I’ve been to Israel twice now: when I was eight years old, and just recently with Honeymoon Israel. As you can imagine, with a nearly three-decade gap between visits, the highlights of the first trip were really all I could muster going into this more recent visit.
I remember floating in the Dead Sea via an abandoned water slide park that felt more like the scene of a zombie ghost town thriller than a luxurious and fun visit to the beach like I was used to growing up in San Diego.
I remember people selling plastic grocery bags filled with pita bread and Jerusalem bagels with sesame seeds (my favorite) on the sides of the road, and my aunt would just open the rental van window and chuck a shekel at the guy and we’d have all the carbs we needed for the day.
With five boys and three adults traveling together, most days we packed lunches consisting of pita bread filled with either Hebrew National salami and cheese, or avocado and cheese. That’s probably when I first fell in love with avocados.
We spent most of the family trip using the Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh’s guesthouse as our homebase, because that’s where my aunt, uncle and cousins lived before moving back to the states and they still had friends there.
Chickens ran wild everywhere in Israel and chasing them was a favorite pastime. That’s also why you could find hard-boiled eggs at every meal.
The kibbutz was covered in loquat trees you could eat whenever you wanted whether it was in your yard or your neighbor’s. Socialism and eating fruit directly from the source were totally new concepts to me at the age of eight.
The kibbutz dining hall is where I experienced the first conveyor belt toaster oven, and every morning I got a kick out of watching my toast slowly move through the machine just to fly out the bottom where it met its jam-smothered doom. That’s also when I learned that there are toast-thieves in this world, so be careful and watch your toast!
I remember we picked up at least ten Israeli solders hitchhiking on the sides of the road in the two weeks we were in Israel. Each time, I sat quietly in the back of the van, staring at their riffles and bandoliers crisscrossing around their necks.
We were in the van a lot on that family trip and it was usually all poop jokes and tattletales on who was hitting who. But when we had an Israeli soldier hitchhiker in the vehicle, us kids were well behaved from the moment they sat down until they thanked us for the ride and got out. Out of respect—and mostly fear—we just sat there and stared at these teenagers ready for battle, which I bet was a little sobering for my older brothers just shy of conscription age. Now that I think about it, I’m sure the adults realized how peaceful the drives were every time they invited a heavily armed soldier to sit in the middle row and that’s why we shuttled so many around.
And since most of my memories are food related, I remember the ice cream we had in Israel. My father’s family is genetically predisposed to sweets so every night, all eight of us packed into the van like it was a Jewish clown car and we left Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh for ice cream in Netanya—the nearest city to the south.
There was no Baskin-Robbins in Netanya in the 1989 so we had to do a little digging to find the ice cream shops and carts on the street where we could get our nightly sugar fix. A selection like this (Anita la mamma del Gelato’s case) didn’t exist back then.
I remember all of us boys got to pick one scoop of ice cream and whether we wanted it in a sugar cone or a cup. [Cone obviously]
What’s still vivid to this day were the flavors. They had all the basic flavors, but regardless of our choice—the ice cream in Israel tasted like banana. Vanilla tasted like banana. Chocolate looked like chocolate, but tasted like banana. Strawberry—you guessed it—banana.
It got to the point where my father would ask, “what flavor do you want Phil?” and I’d say, “surprise me!” Because I knew it didn’t matter and it would just end up tasting like banana!
I happen to like banana ice cream, so I don’t think I was upset about the flavor confusion as much as I was angry with my father’s new “daddy tax” rule. What’s a daddy tax? I’ll explain.
You see, my father never ordered his own ice cream. He’s cheap, and figured he could get away with taking a few bites from each of his three kids’ ice creams and that was enough for him. I’m sure he justified it with some rationale for how us kids didn’t need all that sugar before bedtime, but I know him pretty well, and I’m thinking he just didn’t want to pay for a fourth cone.
So by the third night of the vacation, my brothers and I learned to get our ice cream from the counter and scram off to savor it in peace before he could collect his toll.
But he’s a pretty observant guy and sure enough, when you least expected it, he’d appear standing over us (he’s 5’3″ by the way), with an outstretched hand, chanting “Daddy tax! Daddy tax!” And we’d have to temporarily part with the cone.
Normally I’d have no problem letting someone taste my ice cream. I share with Jonathan all the time. It’s hard, because I really enjoy ice cream, but I do it. But my father didn’t just taste our ice cream—he manhandled it with his mouth. And what was once a spherical scoop on top of a cone prior to him getting his hands on it, was given back seconds later, mutilated, sad, and with three-quarters missing.
He either sticks the entire thing in his mouth and pinches off a chunk with his lips, or he takes a single lick that involves turning the ice cream cone around multiple times so his tongue scrapes off the outer six layers. He’s got the dexterity of a Chinese guy twirling BaoDing balls so he twirls that cone fast and consistently!
I think the joke was originally that “daddy was coming in for an attack” on our ice cream; hence the phrase daddy attacks or daddy’ tacks. But it really was a tax that us deprived boys had to pay nightly. So it became daddy tax and works both ways.
The worst is when he got our aunt and uncle in on it, and they started uncle and aunt tax, their own proprietary method for syphoning off ice cream from the children on the streets of Israel.
Anita La Mamma del Gelato in Tel Aviv
I’m happy to report the Israeli food scene, especially the ice cream and gelato, has come a long way since the late 80s. On this recent trip to Israel, Jonathan and I met up with Laura, a family friend who lives in the Rothschild District in Tel Aviv.
On a rainy day we met Laura for lunch and a walk through the historic Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The Neve Tzedek is historically relevant for being the first Jewish neighborhood outside the old city of Jaffa (Yafo), and the homes have a unique architecture (more of a bungalow style), different from so much of the rest of the city that is known for the Bauhaus designs.
These days it’s a very trendy part of town with art galleries, cool shops, awesome restaurants, some cool street art, and of course—the best ice cream in Israel!
Anita Gelato (technically it’s Anita La Mamma del Gelato) on the corner of Shabazi Street (the main drag of the Neve Tzedek) and Pines Street is magical. Laura suggested we stop in while there were no lines, and though it was only 10:30am, I wasn’t going to argue with her.
The gelato, yogurt, and sorbet at Anita Gelato totally shattered my preconceived notions that all ice cream and gelato in Israel tastes like banana. And on top of that, I think I had one of the best pistachio ice cream treats ever. Even better than the amazing pistachio gelato from Eataly in New York City.
Some of their gelato flavors have a complimentary ganache or “cream” over the top. What I ordered was the white chocolate gelato with pistachio cream. The flavor combo was orgasmic.
I enjoyed that over a scoop of the chestnut with hazelnut cream.
Jonathan went with a solid rich chocolate brownie gelato and a scoop of the white chocolate and strawberries gelato.
They have ice cream flavors like: salted bagel, salted caramel with white chocolate, Ferrero rocher, mascarpone ricotta & strawberries, loacker hazelnut wafers, tiramisu & hazelnut mousse, black forrest, mill-feuille, pavlova, and more.
It should go without saying that there weren’t enough hours in the day for us to get back to Anita’s gelato shop as often as we wanted. And the second time we did go back, it was a sunny day and the line was out the door and around the block.
So if you find yourself in Israel with a hankering for some of the best ice cream/gelato you’ve every tasted, stop by Anita gelateria. They have several locations in Tel Aviv (Florentine district, Neve Tzedek, and in the Old North) and they now have two locations in Sydney Australia (in Surry Hills and Bondi Beach).
Have you been to an Anita la Mamma del Gelato shop? Found some other amazing ice cream shops in Israel? Tell us about them in the comments below.