Why I Decided to Try Sushi for the First Time—In Israel

“You can’t eat shrimp or lobster? That’s terrible!”

That phrase has followed me since I was 11 years old. I hoped to outgrow it, but my seafood allergy just continued to get worse.  

Culinary travels became more difficult when I finally had to give up eating all fish about 10 years ago because of cross-contamination. Unless I saw someone catch a fish in a lake that had no shellfish and bring it right into an oven, it was off limits to me – until I arrived in Israel.

This is my first sushi experience. Not bad, right? (Photo: Marcia Frost)

Approximately 75% of the population of Israel is Jewish, and many of those people follow a Kosher diet. Kosher requires a rabbi supervised preparation of animal for food, no mixture of meat and dairy, and absolutely no pork or shellfish. 

As I traveled through Israel, I enjoyed many of the country’s delicacies, from the sweet treat of halvah to the fried chickpeas that made up a falafel to the creamy richness of Israeli hummus, but what I was really excited about was the chance to try something I never had before – sushi.

Locals in Israel told me that Tel Aviv was the best spot to get great sushi. That may not be the first place that comes to your mind when you think of sushi, but the influx of Asian tourists has caused a boom in sushi restaurants in the Israeli city. It now has the third highest per capita consumption of sushi in the world, behind Tokyo and New York.

I started out at one of the most popular kosher Japanese restaurants in the region, Nini Hachi on Ben Yuda Street.

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Ben Yehuda Street runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea and is known for its tourist shops, but if you head down a bit further, you’ll find some interesting boutiques and restaurants. Nina Hachi is a bright and modern addition to the neighborhood.

In addition to being Kosher, the restaurant has a gluten-free menu, a vegan selection, and a “Pregnancy Safe” menu, with food created in a separate preparation area without raw fish.

I took a look at the eight page Nini Hachi menu and, despite the fact that it was in English, felt like I was reading a foreign language. I didn’t know maki from temaki and I had no idea if a California roll was something I should eat or a creative dance move originating in Los Angeles.

I finally bowed to the experts, ordered a glass of Sake (something I was familiar with) and waited for the dishes to emerge.

Sake makes absolutely anything go down more smoothly. (Photo: Marcia Frost)

The first thing to come to the table was a pair of chopsticks. I jokingly asked for “training wheels” and the waiter quickly came back with a pair that had a rubber closure on top and wasn’t as hard to use.

They started me with a salad and then some noodles with chicken. Next came the vegetarian sushi. My tablemates explained that I needed to dip everything in the soy sauce and then swallow it in one bite.

I learned that a California roll is made with avocado, carrot, and cucumber, and is quite delicious.

Once I had gotten my feet wet and my chopsticks working, the fish came. There was a rockfish covered in beets, which gave it a bit of sweetness so it wasn’t as fishy as the grouper with avocado and rice.

I started out simply. (Photo: Marcia Frost)

I definitely felt like I was eating sushi when I swallowed the tuna roll, but my favorite came next, salmon with avocado and rice.

The interesting thing was that as much food as was put on the table, I didn’t feel stuffed. Thanks to a sufficient amount of sticky rice in the rolls, I also didn’t feel starving like I do when I eat a low carb meal.

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I didn’t make it back to Nina Hachi, but I found other options at kosher places—Toko at 27 HaBarzel, where you can find sushi made with chicken; Derby Bar at 96 Igal Alon, known for its Red Tuna Steak; and Armando, which is right on the beach promenade. 

I know my first sushi experience certainly won’t be my last.  I confess I probably wouldn’t be a huge raw fish consumer even if I didn’t have a shellfish allergy, I am currently checking out kosher sushi restaurants in Chicago for an occasional fish fix, until I get back to Israel.

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