Israeli food is so good that it is reason enough to visit the country, and if you plan to visit this small but interesting country you should factor in a few extra pounds on your hips and belly when you finally go home – I only know too well!
In Israel you will find plenty of excellent restaurants; small street food spots; markets to try fresh ingredients and local snacks. There’s something for any taste, budget and diet. Are you vegan? Welcome to the most vegan-friendly country in the world!
Israeli diet is one of the healthiest in the world, with a heavy focus on vegetables and pulses. Even a quick grab can be healthy: a fresh smoothie packed with vitamins, fibers and flavor is so easy to get.
Israeli chefs combine a passion for excellent quality ingredients with innovation; but if you think that Israeli food is all about the Middle East, think again. Obviously, Palestinian and Middle Eastern influences are predominant in Israeli cuisine. But it goes well beyond that: for as small as it is, this country is a melting pot of cultures and peoples, and its cuisine borrows its flavors from those of Morocco, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Yemen and much more.
Ready to get hungry? Continue reading!
The Best Israeli Food – Everything You Must Try
Breads and snacks
Bread is an integral part of the Israeli diet, and not a meal goes by without it. Bread in Israel is not only very good, but also extremely varied. You can really get anything from sourdough bread rolls to crispy ciabatta. But if you are looking for something more local, try one of the following.
Beigeleh (in Hebrew) or Ka’akh (in Arabic)
These large loops of bread are similar to bagels (though they actually look quite similar to pretzels). They are coated in sesame seeds for extra crunchiness and they are often served with hummus. You’ll easily find it at the market, especially at the Old City Market in Jerusalem.
Found across countries that used to be under Ottoman rule, it is a phyllo pastry stuffed with cheese and / or other ingredients. It’s perfect for breakfast on the go. You’ll find it at any bakery.
Probably the most famous Jewish bread, it’s typically eaten during Shabbat dinner. It has a very thick, dry-ish dough and a thick crust (though it’s nowhere near crispy), it’s on the sweet side. In the United States, leftovers of challah are used to prepare french toasts.
A round, crispy and fluffy bread brought to Israel by Central Asia Jews. You’ll find it in Jerusalem, in bakeries around the Bukharan Market (Shuk ha-Bukharim).
You won’t find bread in Israel during Passover. Instead, you’ll have to eat matzah, unleavened crackers, very crispy but not truly flavorful.
Similar to other kinds of unleavened bread you’ll mostly find in the area of Jerusalem, pita comes in different varieties – white, wholemeal etc – and it’s the best bread to eat hummus and falafel. A warmed up pita stuffed with meat and vegetables and with a spoon of tahini is just about the perfect meal.
These fritters are very similar to hashbrown. They are typical Chanukah food and can be served plain, with fresh cheese or with applesauce (though apparently that is more of a diaspora thing).
In Italian, bamba is another word for marijuana. In Israel, it’s the most popular snack and has nothing to do with drugs, other than the fact it is addictive. This peanut flavored snack is the perfect pairing to cold beer. It’s also through Bamba that British pediatricians established that giving small quantities of peanuts to children may prevent them from developing peanut allergies. As if you needed more excuses to try it.
This delicious dip is made with grilled eggplants which are pureed and lots of olive oil, garlic and tahini. It’s perfect with pita.
Found ubiquitously around the country, they are actually typical of the Middle East. They are small balls of chickpea meal mixed with garlic, parsley, and other herbs and spices, then fried. They can be eaten alone (best dipped in tahini), stuffed in pita with salad and the ever present tahini, with hummus and pickles.
You can find falafel and falafel sandwiches at street food stalls in any market, ie at HaCarmel in Tel Aviv or at Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem. They are a good budget option for a filling meal.
Though there is no certainty as to who invented hummus, once thing for sure is Israelis love their hummus. Found across the Middle East, this blend of chickpeas with tahini, garlic, lemon, salt and abundant olive oil is usually consumed for breakfast. Good, fresh hummus goes bad and sour within hours of having been made so stay away from the cheap tubs you find at supermarkets across the world.
For a special dish, try hummus is made with fava beans (foul).
The best places for hummus in Israel are Abu Hassan in Jaffa; Abu Shruk and Lina in Jerusalem; and Ouzi in Netanya. The latter is a truly local spot where the owner enjoys throwing jokes at foreigners – if only they could understand!
No meal is complete in Israel without a vast array of salads – not even breakfast. Appetizers are often in mezze style and consist of a variety of salads. A local favorite is a salad of finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes and onions topped with lemon juice and tahini. Tabbouleh, made with chopped parsley, tomatoes, onion and olive oil, is another favorite.
Brought to Israel by the Yemenite Jews, it looks like pancakes made of layers of phyllo dough rolled in a tube and baked in the oven. It’s usually served with a dip of pureed tomatoes and fenugreek.
Khachapuri was brought to Israel from the Gruzinim, the Jews of Georgia. It’s a bread baked with three types of cheese, and towards the end of the baking process an egg is placed on top of it. It’s something between bread, sandwich and a pizza that is rich in flavor and nutrients.
Known as the Palestinian national dish, it is mouthwatering casserole of lamb, eggplant and rice you’ll find in restaurants in East Jerusalem.
This dish is made of chicken hearts, spleens and livers mixed with lamb, cooked on the grilled with onion, garlic, pepper, cumin, turmeric, coriander and abundant olive oil before being stuffed in a pita. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart.
This Arab Israeli dish is made with chicken roasted with onion and pine nuts and served with flatbread. It’s mostly found in East Jerusalem.
Red kubeh soup
A soup of dumplings made with bulgur and semolina and stuffed with meat, served in a tangy broth made of roots vegetables and beets. It’s actually a Kurdish dish that is typically eaten in the winter.
One of the best dishes of Israeli cuisine is this mixture of grilled eggplant, boiled potatoes, poached eggs with tahini and amba (spicy mango sauce). It’s usually stuffed in pita, but you’ll find it served as an appetizer in upscale restaurants.
Very similar to Indian samosas, the word is actually Persian. Sambusak are filled with mashed chickpeas but there is also a version with meat and potatoes. It’s a common street food you can find at markets such as Mahane Yehuda.
Though it was not invented in Israel, it’s often found on an Israeli table. Here, it generally consists of breaded chicken breast which is fried in abundant oil and served hot, preferably with thick cut fries.
Stack of thin slices of either beef or lamb, slowly roasted until moist and delicious and stuffed in pita with a variety of condiments.
The most famous Israeli breakfast dish is actually found all over Middle East. Tomatoes are cooked in olive oil with chopped onions, parsley, pepper and other spices, and eggs are poached on top of it. It’s served with a small salad of parsley and mint, as well as some cheese such as labneh and za’atar.
Sweets and desserts
Found in all countries that at some point in history were under Ottoman rule, it’s a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo filled with nuts (the best are with pistachio) and soaked in a thick sugar syrup or in honey.
Commonly found across the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Balkans, it’s made with tahini, various kinds of nuts and heaps of sugar. It’s crumbly and dry. You’ll find it at any local market, including HaCarmel and Mahane Yehuda.
This sweet consist of a thin phyllo pastry layered with cheese, baked and then soaked in a thick sugar syrup.
This sweet is actually European, but it reaches perfection in Israel. You’ll easily find it at bakeries and markets. It almost looks like a small croissant, but if anything it’s more similar to pain au chocolat. If you feel like you want a Parisian style breakfast, grab one or two and eat them while sipping coffee.
There are two versions of this typical Israeli dessert. The regular one is made with whole milk and cream; and the vegan option is made with soya milk or – my favorite – with coconut cream. Rosewater, rice or corn flour, chopped nuts and syrup (can be anything from maple to some fruit syrup) are added and the result is creamy, fluffy and delicious.
These doughnuts will remind you of European krapfen. They are typically filled with jam, but you can also find less traditional versions with chocolate or hazelnut spread. They are eaten during Chanukah.
Israeli coffee is prepared with cardamom, so it has a spicy flavor which takes a bit to get accustomed to. You can try it in a traditional coffee shop (there are various at the Old City market in Jerusalem).
A delicious lemonade with added mind, perfect on a hot day.
The production of craft beer in Israel is growing, and you can find it at small pubs in or around the market. The best place if you want to try a few kinds is Beer Bazar, at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
With just about the perfect climate, Israel makes some excellent wine and you should make sure to try some before you leave the country. You may want to opt for a wine tour or, more simply, sit at any good restaurant and order a bottle.
7 Tips To Fully Enjoy Israeli Food
Join a food tour
One of the best ways to quickly learn about local food is doing a food tour or a cooking class.
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and even Haifa have a great selection of excellent food tours. I have tried and tested all the tours below:
- Tel Aviv classic food tour – it goes to all the nicest neighborhoods and in each of them you get to try some excellent food.
- The ultimate dinner – a 10 course dinner with wine pairing that in one night goes to four of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv.
- Carmel Market tour with Beit Hair museum visit – a very budget friendly food tour with an optional visit to Beit Hair museum.
If you want a more hands on approach, try a cooking class like this one.
Go to the local market
Israelis love shopping for groceries at the market, so that’s where you’ll get the idea of what they eat on a regular basis and what they buy for important occasions such as a Shabbat dinner. Markets such as Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and HaCarmel in Tel Aviv are now quite touristy. If you want a truly local experience, go to the market of lesser visited Netanya. Make sure to practice your market skills and beware of scams!
Learn about the staple ingredients of Israeli cuisine
Israeli food has some ingredients that are recurrent among most of its traditional dishes, and if you want to fully appreciate it you may as well get a basic idea of what they are. Among locals’ favorites you’ll find:
Tahini (or tahina, as locals call it) – a creamy, nutty sauce that can be eaten either plain or mixed with other ingredients such as beetroot. It’s used as a condiment for salad, as a dip and even eaten on its own. It’s one of the ingredients of hummus, baba ganouj and even halva. Beware it’s easy to get addicted.
Labneh – a very mild fresh white cheese similar to Greek yogurt. It’s often eaten for breakfast, with olive oil and za’atar.
Za’atar – a mix of dried herbs and other seeds which includes oregano, thyme, sesame seed, marjoram, cumin and salt. Mixed with oil, it’s perfect when spread on grilled pita. Accompanied with labneh it is the ultimate breakfast dish. You can buy it in bags at the market and take it home.
Lemon – used to prepare hummus, mixed in the tahini, poured abundantly on salads. Lemon is ever present in Israeli cuisine.
Parsley – mixed with mint, olive oil and lots of lemon it turns into a favorite salad.
Olive oil – much like in the rest of the Mediterranean, food in Israel is cooked in olive oil, which here is of excellent quality.
Chickpeas – used to prepare hummus or falafel, two of the most popular local dishes, as well as a variety of soups; they are often added in salads or used to prepare small side dishes.
Try a home cooked meal
One thing I love about Israeli food culture is that a massive part of it is not just about the food, but about who you eat it with. Much like Italians, Israelis enjoy eating as a social custom, and any occasion is good to enjoy a meal with family and friends.
Shabbat dinner – the meal that marks the beginning of Shabbat on Friday evenings – is a proper ritual, and something that not even Israelis who aren’t religious dare to skip. Similar to that, there’s Shabbat breakfast on Saturday mornings (though many Israelis now opt for brunch instead).
There is no better way to enjoy Israeli food than a proper, home cooked meal. If you don’t have friends in Israel that will graciously invite you for dinner you can count on one of the many Israeli organizations that in the last few years have been putting in touch tourists with local families all over the country with the short term goal of allowing visitors to get inside an Israeli home and get a taste of a home cooked meal and the long term aim of creating new, lasting friendships.
Although they allow you to book local dinners for any day of the week, I wholeheartedly recommend booking a Shabbat dinner. Depending on your interests, you may get to experience a Shabbat prayer too.
Check out my post What You Need To Know About Shabbat In Jerusalem.
A huge part of Israeli food is naturally vegan, and Israel has become the center of veganism for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, there is a motivation to stay healthy; then there’s Israelis love for animals and their willingness to stop animal cruelty, as well as their concern for the environment (though they have an insane addiction to disposable, single use plastic – including plastic bags – and where proper garbage recycling policies have yet to be implemented).
Another reason for veganism being so popular is the fact that Israel is a relatively young country, often adopting new trends – including culinary ones – and making them its own.
With many Israelis trying to keep a kosher diet, going vegan also makes sense.
Make sure to read my post Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide: The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv.
Have a proper Israeli breakfast
Did you know Israeli breakfast is all about salad? If you think this is weird, just sit down at a local café and look at what locals are having for breakfast. I bet you’ll want to order the same, because it looks tasty, filling and healthy.
A proper Israeli breakfast with a fresh pressed juice, eggs (preferably shakshuka), a mixed salad (can be anything, but locals love cucumber and tomatoes), tahini, olives, various white cheeses and pita bread is a great way to start your day.
Since breakfast is a serious thing in Israel, breakfast places are found all over the country. In Tel Aviv, go to Café Sheleg, a small quaint café on Ge’ula street. For breakfast all day, go to Benedict, open 24 hours. There are various locations in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and even in Kfar Saba. In Jerusalem, Kalo is the perfect breakfast spot.
Open up to the other cultures and cuisines
In the last couple of decades, Israel has been experiencing a growing influx of people coming from African countries. Many of them are from Ethiopia, where there is a large Jewish community, and as Jews their status is different from that of other African immigrants or asylum seekers such as those coming from Eritrea or South Sudan.
As these communities established themselves in the Neve Shaanan neighborhood of Tel Aviv, this part of town has become more and more multicultural and small restaurants serving Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian food have sprouted and have been completing the international food scene of Israel (where Asian food is usually a favorite).
Make sure to visit this part of town and get a taste of this other Tel Aviv – you won’t regret it.
Fantastic Israeli food cookbooks
If you’d like to have a try at preparing Israeli food at home, you can count on a few good cookbooks. These are the best ones available:
- Sababa: fresh sunny flavors from my Israeli kitchen
- Zahav: a world of Israeli cooking
- Israeli soul: easy, essential, delicious
Further Readings About Israel
For more information about Israel, make sure to read the following posts:
- 33 Tips For Traveling To Israel
- How To Plan The Perfect Trip To Israel
- The Best Places To Visit In Israel
- The 17 Best Restaurants In Jerusalem
- Twenty Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Tel Aviv
- Where To Stay In Tel Aviv: Recommendations By An Almost Local
- Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv: A Complete Review
- Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of Jerusalem
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail
- Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Eilat, Israel
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Haifa, Israel
- The 13 Best Day Trips From Tel Aviv
- 9 Fantastic Day Trips From Jerusalem
- What You Must Know Before Visiting Temple Mount And Dome Of The Rock
- The Best Airbnbs In Tel Aviv
Further Readings About International Cuisine
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