From spices and wines to soaps and socks, there’s plenty to put in your suitcase aside from the obvious Dead Sea mud.
By: Naama Barak
Hamsa souvenirs for sale in Tel Aviv. Photo via Shutterstock
Hurray! You can now finally get on a plane and visit our tiny corner of the Middle East. Sun, sea, amazing food and incredible scenery all await you in what promises to be the best post-Covid trip ever.
To make your visit as perfect as possible, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to figure out the greatest souvenirs that you could bring back with you, so that you can enjoy your trip to the max with no worrying niggles at the back of your mind.
And, just in case you aren’t traveling here just yet, we’ve also provided you with equally wonderful alternatives that are but a click away. Rest assured, there’s no Dead Sea mud in sight.
Move over, milk and honey. Wine is what Israel is all about these days. The local wine industry has achieved even higher heights in recent years, and aficionados will have a wonderful time touring vineyards or sipping a glass or two atop rooftop bars.
We recommend bringing home a couple of crisp whites to recreate that Israeli summer vibe wherever you are. Our personal favorites are Pelter’s Unwooded Chardonnay and Flam Blanc, which you can also get here.
Chances are, most indoor places you’ll enter in Israel have this palm-shaped amulet on display somewhere. Popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the hamsa often appears in wall displays, paintings, bracelets and even keyrings and is meant to protect against the evil eye. It usually comes in shades of blue and gold or silver, but modern multicolored ones also are available. You can pick up a hamsa in most markets or homeware shops, as well as online, as in the case of this pretty one from the Israel Museum.
- Natural soaps
Toiletries always make a great gift or souvenir, especially when there’s some empowerment involved. We recommend getting your hands on the natural soaps and oils made by Gamila Hiar, the first female Druze entrepreneur to turn her small business into a worldwide phenomenon.
Not only are her olive oil and herb-based products made by local women, but also smell divine and work beautifully. You can also get them online here, or opt for more mainstream yet fun products from Israeli vendors such as Sabon.
For many years, whisky was the sort of souvenir that Israelis bought abroad, because the decent stuff was hard to find back home. But not anymore. Not only has whisky become a firm favorite in the Holy Land, it’s even produced here
M&H distillery, established in 2012, has been busy making award-winning whisky using unusual casks (think pomegranate wine, sherry and red wine) to get that extra-special flavor. If you’re in Tel Aviv, you can go to one of their in-house tours or workshops.
You can also find out more about how they make their whisky in our film below.
- Woven baskets
If you’re looking for a souvenir with added value, look no further than Kuchinate. The Tel Aviv-based African Refugee Women’s Collective designs and produces colorful crocheted baskets and rugs, all while serving as an empowering psychosocial project for asylum-seeking women in the city. If you’re in Tel Aviv, you can head to the collective’s headquarters for one of their crochet lessons or coffee ceremonies, and if not, you can purchase their wares here.
Don’t neglect to make room in your suitcase for a food item or four. Olive oil, date honey, dried fruit, preserves, zaatar spice powder, tahini and halva all make wonderful (and relatively inexpensive) souvenirs or gifts. You can get all the above in various Israeli outdoor markets, or, in a pinch, at most supermarkets. When you run out of your favorite Israeli spice mix, check out Pereg for their seriously fine stuff. And of course you can’t leave without some Bamba for the kids too, a great take home gift because it’s so light.
For many, Israeli jewelry is most often associated with traditional styles (like the hamsas above) or endless amounts of colorful beads. And while those are gorgeous, we also recommend checking out the country’s more contemporary designers for a fresh take on classic favorites. For proper Tel Aviv cool, try hip designers HOTCROWN and Shlomit Ofir, or check out the collection from Yvel created by Ethiopian immigrants learning the jewelry trade. Prepare yourselves for the compliments that will follow.
Even if the very thought of socks during an Israeli summer leaves you sweating, leave yourself with room in your suitcase for a pair or two. You can find fun designs in many places, but we suggest Collectoe, an unusual collective that enables Israeli and international artists to design on socks and profit from each pair sold.
Art is always a really lovely way to remember a special moment, or, in our case, vacation. Israel’s big cities and little villages alike are awash with art galleries and studios, showcasing everything from Jewish or Arab-themed art to contemporary paintings and sculptures. Three good bets are Hutzot Hayotzer in Jerusalem, the Old City of Safed (Tzfat) and Ein Hod Artists Village in the Haifa area. For more contemporary and hip styles, head straight to Florentin, which is home to many exciting galleries.