We've been a little unsure about what comprises Israeli cuisine. Flatbread, olives, dried fruits, falafel, shwarma and falafel, all staples throughout the Middle East, are common here; but you can also buy Eastern European specialties like pickled fish and cabbage in the markets, and all the famous Jewish breads and cakes, especially for Shabbat. We've been sampling all these things piecemeal, but weren't quite sure how it all came together. So in an effort to take the measure of our new home's national foods, we braved the crowds on Israeli Independence Day and made our way past Zion Square to celebrate with style at Chakra, a gathering point for hip Jerusalem gourmets, where we tested our mettle against the huge and tasty prix fixe menu. We began with fresh baked Iraqi pita bread and a tray of antipasti, which included peppery roast sweet potatoes, chunky guacamole, and chicken liver pate fortified with apple cider. Next came a whole roasted eggplant, shrimp fried in ribbons of potato, ultra-thin beef carpaccio, grilled fish, tender fried calamari, and grilled shrimp with artichokes, followed by a meat course of kofta, grilled entrecote and filet. For dessert, we enjoyed panna cotta with warm raspberries, molten chocolate cake, and vanilla ice cream topped with honey and pine nuts. Seriously. It was more food than we consumed in our last four weeks of travel. Excessive, but delicious; the seafood and the ice cream were especially notable.
The strawberries at the market have also been fantastic; we're been slicing them and macerating them in sugar, lemon juice and chopped fresh mint and topping with a little plain yogurt or marscapone cheese for a delicious and relatively healthy spring dessert.