Wherever you go in Israel, you are sure to come across streets and markets filled with Israel’s best foods. In a region renowned for fantastic street food, local vendors and holes in the wall serve up national favorites like hummus, falafel, ptitim, and shakshuka. Finding something delicious for all tastes is easy.
Israel’s food culture
In Israel, there is nothing more important than family life. Well, there’s one thing equally as important – food. Time with family and friends is almost always centered around meals. Whether frying up some schnitzel or eating out at a local food joint, Israelis always seem to be eating or talking about food.
Israel is synonymous with delicacies such as hummus, falafel, shawarma, shakshuka, and knafeh. The debate over where these pride-of-the-Middle-East dishes originated is ongoing, and any local will tell you a different story. The truth is, no hard evidence exists for the exact time and place that any of these came to dietary life, and all sides of the border will claim it is theirs. Food is at the epicenter of Israeli identity and a force that unites so many nationalities. Here are Israel’s best foods. A visit to the holy land is incomplete without trying them at least once.
Hummus has been around for centuries, and the hummus trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. If anything, there seems to be a new “hummusia” opening weekly. If you aren’t on the hummus bandwagon, it’s time to get on it. Hummus is one of the most affordable dishes to try in Israel and one of Israel’s best foods. While in many countries it may be dip or condiment, in Israel it is a whole meal. It is served hot with whole chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of paprika. Scoop it out with some warm pita bread or eat it with a fork. Hey, we aren’t judging. And if you want to do as the locals do, wash it down with a glass of ice cold lemonade.
Everybody has their favorite falafel which they claim to be the best in the country. As with all the other dishes on this list, the true origin of falafel is controversial and unconfirmed. Falafel is made from ground chickpeas which are deep-fried into yummy crispy balls of heaven. A falafel sandwich stuffed with chopped salad, hummus, tahini, pickles, and amba sauce is sure to hold you over until tomorrow’s breakfast. Missing this national dish while visiting Israel is unlawful.
The word shawarma means ‘turning’ in Arabic and refers to the actual process through which the meat is cooked. You can’t miss the many shawarma stands which line practically every street in Israel. Cuts of meat or a mix of meats (lamb, turkey, beef, chicken) are stacked onto the shawarma roasting skewer and cooked low and slow. Servings are shaved off to order and served in a pita, laffa (Levantine flatbread cooked in a tandoor, similar to Indian naan bread), or for those watching their waistline, on a plate.
Shakshuka is a breakfast staple in Israel. The poached eggs are served in a pan of steaming hot, rich tomato, chili, and garlic sauce. You may have tried the dish before, but every country does it a little bit differently. In Israel, the dish is served with an Israeli salad, tahini, and a piece of bread for ultimate dipping purposes.
Knafeh is a Middle Eastern dessert made with a soft cheese base topped with a thin noodle-like pastry that has been soaked in a sweet syrup and rose water. If that sounds like a mouth full, that’s because it literally is. Kanafeh is made in large batches in shallow dishes, and the final product is often topped with chopped pistachios. You can find Kanafeh in markets and bakeries.
Couscous is a toasted pasta that was developed in Israel in the 1950’s at a time when rice was scarce. Today it comes in a variety of shapes, always small, and internationally is marketed as Israeli or Jerusalem couscous. Ptitim (the Hebrew word for this dish) is especially popular among Israeli children and regularly served at schools and at home as part of the staple diet. You can also find ptitim at some of the trendiest restaurants across Israel. It is a hearty and delicious dish often served as an accompaniment to meat, or as a main with a variety of sauces.
Coming to Israel and not trying burekas is a show of weakness. It means that you’ve given into your subconscious telling you to stick to your diet and forgo all oily and delicious carbs that will make you a very happy human being. You only live once, right? The bureka is not one to be missed. These mouth-watering baked pastries are stuffed with your filling of choice. Potatoes, mushrooms, and cheese are some of the most beloved fillings. Burekas can be found all across Israel at a very affordable price. They can be bought from any convenience store or bakery as a snack, while larger ones are often served with a hardboiled egg and crushed tomatoes as a meal. They should definitely go on your list of foods to try while visiting, especially if you are traveling on a budget!
One of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in local food culture is by joining a food tour. You will get to try many of Israel’s best foods and live like a local.