singer named Dudu Aharon, tasted his soup (foot soup!), just the taste made him tear up as he thanked the one who made the soup for bringing his grandmother back into his life—through the taste of the soup. Most Ashkenazim (like me) have a hard time understanding this passion for spices.)
While different countries like to take credit for hummus and falafel, it's very difficult to pinpoint their origins. And maybe it was from the Jews. Israeli writer Meir Shalev angered many when he claimed that Boaz and Ruth shared hummus, not vinegar (who dips bread in wine vinegar?). Egypt claims the felafel, but Lebanon and certainly Palestinians would disagree. One thing is for sure is that Israel made these dishes famous in non-Middle Eastern countries.
Truth be told, all the ingredients for these delicious dishes have been in the Middle East for thousands of years. Lemons, a key ingredient, arrived in 700 BCE.
The most famous shipudiyas are in Abu Ghosh. This is a truly unique Arab city in Israel. In 1948, they were the only Arab town not to fight against Israel. There has been a peaceful relationship between Jews and Arabs in this city for over 70 years, and they have the best traditional shipudiya restaurants in Israel—or at least the most famous.
One of the city elders shares his testimony:
"Perhaps because of the history of feuding with the Arabs around us, we allied ourselves with the Jews ... against the British. We did not join the Arabs from the other villages bombarding Jewish vehicles in 1947. The Palmach (Jewish army) fought many villages around us. But there was an order to leave us alone. The other Arabs never thought there would be a Jewish government here. ... During the first truce of the War of Independence, I was on my way to Ramallah to see my father and uncles, and I was captured by Jordanian soldiers. They accused me of being a traitor and tortured me for six days."
At the end of the day, food solves a lot of problems. It was in Abu Ghosh with an Arab Christian from a Muslim background eating shipud that our ministry, Shelanu, built a key alliance with an Arab evangelist. I move about a hundred miles an hour, but Harun demanded that we sit down and eat. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.