The last time I was in Israel was 11 years ago. And despite the many and varied things to do in Israel, there’s one thing that I have consistently pined for when thinking about a return trip – Hotel Breakfast. I must admit up front that I’m a breakfast lover. I am not one of those people who eats the same thing for breakfast every day year-in and year-out. I like variety, I like to taste the seasons, and I love breakfast food of all sorts – eggs, cheeses, fruit, sweets and breads, cereal and yogurt – savory and sweet; it’s all good. I’d eat breakfast all day long if it were up to me.
Suffice it to say that Hotel Breakast was one of the major things that I was anticipating this trip. I was seriously panicked when I thought we were going straight from Ben Gurion airport on arrival to our apartment in Jerusalem without benefit of a hotel. And I was equally relieved when my husband informed me that we had two nights (and mornings!) before we moved in, and then just as frustrated when bad weather made us miss our flight to Israel and therefore one whole morning’s worth of breakfast (I’m still trying to figure out if I can get US Airways to pay for another breakfast somehow.) Okay, you get it.
So, my intent was clear – eat as much good hotel breakfast as I can while I’m here and skip other meals if I have to, in order to compensate (which is not working out so well thus far but it WAS the plan). And with a special thanks to the many friends who have come to town and have “hosted” me for breakfast at their various hotels – I have made my way so far through the Dan Boutique, The David Citadel and The Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, on a recent trip to Lake Kinneret – Ha’on Holiday Village, Nof Ginosaur, and Gai Beach Resort Hotel and most recently in Ein Gedi at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel and The Marriott Dead Sea Resort in Jordan.
My favorites to date have been The Mamilla in Jerusalem where pesto/goat cheese crepes and individual shakshuka in a tiny copper skillet won the day and Gai Beach Resort where everything was incredibly beautiful, fresh, and delicious, including exceptional cheeses and fish, burekas, shakshuka (yes more), and smoked salmon, which is actually something of a rarity on these buffets.
If you haven’t been in a while, or just want to feel hungry, here are some of the things that I think make the Hotel Breakfast just so great:
Salad Bar – In every locale, there are now many lovely bowls of fresh vegetables from which to build an entire salad, as opposed to just the cucumbers and tomatoes of years past. From varieties of lettuces and sprouts to radishes, mushrooms, red and yellow bell peppers and so much more – you can now build an entire and beautiful salad. For whatever reason, even the best hotels seem to put out the same two ubiquitous dressings with salad – a bland version thousand island and a sweetish creamy ranch-type flavor that I don’t get. Just opt for the olive oil and lemon juice and you’ll be fine. There are also numerous composed salads with my favorite so far being at Gai Beach where arugula and cucumbers and tomatoes and were dressed lightly in a salad with shredded Bulgarian cheese and za’atar and other herbs.
The Salad Bar at Nof Ginosar
Dairy – The dairy still rocks and there’s even more than I remember. I can’t resist the bowls of labneh flavored with olive oil and either za’atar or sumac, feta cheese in spicy olive oil, incredibly fresh mozzarella and cottage cheese, cream cheese with dill or spring onion, salty Bulgarian cheese and sliced and whole cheeses of all kinds. How bad can your day be if you start it off like this?
Shakshuka – I’ve now been to three different hotels that serve shakshuka for breakfast and I’m a big fan. I haven’t had shakshuka since my roommate’s mother in college (who was Israeli) came and made it for us one weekend. The combination of spicy tomato sauce with poached eggs is a delicious one and it’s now my personal gold standard for hotel breakfast.
Shakshuka at The Mamilla Hotel
Hot Entrees – At most of the hotels, the assortment of hot entrees these days will make your head spin. All of the better hotels have a station that will make eggs to order. Just beware it’s often a really long line and if you’re particular about how you like your omelette or eggs you may want to learn the Hebrew words to convey your order. You might also find blintzes (or blintz casserole), quiches, kugels, burekas, crepes, mushrooms in sauce, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and other such items. Better places generally equal more items and better quality.
Fish – An assortment of smoked and pickled fish is standard at almost every place I’ve been. Sable, whitefish, herring (although unusually pink and salty) are all on hand. In general the bigger and better the location, the bigger the selection and at the top of the scale there is generally smoked salmon. So if you need your bagel, cream cheese and lox fix – you can absolutely find it (although bagels can sometimes be a rarity.)
Artisan Breads – The artisan bread movement has made it’s way to Israel. At every place I’ve been, there are fresh loaves that you can slice yourself, including whole grain, baguettes, raisin, olive and an assortment of rolls – plain, whole grain and seeded. There always seem to be bags of sliced loaves for those who want more traditional toast, but I for one am whole-heartedly embracing the artisan bread trend and given the plethora of new bakeries I’ve seen, I’ll be tracking down some favorites to write about soon.
Jams and Spreads – When I was 16 and first came here on a trip with my synagogue’s Confirmation Class, hotel breakfast was usually a really hard roll and some very bright pink jam of unknown origin. Well, unbelievably, this week I came across the pink jam and when I asked one of the chef’s about it he told me that it was cherry. It didn’t taste like cherry – it just tasted like a mixture of red fruit that was exceptionally sweet. But the good news is that there is now also an unbelievable assortment of other jams and preserves that are delicious and far surpass that pink stuff of years past. From carrot marmalade to eggplant jam to beet preserves (unusual texture but really tasty) to the ever-delicious chocolate spread – there is no lack of something to put on all that good bread!
Kid Appeal – I know I wasn’t paying attention 11 years ago, but this time around I couldn’t help but notice the kid appeal. And let’s face it – kids really do like a buffet. Jake, my eight year-old, loves the ability to help himself to items of his liking and 6 year-old Sammy has quickly followed in his footsteps. From pancakes with a choice of maple or chocolate syrup (or both, in Sammy’s case), hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, flavored yogurts and pudding, assorted sugar cereal, chocolate milk, pastries, and various melons on hand, feeding your kids well at hotel breakfast is now a breeze. And for those with more adventurous palates – it’s also a good place to try new things.
So I will continue to eat hotel breakfast and try to stick to my plan of not eating so much at other meals. Maybe since the novelty has finally worn off somewhat, that will work now. But I would love recommendations of your favorite places to try. Many places serve a large buffet breakfast on Friday as well, since many people are actually off on Friday these days, so I’ll be checking out those options, as well. And if you’re like me and choose hotels based on whether or not they have good breakfast, then by all means check-out my ratings below. I’ll continue to update as I go.
3 Forks Excellent, everything I hoped for and more!
2 Forks A totally worthy breakfast, would eat there again, although not a destination spot based on the food.
1 Fork Don’t do it – not worth the calories.
The Mamilla Hotel – Jerusalem
The David Citadel – Jerusalem
Gai Beach Resort – Tiberias
Marriott Dead Sea Resort – Jordan
Nof Ginosaur – Lake Kinneret
Dan Boutique – Jerusalem
Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel – Ein Gedi
Ha’on Holiday Village – Lake Kinneret