Israeli food is absolutely delicious and reason enough to visit the country in and of itself. I only know too well – during a recent trip I literally spent my time eating all the best dishes Israeli cuisine has to offer (and not only).
If there is something I can guarantee you is that there is no such thing as going hungry in Israel. You will find plenty of excellent restaurants; small street food spots; markets where you can try fresh ingredients and all sorts of snacks.
There’s something for any taste, budget and diet – vegans will be pleased to know that this is an extremely vegan friendly country.
And if you are concerned about your weight and your health, worry not: Israelis are too, and they take pride in pointing out the local diet is one of the healthiest in the world, with a heavy focus on vegetables and pulses. Even a quick grab can be healthy: there are oh so many places where you can get fantastic smoothies packed with vitamins, fibers and flavor.
In case you have doubts, let me me reassure you: Israel is an up and coming food destination, with fantastic restaurants where chefs combine a passion for excellent quality ingredients with innovation; and where locals take pride in showing people what food in Israel is all about.
But if you think that food in Israel 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 this is very well reflected in its food which gracefully borrows its flavors from those of Morocco, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Yemen and much more.
In this post, I will highlight the best Israeli food and all the dishes and nibbles you should try while in the country. First of all, however, let me share some tips that will help you make the most of this incredible country’s food culture.
7 Tips To Fully Enjoy Israeli Food
Join a food tour
One of the best ways to quickly learn about food in a country you are not familiar with, and try the staples of local cuisine, is doing a food tour. Whether you are in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem, you are bound to find a multitude of excellent food tours to suite your taste, needs and even the way you travel, with tours that are guided and some that are self-guided. And if you want a more hands on approach, you can even book a cooking class like this one.
I have done a fair share of tours in Israel, and selected the ones that I recommend in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Best food tours in Tel Aviv
These are the best food tours in Tel Aviv:
- Tel Aviv food tour – by far the most budget friendly option. This is a guided tour of HaCarmel market, with several food tastings.
- Tel Aviv vegan culinary tour – a great tour that explains a lot about Israeli vegan food culture and includes tastings in some of Tel Aviv’s best vegan restaurants.
- Tel Aviv classic food tour – it goes to all the nicest neighborhoods and in each of them you get to try some excellent Israeli 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. The tour will allow you to taste local specialties, including za’atar – a fantastic mix of herbs that can be spread on bread or even labneh cheese.
- Tel Aviv self guided food tour – an excellent option if you’d rather go around at your own pace. It goes to Carmel Market and the neighboring areas.
- Tel Aviv street food tour – a guided food tour to the best street food stands in Tel Aviv, during which you get to try some of the staples of Israeli street food including falafel and bourekas.
- Levinsky Market and Florentine food tour – a nice tour that goes to some very interesting parts of town.
Best food tours in Jerusalem
These are the best food tours in Jerusalem:
- The Mahane Yehuda Shuk card – a card that is extremely good value for money and allows you to taste a great variety of local food. You’ll get to explore Mahane Yehuda market at your own pace as the card expires after 6 months from the day you purchase it!
- The Old City of Jerusalem card – similar to the one above, but it goes to the Old City market.
- The creative class food tour – cheese, vegan choices, dim sum and much more make this an excellent varied food tour in Jerusalem.
- 3 hour self guided food tour – an excellent option if you have limited time but want to taste the best food.
- 2 hour self guided vegetarian food tour – similar to the one above, but suitable for vegetarians.
- Jerusalem night and city food tour – a great option if you want to also get a taste of Jerusalem nightlife.
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 more important occasions such as a Shabbat dinner. I have visited countless markets in Israel – from the most famous Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and HaCarmel in Tel Aviv, to the market of lesser visited Netanya – and each time it’s a great cultural experience (not to mention, I always find great fresh fruits and vegetables).
Some of the tours mentioned in the previous section are market tours that include food tastings, but I strongly encourage you to even explore the market on your own.
TIP: If you intend to shop at Carmel Market, make sure you practice your market skills first. It’s well known that vendors try to scam customers!
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) – always present at Israeli tables. It is a creamy, nutty sauce (though it honestly is much more than a 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. I admit I have developed a slight addiction to it.
Labneh – a very mild fresh white cheese that almost tastes like 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, you’ll often find it spread on top of grilled pita. Accompanied with labneh is the ultimate breakfast dish. You can buy it in bags at the market and take home – I shall warn you though, it’s addictive.
Lemon – used to prepare hummus, mixed in the tahini, poured abundantly on salads. Lemon is ever present in Israeli cuisine.
Parsley – if you think parsley is a staple of Italian food, wait until you go to Israel. My friends actually eat it as salad, mixed with mint, olive oil and lots of lemon.
Olive oil – much like in the rest of the Mediterranean, food in Israel is usually cooked in olive oil, which here is of excellent quality.
Chickpeas – these can be used to prepare hummus or falafel, two of the most popular dishes of Israeli cuisine, 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 – on Shabbat or any other day of the week – you can count on Betzavta, a small Israeli company that for the last few years has 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.
I have tried Betzavta myself during my last trip to Israel and not only I was impressed with the food (be ready for an 8 course meal!) but I ended up becoming good friend with my host. It was an absolutely memorable night.
Although Betzavta allows 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.
A huge part of Israeli food is naturally vegan, and this is probably the most vegan friendly country you will come across, with each and every restaurant offering an abundance of vegan options and some of the best restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other main cities solely focusing on vegan cuisine.
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 honestly I find this to be a bit contradictory in a country where the use of disposable, single use plastic – including plastic bags – is still very common, 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.
Vegan food is such an important part of Israeli food that you shouldn’t miss out on that. Opt for a vegan food tour such as Tel Aviv vegan culinary tour to try the best of vegan food in town.
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.
Granted, this may not be an every day thing, but a proper Israeli breakfast with a fresh pressed juice, eggs (preferably shakshuka – of which I’ll talk in a bit), 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. If you happen to be in Tel Aviv, make sure to go to Café Sheleg, a small quaint café on Ge’ula street. And if you want breakfast all day, go to Benedict, which is 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 come 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. If you are not confident exploring on your own, join a guided tour. The other Tel Aviv food, culture and people is the best one around. You can book it here.
Now, without any further ado, let me tell you what food in Israel you absolutely have to try.
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 having at least a bite of it. As a bread lover (call me dough girl if you like), I am pleased to say that bread in Israel is not only very good, but also extremely varied. You can really get anything from sourdough bread rolls to crispy ciabatta bread. 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 world known bagels (though they actually look quite similar to pretzels). They are coated in sesame seeds – which gives it that extra crunchiness that makes it all the more yummy – and they are often served with hummus. You’ll easily find this kind of bread at the market, especially at the Old City Market in Jerusalem.
Found across countries that were under Ottoman rule, boureka 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, challah is often 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 or challah are thought to be the best bread to prepare french toasts.
A round, crispy and fluffy bread that was brought to Israel by Central Asia Jews. You’ll find it in Jerusalem, in bakeries around the Bukharan Market (Shuk ha-Bukharim).
Don’t even dream of finding bread in Israel during Passover. The only thing you’ll be able to find is matzah, a sort of unleavened crackers, very crispy but somehow lacking any sort of flavor. But you know, when in Rome…
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 accompaniment to hummus and falafel. A warmed up pita stuffed with meat and vegetables and with a spoon of tahini is just about the perfect meal.
Typically eaten during Chanukah, these fritters are very similar to hashbrown. They 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 on the market and it has nothing to do with drugs, other than the fact it is addictive. This peanut flavored snack is the perfect thing to have with friends, possibly sipping a 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 an abundant dose of olive oil, garlic and tahini. It’s perfect with pita.
One of the staples of Israeli food is falafel. 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 which are then fried in oil. 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 usually a very good budget option for a filling meal.
Though there is no certainty as to who invented hummus, once thing for sure is that this is a staple Israeli food. 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.
Some of the best 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 foreigners are the target of the jokes of the owner. It’s a fun experience to eat there.
Israelis love their vegetables and no meal is complete without a vast array of salads. 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 which is topped with lemon juice and abundant tahini. Tabbouleh, which is made with chopped parsley, tomatoes, onion and olive oil, is another common salad.
This pancake kind of dish made of layers of phyllo dough rolled in a tube and baked in the oven was brought to Israel from Yemenite Jews. 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 that is baked with three types of cheese, and towards the end of the baking process an egg is placed on top of it. It’s a fantastic mixture of bread, sandwich and pizza that is rich in flavor and nutrients and thus deserves to be considered more than a snack!
Known as the Palestinian national dish, you’ll find maqlouba, a mouthwatering casserole of lamb, eggplant and rice in East Jerusalem.
Remember what I said about Israeli food being very vegan friendly? The mixed grill called mo’orav yerushalmi is the exception to the rule. 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 noe exactly for the faint of heart.
Another dish made of chicken, this time roasted with onion and pine nuts and served with flatbread. It’s mostly found in East Jerusalem, as this actually is an Arab Israeli dish.
Red kubeh soup
If you are a lover of soup as much as I am, you will love red kubeh, 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 it can be eaten on its own in upscale restaurants where it is often served as an appetizer.
Very similar to samosas, the word is actually Persian and the dish is very similar to the samosas you can get anywhere in India. In this case, they 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 in Jerusalem.
The debate over who invented schniztel is still ongoing. As an Italian, I’ll say schnitzel is an imitation of our beloved cotoletta alla milanese. Without wanting to get into the details of which came first, I will simply say that schnitzel is delicious and though it is not Israeli food proper, 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.
Much like falafel, shawarma is often stuffed in pita. It consists of stack of thin slices of either beef or lamb, slowly roasted until moist and delicious.
The most famous Israli breakfast dish is actually found all over Middle East. Tomatoes are cooked in olive oil with some chopped onions, parsley, pepper and other spices, and eggs are poached on top of it. It’s often served with a small salad of parsley and mint, as well as some cheese such as labneh and za’atar.
Sweets and desserts
This sweet commonly found in Israel can actually be seen in all countries that at some point in history were under Ottoman rule. It is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo filled with all sorts of nuts (the best are with pistachio) and soaked in a thick sugar syrup or in honey. You’ll find heaps of it at the market.
Commonly found across the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Balkans, halva is a sweet 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.
Not exactly light, this sweet consist of a thin phyllo pastry layered with cheese, baked and then soaked in a thick sugar syrup. You’ll find it anywhere in the country.
This sweet is actually European, but it reaches perfection in Israel. You’ll easily find it at bakeries and even at markets. It almost looks like a small croissant, but if anything it’s more similar to pain au chocolat since there’s lots and lots of chocolate in it. 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. One is made with regular milk and cream, one is for those of us that are lactose intolerant or vegan, and it is made with either 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 remind me of European krapfen. They are typically filled with jam, but you can also find less traditional versions with chocolate or hazelnut spread. They are a very common sweat to have during Chanukah.
I am not a massive fan of Israeli coffee. I love mud coffee in general, but here it 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 to which mint is added – it’s 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 to do some wine tasting (book it here) or, more simply, sit at any good restaurant and order a bottle.
Other Useful Information
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:
- The 10 Best Places To Visit During A Trip To Israel
- Twenty Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Tel Aviv
- Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem
- My Jerusalem: Places I Love In This Timeless City
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail
- Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path
- Why I love Eilat
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Eilat, Israel
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Haifa, Israel
Further readings about international cuisine
Do you travel for food? Then don’t miss these posts!
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