Category Archives: Travel

New Zealand Mushrooms! Part 2

Thanks for your enthusiasm about my southern hemisphere posts! My last post was about New Zealand north island mushrooms, but now we are going to embark onto the south island! As some of you may know, my PhD speciality is on fungi symbiotically associated with pine tree roots. Introduced pine trees make up a big proportion of New Zealand forests, and foresters were not able to get the pine trees to grow until they co-introduced the obligately mutualistic fungi along with the trees. Thus, much to my surprise, I recognized a lot of the mushrooms that I saw in NZ because they were northern hemisphere mushrooms that were co-introduced along with the pine trees. So you might start to see some photos that look awfully similar to my California mushroom hunting in Point Reyes National Seashore.


Posing with some beautiful Amanita muscarias. Am I in California or am I in New Zealand?

Amanita muscaria is probably the most recognizable mushroom species of all time. It is the fly agaric, or as my Swedish friends taught me, flugsvamp, recognizable from Mario Brothers, Alice in Wanderland, or the amazing manicure I got for the Ecology of Soil Microorganisms conference in Prague. It is a very photogenic mushroom and I had a lot of fun posing with it as I happened upon them in a hike in Arrowtown near Queenstown, New Zealand.


Having fun posing with these beautiful Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria is interesting because it is very invasive in the southern hemisphere and grows in huge abundances like I have never seen in the northern hemisphere. It would be really interesting to study its invasion ecology! But that’s a little too esoteric for this blog…for now I will just mention that they get really really big in the southern hemisphere, and they are everywhere, but don’t let their beauty trick you into eating them. They may look very appealing, but without proper detoxification they will make you really ill.


Big, beautiful New Zealand Amanita muscaria

The most fun part about mushroom hunting in New Zealand was watching my new traveler friends that I met from across the globe get psyched about mushrooms. Check out my Dutch friend Julia taking pictures of mushrooms. I got everyone into the mushroom fever!


My Dutch friend Julia can’t help but get sucked in to the mushroom fever!

My Spanish friend Claudia, who I met while traveling in Peru, moved to New Zealand several months ago. She now lives in Queenstown, and when I got there she took me and Julia on this amazing hike called the Sawpit Gully Loop in a cute little town near Queenstown called Arrowtown. It truly is a small world, after all!


Julia and Claudia hiking the Sawpit Gully Loop in Arrowtown

It had been raining a lot in the south island, which was a bummer for my friends who were hoping to partake in the adrenaline activities New Zealand is famous for, but it was great for mushrooms! We found so many species on this hike and I recognized all of the genera because they were all associated with the introduced northern hemisphere pine trees.


Julia, Claudia, and I, pumped on the mushroom fever :)

Here is a fun New Zealand species of Agaricus that I found hiking around the grasslands section of the trail.


New Zealand Agaricus


Hiking through the pine forest section, of course I found lots of Suillus because they are specialized to associate with trees only in the Pinaceae. Suillus are recognizable by their very slimy caps which is why they are commonly known as slippery jacks.


Slimy Suillus commonly known as slippery jacks

Suillus is a good genus to be able to recognize if you are lost in the woods because it is highly abundant (I literally saw thousands in New Zealand) and edible, although not particularly delicious. It has tubes instead of gills, often has an annulus (ring around the stem), always grows near pine trees, and often has a very slimy cap.


Underside of the Suillus

Mushroom identification requires you to utilize all of your senses. To that end, smells and tastes are very important forms of mushroom ID. I had all sorts of fun introducing my new friends to smelling and tasting different genera of mushrooms to learn their diagnostic features. For instance, Hebeloma is distinctive for its radish like smell.


Hebeloma smells like radish

Inocybe on the other hand is described as smelling spermatic. Can you guess what that smells like?



Another genus that was very common in the pine forests in New Zealand was Lactarius. Lactarius is known for it’s milky lactates that can often taste spicy or make your tongue burn. It’s ok to lick a small amount for identification purposes. I promise it won’t kill you :)



Lactarius lactates milky latex

A beautiful mushroom that I was very excited to see was the Hygrocybe singeriIn California these mushrooms are very common in redwood forests. They are so beautiful and colorful and slimy they are very fun to find in the woods. They are decomposer mushrooms that you can often find growing in leaf litter.IMG_4912

Hygrocybe singeri is recognizable because it stains black when you touch it.


Hygrocybe singeri stains black when you touch it.

For me, by far the most exciting find of the day was the hundreds of very edible Coprinus comatusThis mushroom, also known as the shaggy mane, is part of a large group of mushrooms called the inky caps.


Tons of Coprinus comatus AKA the shaggy mane

Inky caps are called that way because their spores are very black and the caps slowly melt and eat themselves (called deliquescing) to disperse the spores.


Inky cap deliquescing and releasing its black spores

You want to eat this mushroom when it is young and white, before it has started to deliquesce.


Young Coprinus comatus, in perfect condition for eating :)

Look how happy I am to be surrounded by tons of edible shaggy mane mushrooms :) Cheers NZ!


Mushroom hunting in Oregon!

Yay chanties!!

Yay chanties!! Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











As you know California has been experiencing an epic drought. I’m teaching a class in mushroom identification at Berkeley right now and it’s been super difficult to find good specimens for class. Luckily last weekend I went to visit my friend Roo in Oregon where there are mushrooms galore and I finally have some mushrooms to blog about!


Old growth Douglas fir forest in the Cascade mountains in Oregon









As we approached the trailhead of the old growth Douglas fir forest in the Cascades, I noticed  puffball mushrooms in the genus Lycoperdon carpeting the forest floor. I’ve never seen so many in one place! They have a common name wolf’s fart because if you tap on a mature one tons of brown spores puff out. It’s always a fun one to show to mushroom newbies!

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Lycoperdon puff balls AKA wolf’s fart Photo credit: R. Vandegrift

















It was so exciting to see mushrooms again I was even excited to see fungal diseases such as the brown cubical butt rott. The mushroom responsible for such a funny named disease is actually quite beautiful, and lots of people like to use it for dye.


Phaeolus schweinitzii AKA brown cubical butt rott Photo credit: R. Vandegrift









In addition to diseases I also saw lots of wood decay mushrooms. Can you believe these cute little mushrooms decay these giant Douglas fir logs?


Cute little Xeromphalina campanella decaying a log Photo credit: R. Vandegrift














Fungi also come in many amazing forms and colors. Did you know that mushrooms can also look like corals?


Beautiful coral shaped Ramaria species Photo credit: R. Vandegrift














I study ectomycorrhizal fungi, which are mutualistically associated with tree roots. These Suillus lakei are partners with all of the giant Douglas firs in the forest, and they were super abundant!

Suillus lakei

Suillus lakei ectomycorrhizal fungal partners with Douglas fir trees Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











To add more layers to the story, there are also fungi that parasitize other mushrooms! Gomphidius subroseus is a mycoparasite of Suillus lakei – how crazy is that?


Gomphidius subroseus

Gomphidius subroseus, a mycoparasite of Suillus lakei Photo credit: R. Vandegrift

















How cool is it that I even found a Gomphidius subroseus mushroom attached to a Suillus lakei?

Gomphidius subroseus and Suillus lakei

Gomphidius subroseus mushroom attached to Suillus lakei Photo credit: R. Vandegrift









And check it out, another species of ectomycorrhizal fungus, poking out of the soil.

What's this poking out of the soil?

What’s this poking out of the soil? Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











Check out how massive this mushroom is!

Giant Russula brevipes

Giant Russula brevipes, another ectomycorrhizal fungus Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











Of course all of these mushrooms were super fun and beautiful, but I know what you are all thinking, where are all of the edible mushrooms?


Bouquet of giant Armillaria mellea mushrooms AKA the honey mushroom Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











Unfortunately Armillaria mellea is not supposed to be super tasty, but it does make gorgeous designs on wood with giant black rhizomorphs.

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Is that art or is it a fungal pathogen?











Then finally we started finding some more tasty edible mushrooms. Here is a cute edible toothed mushroom commonly known as the lion’s mane called Hericium abietus.

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Check out the cute teeth on this lion’s mane Hericium abietus! Photo credit: R. Vandegrift

















Leccinum manzanitae is another edible ectomycorrhizal fungus. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard it’s delicious. Next time I find a larger collection of it I will have to try it!


Leccinum manzanitae, and edible ectomycorrhizal fungus Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











The most disappointing fungus by far that we found was the false chanterelle Hygrophoropsis auriantiaca. I kept getting excited seeing beautiful orange caps everywhere only to flip them over and see gills :(


Watch out for these false-chanterelles Hygrophoropsis auriantiaca Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











But finally, our patience was rewarded and we found these gorgeous and giant chanterelles!


Gorgeous and giant white chanterelles Cantharellus cascadensis! Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











Stay tuned to find out what we cooked with the gorgeous Oregon chanterelles!!!

So excited to find white chanterelles!

So excited to find white chanterelles! Photo credit: R. Vandegrift











Thanks to the OSU and UO crew for helping me find so many gorgeous mushrooms and showing me around the beautiful Oregon forests :)




The mushroom hunting team made mushroom art on this Ganoderma applanatum AKA artist’s conk! Photo credit: R. Vandegrift







Eating my weight in gelato in Italy

As you know from my previous post, I got a free trip to Zurich for work to give a talk at the Mycorrhizal Symbiosis Symposium.  The talk went well and I had fun at the conference, which was awesome scientifically and intellectually, but I found the food in Zurich lacking.  I am just not a heavy Germanic food kind of girl. Happily for me, my cousin Aaron and his wife Kate live in Naples, so after the conference I flew to Italy to visit. As you can imagine, I took my eating very seriously on this trip, especially when it came to gelato!  I knew you all would be interested in the gelato I ate in Italy so I kept a list of flavors I tried. So here it is!!  Another day another gelato..

gelato #1:  nocciolata and stracciatella – chocolate hazelnut goodness and creamy milk based gelato with chocolate strands thrown in – analogous to chocolate chip ice cream but so much better because the chocolate is melded throughout rather in discrete chips. Here I am enjoying a gelato in a gelateria in my cousin’s building before I even go upstairs to put down my luggage:

Enjoying Nocciolata and Stracciatella gelato before I even put down my luggage

Enjoying Nocciolata and Stracciatella gelato before I even put down my luggage

gelato #2: pan di stelle – After a disappointing Nutella festival with no nutella (What!?!?) and then walking a mile to the world famous pizzeria da michele, where allegedly pizza was born, only to find it closed, I definitely needed gelato!  I tried a mysterious flavor called pan di stelle, which I believe is an Italian chocolately star cookie. It was ok but not my favorite.

gelato #3: pistachio, baccio, straciatella – After a day of trekking around Herculaneum in the rain, which was a wonderful rainy day activity in fact and I highly recommend a visit, I decided I needed to go for a three-fer gelato this time. I tried pistachio, baccio, and returned to the delicious straciatella to make sure I had at least one familiar favorite.  Baccio is chocolate hazelnut, and is delicious, although I recommend nocciolata over baccio for you nutella lovers. 

gelato #4: ambroggio e fragola – Kate and I took a lovely day trip to Capri, which is a gorgeous resort island an hour ferry ride from Napoli. It is soo soo pretty and luxurious, but be prepared to watch the dollars drain out of your pockets. We spent nearly 40 euros to get 5 minutes in a cave called the Blue Grotto, which admittedly, was pretty cool:

Blue grotto cave in Capri

Blue grotto cave in Capri

But the real highlight of Capri as far as I’m concerned was the galeto. Hands down some of the best gelato I’ve ever tried..ever! It was sooo good!!! I tried a flavor called ambroggio, which as far as I can tell was ferrero rocher flavored gelato, and was to-die-for. I paired it with fragola, which is strawberry. Here I am living the life of luxury and enjoying gelati in Capri:


Ecstatic after discovering the most amazing gelato flavor ambroggio in Capri

Kate also got the delightful ambroggio, but she paired it with after eight (mint chocolate candy for those of you who don’t know what this epic candy is):


Kate enjoying gelato in Capri

gelato #5: torta caprese e melone- Kate and I decided that the gelato in Capri was so good, that after taking this seriously scary chairlift ride to the top of a mountain, we deserved to treat ourselves to gelato again. While scary (Aaron thought I was totally lame for thinking this was scary, but I’m afraid of heights, so it was scary for me!), the view was pretty epic:

Chairlift ride up the mountain in Capri

Chairlift ride up the mountain in Capri

The view from the top was just incredible:

View from top of mountain in Capri

View from top of mountain in Capri

While the view was gorgeous, I was still a little rattled from the chairlift ride up and was seriously dreading the ride down, which looked scarier. I decided I needed a little prosecco to calm my nerves before taking the scary ride back down the mountain:

Enjoying la dolce vita in Capri

Enjoying la dolce vita in Capri

And finally, back to the gelato! After surviving the ride back down the mountain, Kate and I enjoyed another gelato. I tried something called torta caprese, which really I’m not sure what it is, but it was the best gelato OF MY LIFE. Seriously, it was so good. If you go to Italy, go to Capri just for the torta caprese and ambroggio gelato. DO IT.

gelato #6: nocciolata e mandarlo- After several days of hanging out in Naples and enjoying day trips to Positano and Sorrento in the amalfi coast, Herculaneum, and Capri, Aaron, Kate, and I took a road trip up north to experience the Cinque terre. Cinque terre is five towns located about a 6 hour drive north of Naples on the coast. They are gorgeous picturesque villages with cute painted houses etched into the rocky coast.  We stayed in the largest and northern most village, Monterosso. Our first full day in Cinque terre we took the train to the southern most village, Riomaggiare, and enjoyed a gelato. I returned to an old fave, nocciolata, and paired it with a new flavor for me, mandarlo, which is almond. Mandarlo was delicious! Another flavor that I highly recommend! Here I am enjoying nocciolata and mandarlo in Riomaggiare:


Nocciolata and mandarlo gelato in Riomaggiare

Here are Kate and Aaron enjoying their gelati:


Kate and Aaron enjoying gelato in Riomaggiare

gelato #7:  stracciatella e cioccolotto – After relaxing in Riomaggiare, we took the train to Manarola and enjoyed an epic swimming hole.  Manarola was totally one of my favorite towns. Check out how cute it is:

The town of Manarola in Cinque terre

The town of Manarola in Cinque terre

After the relaxing day we were ready to check out the nightlife in Monterosso, which Rick Steves claims is the nightlife hub of the Cinque terre. Let me tell you, it was dead! We were walking around at midnight on a Friday night, and everything was closed! A middle aged couple saw us walking around and asked us where the nightlife was, and we had to let them down that we couldn’t find any. Luckily, one gelateria was still open and we got the last gelato of the day before they closed their doors. Since I wasn’t super inspired by the late night flavor options, I returned to my old fave stracciatella and paired it with cioccolotto, or milk chocolate.

gelato #8: mandarino e tiramisu – For our second day in Cinque terre, we decided to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the next town over. The hike took nearly 2 hours and was pretty hilly, but it provided us with gorgeous views of the Cinque terre:

View on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza in Cinque terre

View on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza in Cinque terre

View of Vernazza from the trail

View of Vernazza from the trail

After enjoying Vernazza, which was another fabulous town, we decided to take the train to Corniglia. We should have read Rick Steves’ account of Corniglia being for the “hermits, anarchists, and mountain goats” more carefully before we attempted to visit. You have to walk up a stair case of 365 stairs before even being able to enter the village! It was torture! Needless to say, Corniglia was NOT our favorite town. We were there for barely 45 minutes total but we did manage to squeeze in a gelato before we left. At least the gelato was delicious. I tried mandarino and tiramisu, which was delightful:


Tiramisu and mandarino gelato in Corniglia


Kate enjoying dark chocolate and coconut gelato in Corniglia


gelato – the only part of Corniglia we enjoyed!

gelato #9: Fichi e caramelli e ciocco crok – After a heavenly 2 days in Cinque terre, we took a four hour road trip to Lake Como. What can I say about Lake Como other than I desperately want to go back? We were only there for half a day but I could easily imagine spending several days there. It was BEAUTIFUL. Warm weather, alpine lakes, and the Alps in the background. It was gorgeous:

Lake Como

Lake Como

While we were only there for half a day, we did manage to squeeze in a gelato. I had “Ciocco crok” which was chocolate with hazelnuts and almonds mixed in, and fichi e caramelli, or caramelized figs, gelato. Fichi e caramelli was really realy good!

Fichi e caramelli e ciocco crok gelato in Lake Como

Fichi e caramelli e ciocco crok gelato in Lake Como

gelato #10: Swiss chocolate and passionfruit mango – Kate was disappointed that I did not make it to number 10 while in Italy, but luckily for me, Switzerland also has good gelato :) I took the train from Milan to Zurich across the alps, and when I landed in Zurich I was ready to search for gelato number 10. Unfortunately, Zurich is a zillion times more expensive than Italy, and I had to shell out 7.90 francs for gelato in Zurich compared to 2 euros for gelato in Italy. Of course, francs and euros are both worth more than US dollars, so it was a freaking expensive gelato! Luckily I didn’t know the price before I already had the gelato in hand, because I might have backed out if I had known in advance it was nearly $9 for a cone. Then I would not have gotten to experience the joy of swiss chocolate gelato! You pay dearly for it, but man is it delicious. I paired it with passionfruit mango, which my sister Leslie claims is a weird combination, but I thought was great:


Swiss chocolate and passionfruit mango gelato in Zurich that I paid nearly $9 for!

So there you go, gelato eating endeavor. Over the course of 1.5 weeks in Italy I ate gelato 9 times, with my 10th in Zurich, and then an 11th on the plane because Swiss Air served swiss chocolate gelato on the plane. So what do you think, did I get my gelato’s worth out of Italy? Could you have eaten more?

Eating my way through Israel: Part 2

I know you’ve all been dying to hear about my visit to Jerusalem after reading about the first part of my trip to Israel in my last post.  So after I parted ways with Yohay and Tom on Friday, I got two days of fun and eating in Jerusalem with my cousin Geula! We first went to stay with her parents in Beit-El, where we spent shabbat. Shabbat was a great time to rest and rejuvenate after a busy trip.  While I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of all of the delicious meals that we ate for shabbat dinner and shabbat lunch, I do have a picture of the home made challah that my cousin Batya made for shabbat. In Israel, they sometimes put za’atar on their challah.

home made challah!

home made challah!

After shabbat Geula and I returned to Jerusalem for more food and fun! We returned to the city pretty late at night on Saturday, so Geula took me to the arab shuk which turns into a really cool bar scene after dark.  Geula introduced me to a Yemenite pastry called jachnun, which is basically fried dough. Of course is was delicious!

Jachnun, Yemenite jewish pastry It is traditionally served with a crushed tomato dip, hard boiled eggs, and zhug

Jachnun, Yemenite jewish pastry It is traditionally served with a crushed tomato dip, hard boiled eggs, and zhug

We then went out in Jerusalem and hit up one of Geula’s favorite spots, an American themed karaoke bar.  I am terrible at Karaoke but sang anyway, and Geula wowed everyone with her amazing voice and rendition of summertime.

Geula wowwing everyone with her karaoke rendition of summertime

Geula ripping up the stage at karaoke

For my last day, we woke up early so we could cram in as much sight-seeing and of course eating as possible. We visited the shuk during the day time to check out the store fronts. It was so awesome! I was in foodie heaven!

Halva heaven

Halva heaven

I couldn’t get over how large the fruits and vegetables were at the market. They must have some seriously impressive agricultural practices in Israel. Have you ever seen squash this large?

Apparently they grow giant sized squashes in Israel

Apparently they grow giant sized squashes in Israel

Check out all these beautiful vegetables!

Vegetables in the arab shuk in Jerusalem

Vegetables in the arab shuk in Jerusalem

Spices almonds covered in za'atar

Spices almonds covered in za’atar

Pastries at the shuk

Pastries at the shuk

More pastries

More pastries

Teas at the arab shuk

Teas at the arab shuk

Spices galore

Spices galore

Here is where I bought the sumac, red and green zhug for 14 shekels ($4).

Weighing out my spices

Weighing out my spices

After I bought my spices, Geula brought me to Marzipan bakery, where they allegedly have the best rugelach in Jerusalem. Of course I had to buy some!

Supposedly the best rugelach in Jerusalem, at Marizpan bakery

The best rugelach in Jerusalem, at Marizpan bakery

After shopping all morning in the shuk we returned to the old city in Jerusalem to go shopping. Here’s me in front of the Jaffa gate outside of the old city.

Outside the old city in Jerusalem

Me outside the old city in Jerusalem

About to enter the old city through the Jaffa gate!

About to enter the old city through the Jaffa gate!

Geula teaches belly dancing to women in Jerusalem. Here she is modeling a dancing cane in front of the belly dancing store where she shops.

Geula at the belly dancing shop

Geula at the belly dancing shop

After shopping we were hungry again and Geula took me to this amazing restaurant where her friend works as the sous chef on the outskirts of Jerusalem called Cafe Itamar. It was pretty far to get there but it was well worth it. First of all, it’s in a super cute garden setting where you can even buy plants.

Cactic for sale at the restaurant

Cacti for sale at the restaurant

They even had cute ceramic mushrooms, which of course I loved!

Posing with the cute ceramic mushrooms!

Posing with the cute ceramic mushrooms!

Second of all, the food was AMAZING. Geula and I went all out and ordered two appetizers. Of course I had to order the mushroom casserole, which was topped in spinach and cheese, and a fried egg.

Mushroom casserole with fried egg

Mushroom casserole with fried egg

So you can see some of the mushrooms:

mushroom casserole

mushroom casserole

Then we ordered this cauliflower and hummus dip called masbacha, which was seriously so good.


Cauliflower masbacha

We ate it with this bread: DSC00642 Then we shared the ravioli with roasted vegetables entree, which was so delicious.

Roasted vegetable ravioli

Roasted vegetable ravioli

Here is Geula smiling with the ravioli:

Geula and ravioli at Cafe Itamar

Geula and ravioli at Cafe Itamar

After that we were pretty stuffed but Geula’s friend surprised us with an extra treat – this pasta with mushroom sauce and roasted asparagus dish.

Roasted asparagus with mushrooms and home-made pasta

Roasted asparagus with mushrooms and home-made pasta

Geula and I eyed the these chocolate cakes for dessert but ultimately decided we were too full. I think I kind of regret that decision now… we should have made room! After all, how often do I go to Israel? Next time, I will definitely be ordering the chocolate cake for dessert! While the restaurant is kind of out of the way, it was definitely worth the trip. The food was amazing and the setting was so cute. How cute is this restaurant?

Smiling at Cafe Itamar

Smiling at Cafe Itamar

We hitch-hiked back to town (this was my first time ever hitch hiking!) and then visited some of our other family members.  We met up with another cousin and had Yemenite soup for my last dinner in Jerusalem before I had to head home.

My cousin and I at the Yemenite restaurant

My cousin and me at the Yemenite restaurant

Especially after this super fun day touring in Jerusalem, I really did not quite feel ready to return to Berkeley after this amazing trip. At least now I have lots of fun plans and places to eat to look forward to next time I visit :)

Eating my way through Israel: Part 1

So as many of you already know, I accompanied my advisor on a trip to Israel to help out some Israeli researchers with our fungal expertise.  So of course the purpose of this trip was for research, but you all know my ulterior motives already – FOOD :) As I fanatically took photos of all the delicious food we ate, Hagai, one of the Israel researchers, asked my advisor Tom if all of his American students were crazy like that. Nope, I think it’s just me!  I had an amazing time in Israel and really did not feel quite ready to return to the States after my brief 10 day trip, but I can take solace in the awesome spices and treats I brought in tow.

My stash from Israel - rosewater, spice mixes for red and green zhug, and sumac

My stash from Israel – rosewater, spice mixes for red and green zhug, and sumac

I spent my last shekels on date syrup at the duty free shop at the airport and I bought rosewater, sumac, and spice mixes to make red and green zhug at the Arab shuk in Jerusalem. I also couldn’t help myself and bought some gorgeous Armenian pottery to highlight my future cooking.

Buying Armenian pottery in the old city. Can you see me with my purchases?

Buying Armenian pottery in the old city. Can you see me with my purchases?

Tom and I spent the first part of the week in Beer Sheva hanging out with Ofer Ovadia and his grad student Stav at the Ben Gurion University in the Negev. We ate at an amazing Moroccan restaurant but unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera for that meal! Tom, however, brought his camera and sent me this picture from the menu, which he insisted that I include in my blog post. Internal organs anyone?

Restaurant from Moroccan restaurant featuring internal organs

Restaurant from Moroccan restaurant featuring internal organs

While I lack photos of the delicious unadventurous non organ meat meal that we did end up eating,  I did remember to bring my camera for our travels through the north of Israel so you get pictures of our meals in the north instead! I like to joke that I took the anti-touristic tour of Israel – I saw a lot of places that most tourists and probably most Israelis too have never been! We took a hike in the Negev searching for the Terfezia desert truffles, which unfortunately we did not find.  We also spent a bunch of time trekking through pine forests in the mountains near Jerusalem and the mountains in the north trying to find mushrooms. Alas, we were not so successful with mushroom foraging, and the only edible mushroom we found is Suillus collinitus. This is not known to be a prized edible and I have not yet tried it, but Russians apparently love it.

Suillus granulatus. Would you want to eat it?

Suillus collinitus. Would you want to eat it?

Stav and I took a train from Beer Sheva to Akko, which is a city in the northern tip of Israel. Hagai and Tom met us there and took us for an awesome picnic in the woods. I was too hungry to stop and take a picture of the pita, hummus, and burrekas that we ate for lunch, but I did capture the lovely baklavas that they brought for dessert. The orange thing is called kenafe, which is made of sweetened goat cheese soaked in honey and covered in orange crispy things:

Baklava pastries

Baklava pastries

Enjoying coffee and baklava in the Israeli pine forests.

Enjoying a picnic in the pine forests

Stav, Hagai, and Tom enjoying a picnic in the pine forests

We even took time to do some science!

Tom using a traveling dissecting scope to look for mycorrhizal root tips in the woods

Tom using a traveling dissecting scope to look for mycorrhizal root tips in the woods

After science we got hungry again and Hagai took us to this amazing restaurant up in the hills called el Arisa located in the town of Rama. I would return to this place for the view alone, which was truly spectacular:


View from El Arisa in Rama

And how awesome is the interior?

interior of the Arab restaurant

interior of the El Arisa

The view was just incredible, and luckily the food was amazing too! We ordered a bunch of “salatim” to share. Here is the hummus:



We also got fattoush, which you know how much I love:



My favorite though was this eggplant, chickpea, and tomato dish, called Manzala, which I had never tried before but was so savory and delicious:

eggplant dish

Manzala – eggplant dish with chick peas and tomatoes and parsley

Here is my plate all loaded up!

Hummus, fattoush, tabouli, eggplant dish

Hummus, fattoush, tabouli, eggplant dish

I also got my first taste of limonada, which is a super refreshing lemonade drink made with crushed ice and mint. I cannot wait to make it at home!



This was definitely one of my favorite meals in Israel. Arab food is soo good! I love all the fresh herbs. Everything just makes you feel good while eating it. After stuffing our faces with pita and hummus and salatim I was so full, but Hagai ordered a dessert called Sachleb so I had to try that. It’s sort of hard to describe but it’s similar to a pudding. It is vegan and made of coconut and corn meal and flavored with flowers.


Sachleb for dessert

After this amazing meal Stav and I went to Hagai’s house in Kamon, which is a bit like a garden oasis out in the mountains. Off the mountain there is a view of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the left and the Mediterranean to the right and it is just breathtaking. He has 2 adorable children, 2 spunky dogs, and 13 chickens.

Hagai's chickens

Hagai’s chickens

Incredibly, they made 24 eggs, which were some of the freshest and best tasting eggs of my life. Who wants to help me build a chicken coop?

Fresh out of the chicken's butt!

Fresh out of the chicken’s butt!

For dinner Stav made us some Shakshuka, which is a traditional Israeli dish of eggs on a sauce of tomatoes and peppers. Shakshuka always seemed intimidating to me but Stav says it’s super simple and you can make the sauce from whatever vegetables you have lying around. We used carrots, sweet potato, peppers, tomatoes, and tomato sauce.

Shakshuka sauce made with carrots, peppers, sweet potato, and tomato sauce

Shakshuka sauce made with carrots, peppers, sweet potato, and tomato sauce

When all the vegetables are super well cooked and you’ve added all the spices, you dig little holes and place the eggs in them. It is so fun! I can’t wait to try making this at home.

Shakshuka with fresh eggs

Shakshuka with fresh eggs

The day after our visit at Hagai’s house we hiked through some more pine forests and looked for mushrooms in the morning.  While again we were not super successful with finding mushrooms, we did find the remains of a lower jaw of a wild boar, which Tom graciously modeled for us:


Tom modeling the wild boar jaw

Before meeting up with another of our Israeli collaborators, Yohay Carmel, at his lab at the Technion University in Haifa, Hagai took us to enjoy another utterly delicious Arab meal.  We went to this restaurant in the hills in the north of Israel located in a town called Um-el Fachem called El Babour, which did not disappoint! Also, super excitingly, I found out that Yotam Ottolenghi himself loves this restaurant because he replied to one of my tweets about it :) They brought out plates and plates of different salatim. Eggplant covered in tahini and tomatoes covered in tahini, and stewed carrots and all sorts of things I couldn’t tell you what they are but they tasted fabulous.

Salatim at El babour

Salatim at El babour in town in the north of Israel called Um-el fachem. Ottolenghi himself loves this place!

How gorgeous is this hummus?

Hummus from El babour

Hummus from El babour

I couldn’t prevent myself from breaking into the pita before taking a picture:

pita at el babour

pita at el babour

We also got tabbouli and an amazing salad made of mustard greens and red peppers:

salad of mustard greens and red peppers

salad of mustard greens and red pepper

How vibrant are those colors? As you can see, we enjoyed the food:

As you can see, we enjoyed the food.

As you can see, we enjoyed the food.

Tom and I were super stuffed after all the salads but Hagai told us this place is known for their meat so of course we had to order more dishes. Tom got the kefta with tahini:

Lamb and beef kefta with tahini

Lamb and beef kefta with tahini

And I got the chicken kebabs:

Chicken kebabs from El babour

Chicken kebabs from El babour

I was so full at this point but they tasted delicious, and I got to keep the leftovers and eat them for dinner on the train ride from Haifa back south to Beer Sheva.  Stav took me to a really cool funk show out at a pub in the middle of the Negev that evening and we saw an awesome Israeli funk band called Bintel Funk perform. After my last night in Beer sheva I took a bus to Jerusalem on Friday morning where Yohay took Tom and me on an awesome tour of the old city.

Spice shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Spice shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Pretty rocks in the old city in Jerusalem

Pretty rocks in the old city in Jerusalem

Menorah shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Menorah shop in the old city in Jerusalem

Jewish husbands everywhere can appreciate this t-shirt

Jewish husbands everywhere can appreciate this t-shirt

We also got to climb up the towers of this Lutheran church and see a 360 degree view of Jerusalem.

View of the dome of the rock from the towers of the Lutheran church in Jerusalem

View of the dome of the rock from the towers of the Lutheran church in Jerusalem

Roman ruins in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem

Roman ruins in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem

Of course we stopped for lunch in the old city as well :)

Hummus in the old city in Jerusalem

Hummus in the old city in Jerusalem

I’m sure you’ve had enough for now, so I will stop here! But stay tuned for Part 2 where I will post about my visit to meet my Israeli cousins in Beit-El and more of my eating adventures through Jerusalem with my cousin Geula!