How to tip like an Israeli

 Yeah, your ulpan teacher may have told you that the 
Hebrew for "tip" is "tesher," but it's not: it's "teep."

This is one of those random topics that seems inconsequential, but it's what visiting friends tend to ask about the most. So, here's a quick and easy guide to tipping like an Israeli. Hint: it involves exact change!

1. Most Israelis tip between 10-15 percent. This is something I'm still uncomfortable with... I get flashbacks to my college friends working in Chinese restaurants for 2 bucks an hour, plus tips and assorted leftover boxes of beef broccoli, and I almost always leave 15 - 20 percent as my tip. In my experience, though, most Israelis tip less.

2. Guard your tip with your life. When some of my Israeli friends leave tips, they cover their assorted shekels with their hands, flag over the waiter, point at the money, and in general operate with covert prowess. I guess the thought is that someone else might walk along and scoop up the ten shekels if you aren't careful. I don't worry about this one much either, but it's worth mentioning.

3. Most important of all... that little line below your total on your restaurant credit card receipt? It's not for your tip. I always wonder how many Americans shortchange their servers out of blissful ignorance this way. Yes, in the US this line usually lets you add in a tip to your credit card total, but here this line on your credit card receipt is for your telephone number. Which, by the way, you should never write down on any receipt unless someone insists... that would be giving away information. I've never found a way to tip using my credit card in an Israeli restaurant, so bring cash.

4. Aside from restaurants, you're expected to tip workers in a number of other random transactions. Honestly, I still haven't figured this one out, so your best bet is just to ask the person recommending something to you whether you should tip. For example, we paid our movers 700 shekels and then tipped each worker and the driver 50 shekels each-- another 150 shekels. (They were worth their weight in shekels, btw... hiring movers was one of our best decisions. Aleks could lug 20 boxes up two flights of stairs in one trip like nobody's business.) Other transactions, such as getting our washing machine fixed or receiving a mattress delivery, didn't involve tipping. Remember, though, even if you don't plan to give a service person a tip, make sure you offer them coffee... failing to do so would be simply inhumane.

Ok, this appears to be a very simple topic. Is there anything I left out? How much do you usually tip in Israel?


Foods surprisingly hard to find in Israel (and foods to try instead!)

One reason that I use a lot of Israeli cook books (in addition to the fact that they help me learn words like "diced," "sauteed," and "minced garlic" in Hebrew) is that some common ingredients in the US are hard to find in Israel... and some common ingredients in Israel are really hard to find in the US. Here are a few foods I was surprised to have trouble finding here, along with suggestions of Israeli foods you could eat instead.

Caveat: you usually can find these foods, especially if you go to a big grocery chain specializing in imports, like Tiv Ta'am. But it's harder, so why not adjust to Israeli supermarkets??

Hard to find: bagels & lox

This one took me by surprise when I made aliyah, because in US bagels and lox seemed like the most Jewish food in existence (after, maybe, matzo ball soup). Here, bagels themselves are almost impossible to find! Jewish state, indeed.

Instead, try: ikra! (Hebrew: איקרה)

I first ate ikra on Yom HaAtzmaut, at a barbecue with a bunch of Romanian Israelis. It's a salad made from fish eggs, cream, lemon juice, and a few other ingredients-- here's a recipe (in Hebrew) from Yediot Ahronot. The Romanians called it "poor man's caviar," but I'd say the taste is actually very cream cheese-and-lox-esque! You can find ikra in the salads section of any supermarket-- in our local super, ikra is behind the deli counter, next to the cheese and smoked fish. Good luck finding a bagel to eat it with.

Hard to find: molasses

I've actually never been able to find molasses in Israel (though I haven't looked all that hard in Tiv Ta'am, and my ginger snap cookie recipe has had to slum it with dark brown sugar instead. I guess Israeli grandmothers don't go for this "surprise" natural sweetener-- whatever that means. 

Instead, try: silan! (Hebrew: סילאן)

Silan is date honey, and while it's a common ingredient in Israeli recipes (particularly savory recipes that need just a bit of sweetness), I never knew it existed before I made aliyah. It has a milder flavor than molasses or even honey, so I'm not suggesting it as a molasses substitute, but it's awesome on yogurt, in meat dishes, in desserts. Try to get 100% silan rather than a mixture of silan and sugar-- for some reason, I am able to find pure silan in our super around passover, but not at any other time.

Hard to find: grated mozzarella (forget about fat free!) 

 It's actually pretty difficult to find any kind of fat free dairy products in Israel. 1% milk, yes-- you can even buy it in plastic bags! Skim milk, what? You can find fat free yogurt, but you're much more likely to find 1.5% or 3.5% yogurt. Fat free cottage cheese is unheard of, though 5% is very common. I guess Israelis just aren't willing to sacrifice that much taste. Add to this the fact that mozzarella cheese isn't very common here, and you'll need to find a substitute for all your diet recipes that call for low fat mozzarella. Never fear!

Instead, try: crumbled emek! (Hebrew: פתיתי עמק)

Emek is more flavorful than mozzarella, and I'd say it's one of the major reasons why Israeli pizza is so delicious. Emek packages are marked with the percent of fat in the cheese, and the lowest-fat good-tasting variety is 22% fat. (Stay away from 9% emek. I think it's mostly plastic.) 22% fat sounds scary, but it's actually fairly equivalent to part-skim mozzarella-- according to nutritiondata.com, 100 grams of part-skim low-moisture mozzarella is 302 calories and 100 grams of regular part-skim mozzarella is 254 calories, while 100 grams of 22% emek is 299 cals. And did I mention that Emek tastes much better? On the other hand, if you want cheddar cheese or (chas ve'shalom) processed American cheese food, perhaps aliyah is not for you.

Hard to find: chili powder

I've actually made my own chili powder spice mix-- you can easily find recipes for chili powder online. But you won't find anything exactly like American chili powder on our shelves.

Instead, try:  Tunisian Harissa Seasoning! (Hebrew: תערובת לאריסה תוניסאית)

Tunisian Harissa (in Hebrew, "Larisa Tunisait") is a chili pepper spice mix pretty similar to chili powder, but (big surprise!) more flavorful. Use it on fish, in soups, anywhere you want a bit of a kick.

Hard to find: fresh pineapple

We buy canned pineapple all the time, so you certainly don't need to go without pineapple in your salat peirot here, but you probably won't find fresh pineapples at your local veggie shop. Pineapple grows in hot, moist climates, while Israel has a hot, dry climate. So your oranges, avocados and bananas were probably picked yesterday at a farm an hour away from your veggie shop, but you won't find pineapples. I mention this because pineapples are just about the only fruit I don't find here, with the exception of more delicate berries like raspberries. Have I mentioned that I LOVE Israeli fruits and veggies?

Instead try: fresh shesek! (Hebrew: שסק)

In English, shesekim are actually called loquats, but you didn't know that anyway, did you? These taste nothing like pineapples, but they're absolutely amazing little fruits with a taste like a slightly tart, extra juicy apricot. Here's a gushy article about the loquat from NPR's foodie show, The Splendid Table, which makes them sound all exotic and rare. I bought a kilo of loquats from a fruit stand by the side of the road. They're slightly messy to eat because you pull out the seeds and the ends before popping them into your mouth, but they're delicious. Other fruits to try in Israel: persimmons, pomegranates, sabra fruit, passion fruit, and those big stinky wrinkly fruits that you should avoid storing in a close space...

Hard to find in Israel: corn chips.

My husband and I don't buy much snack food, but we once tried to find tortilla chips to serve with dip for a party. Eventually we realized that while supermarkets in this country sell dozens of varieties of potato chips, corn chips are basically nonexistent. Sorry. 

Instead, try: bissli! (Hebrew: ביסלי, meaning "my bite")

Bisli are traditional Israeli snacks that started out as deep fried, spiced pasta back in the days when Israel really didn't import food from abroad. Each flavor has a different shape, and they're all delicious. Oddly enough, even though chips and salsa (let alone tacos) are pretty much unheard of here, you can find taco-flavored bisli. If you want to get the full Israeli experience, on the other hand, try the falofel flavored bisli. Just don't plan to breathe on anyone for a while afterward.

Hard to find in Israel: M&Ms, peanut butter cups, peppermint paddies, snickers bars...

If you're considering aliyah, take a deep breath, look at the picture above, and ask yourself if you can live without everything in it. Now stop hyperventilating. Breathe into a bag! In! Out! In! Out! I've never found M&Ms, Hershey's kisses, or anything combining mint and chocolate in a regular Israeli supermarket. However, never fear...

Instead, try: Israeli chocolates! (Hebrew:  שוקולד)

I grew up a few hours from Hershey, PA, so I feel a little disloyal for saying this, but Elite brand Israeli chocolates can definitely give Hershey a run for its money. If you want peaunut-chocolatey goodness (along the lines of a snickers bar), try a pesek-zman bar. If you want a kit-kat, try a kif-kef. Personally, I love the 60% dark chocolate bars... I almost always have some in the house. But if you want an M&M or a Hershey's kiss, well, you're still out of luck. But did I mention that we have chocolate spread?

I could go on. For example, it's not easy to find drip coffee here, although we have some pretty good instant coffee-- I highly recommend Jacobs brand (the green lid, not the gold). You won't find "Italian Seasoning" on our shelves, but you can always mix together basil, oregano, and paprika... or go for a middle eastern spice blend, zatar. You won't find tylenol, but we have acamol. You won't find graham crackers, but Israeli tea bisvitim usually do the trick. For everything American you can't find in this country, you'll find three other products that Israelis can't find in the US... as I found when I translated an Israeli article this old blog post, What's Missing in America.  A lot of the fun of living in Israel is discovering the local flavors that are "gourmet" in America and available in any corner macolet here.

What foods would you add to this list?

Be'tei avon! (Bon appetit!)
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