Updated: May 7
Passing through Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market is a sensory joy. The powerful aromas of spices, the vibrant colors of locally produced vegetables, the richness of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, and the cracking sound of kofta kebabs on the grill combine to create a culinary experience many visitors to Israel wish to carry back to their kitchens. And with the publication of cookbooks such as "Jerusalem" and "Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking", Israeli cuisine is gaining momentum. However, is there a distinct cuisine for a country as young as Israel, and if so, what would it be?
It's impossible to summarise the diversity of Israeli cuisine. A typical Israeli feast may include up to 12 separate small dishes, each with its unique blend of spices, veggies, tahini sauces, and grilled meats.
Most popular Israeli foods
Falafel is a typical Middle Eastern dish that is inextricably linked to Israeli cuisine. Falafel holds a special place in Israeli cuisine, as it is considered the country's national dish. Falafel is also the quintessential street cuisine in Israel, which can be found on nearly every corner. As a result, falafel is a famous Israeli dish. The origin of Falafel is conservation. It has most likely originated in Egypt, but is now widely consumed throughout the Middle East.
Falafel balls are made with deep-fried chickpeas, fava beans, or a combination of the two. In Israel Falafel is commonly consumed wrapped in pita bread, but it can be eaten alone as a meze (the Middle Eastern palette of appetizers). Falafel is the street food of the Middle East, making it a quick and affordable meal for travellers, especially those on a budget.
Hummus is a traditional Levantine spread made with mashed chickpeas. Occasionally, hummus is created with additional beans. Tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and garlic are incorporated into mashed beans. Where to locate the best hummus in Israel is a constant source of contention. If you're looking for a wonderful palette opener, hummus with pine nuts is recommended. After experiencing roasted pine nut hummus, there is a good chance that you may develop an addiction to it.
Masabacha or msabbaha is a hummus variant. Msabbaha and hummus share the same foundation. However, unlike hummus, chickpeas stay whole in msabbaha. Msabbaha is an Arabic word that translates as swimming.' Therefore, if you're interested in trying hummus made with swimming chickpeas,' order msabbaha. You can find Msabbaha in every hummus place.
Picking the best hummus bar in Israel is a hard task, it's basically like asking a child to name his favourite parent. Every place has its own signature hummus and they are many celebrated and well-known hummus institutions. Check out our guide for places to eat in Israel for more details.
Shakshouka is a traditional Israeli meal consisting of poached eggs in a tomato, chili pepper, and onion sauce seasoned with cumin or zaatar, paprika, cayenne pepper, and coriander. Shakshouka is one of the most famous Israeli recipes, and for a good reason. Shakshouka is, without a doubt, divine. This Israeli egg dish is commonly served for breakfast in Israel. Shakshouka originated in Israel as a result of Jewish immigration from North Africa, specifically Tunisia.
Shakshouka is derived from the Arabic term Shakka, which means 'to stick together. Shakshouka demonstrates how well-poached eggs, tomatoes, chiles, paprika, onions, cumin, pepper, and coriander adhere to one another. As a result, you commit to Shakshouka for the remainder of your years!
Babka is a sweet braided bread that originated in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe; Poland and Ukraine. It is a cross between bread and a cake. Back in the day leftover Challah dough was filled with jam or cinnamon and then rolled and baked. Today's Babka is much richer than its ancestor and you can find it with a variety of sweet fillings such as; cinnamon, chocolate, Nutella, sweet cheese, and more. In Israel, it is often called a yeast cake and is most commonly consumed as breakfast, afternoon tea, or just as a dessert. It is a great little treat to accompany your cup of coffee and you can find a yeast cake in almost any café in Israel.
Sabich is a popular Jewish - Iraqi sandwich. It gained popularity in Israel in the '60s with the arrival of Jews from Iraq. Sabich was a traditional breakfast for Iraqi Jews, consisting of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, chopped salad, tahini, and amba, and originally was served on a plate along with Hamin on Shabbat afternoon. Often leftovers of the Sabich were put in Laffa bread. In Israel, it is mostly consumed in Pita bread and is today a popular street food.
Originating in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey), Shawarma is one of the most popular dishes you can find in the Arab world and in Israel. In fact, you can probably find Shawarma in most countries of the world as its gained popularity as one of the world's famous street foods. Shawarma is basically cuts of thinly sliced marinated meats, such as; lamb, chicken, or beef stacked on a large rotating skewer or cone. The Skewer is being rotated for hours, cooking the outer layer of the meat. When cooked, the meat is shaved using a long flat knife. The meat is usually served in a flatbread bread (Laffa), pocket pita, or a sandwich and is mixed with lettuce, fried, pickles, tomatoes, etc. Hummus, tahini, and garlic are the most common sauces paired with Shawarma, but it can be also served with yogurt. In Israel, the latter variation is not used as combining dairy and meat is a violation of Jewish dietary restriction. However, that option will be still available in Arab eateries.
This one is our team's absolute favourite! We have tried Kanfeh in many places, but we believe the ultimate Knafeh is definitely in Israel. Knafeh is a very popular dessert in the Arab world and although you can find different variations of it, the most acclaimed is the one originating in Nabulus, which is known as "Knafeh Nabulsiyeh". The dessert is made using kataifi noodles, cheese, sugar syrup, and is usually topped with pistachio nuts. The kataifi noodles are usually heated in clarified butter; ghee or samneh, cheese is then put on top and another layer of kataifi noodles is placed. This is cooked from both sides and then topped with a drizzle of sugar syrup scented with rose water. The final product is then garnished with Pistachios and ready to be consumed. Trust me, this is a mouth-watering dessert that you have got to try!
Another street food you will find is in nearly every corner in Israel. Bourekas are usually made of puff pastry filled with different fillings. The origin of Bourekas is quite interesting and it dates back to the 15th century, where Sephardi Jews who were expelled from Spain found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Until then Sephardi Jews were making empanadas in Spain, but after arriving in modern-day Turkey they combined their traditional empanadas with the Turkish Burek and created what is known today as Bourekas.
This is one of Israel's most iconic and best-selling snacks. It's made of peanut butter flavored puffed corn and contains about 50% peanuts. You can find it in any convivence store and it's a must-try when in Israel. Fun fact; early exposure to peanuts in infants, before the age of 1, may provide some protection from allergy development and hence, is strongly linked to the reduction in peanut allergy in the future. Every Israeli kid grows up on Bamba and data shows that Israeli children suffer from peanut allergies at a substantially lower rate than other Western countries.