Your Comprehensive Guide to Israeli Food

Disclaimer: This guide only includes foods that I have personally tasted and enjoyed in Israel, and wanted to share. It certainly does not cover all the Israeli/Middle Eastern dishes that are available.

Israel is a nation with a very rich history of conquest and conflict. But because of the different ethnic groups that make Israel their home today, the country offers a vast variety of foods that have received influence from many cultures such as Lebanese, Turkish, and Mediterranean.

Much of the Israeli cuisine is also considerably healthy since many dishes are vegetable-based and utilize a lot of chickpeas and tahini. Therefore, a lot of the Mediterranean diet is naturally also vegan/vegetarian-friendly and most restaurants offer alternatives for people with dietary restrictions. Israel is in fact one of the top countries in the world when it comes to housing the largest population of vegetarians and vegans per capita. But of course, there is something for everyone, including meat-lovers.

So now onto my personal favorites:

Israeli Salad

If you go to any eatery and see "Israeli salad" on its menu, it is essentially the same universal dish: finely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and a splash of lemon juice. Super simple, but you can't go wrong with this staple with its refreshing and robust flavors.

Hummus

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In my opinion, the best meals in Israel are the least complicated ones, and there is nothing like having a plate of hummus with a bottomless supply of warm, fluffy pita bread and a side dish of pickles, olives, and fresh vegetables. This classic Israeli meal can keep you energized and satisfied for pretty much an entire day. You can find a variety of hummus dishes with different toppings such as chickpeas, tahini, mushrooms, or eggplant. I highly recommend that when craving hummus, pick your restaurant/cafe wisely; the local, non-touristy eateries serve the best hummus that is both cheap and generous in portion.

Balkava & Kanafeh

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Originating in Turkey, baklavas come in a variety of shapes, ingredients, and flavors. The base of the baklava is made of nuts and phyllo (flat, thin pieces of crust) drenched in honey or sweet syrup. Kanafehs originated in the Ottoman empire and are popular in many Arabic countries as well. Their base is made of cheese and pastry covered in honey or sweet syrup. Both of these desserts are best when bought from the local outdoor markets called 'shuks'. The selection of fillings, toppings, and flavors are endless, and most shops have at least twenty different types to choose from like pistachio, dates, or walnuts. The way they are stacked on top of one another is definitely a sight to see. These incredibly sweet delicacies are perfect as an afternoon snack with bitter coffee or tea.

Halva

Halva is another renowned dessert or snack, made out of ground-up sesame seeds or tahini and often topped with nuts or chocolate. There are many varieties sold by weight at supermarkets or outdoor markets. Halva is also a great source of protein for vegans/vegetarians while satisfying your sweet-tooth.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka is basically tomato sauce or stew with poached eggs, loaded with different Moroccan or Mediterranean spices. Most restaurants serve it with freshly baked bread and pickles, and some offer its own variation, like vegan version with tofu instead of egg. The base stew is packed with rich flavors that remind you of a home-cooked meal made by your grandmother or mom. Shakshuka is a comforting, homey dish that each family has its own recipe for that are passed on through generaitons.

Falafels

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What is a list of top Israeli foods without falafels? Falafels are deep-fried balls made of ground up chickpeas mixed with spices and parsley. They are almost always vegan and are usually served inside pita or laffa bread along with hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and a variety of pickled vegetables. Falafels are common street food and are usually very affordable. Once again, it is better to stick to the local, smaller (and dirtier) falafel stands for this dish, since you can eat them straight out of the fryer. Some stands even offer unlimited toppings of pickles, fried eggplant, and tahini, so make sure to take advantage of that.

Sufganiyot

Last but not least, the sufganiyot. If you describe the sufganiyot as something "like a donut", most Israelis will get defensive and argue that they are better than any kind of donut you'll ever have. These pastries are eaten during Hanukkah and are usually filled with jelly and sprinkled with powdered sugar. As of lately, they are offered with other fillings like chocolate or custard. For my family, the tradition is to make fresh sufganiyot for Hanukkah every year, served with nothing but powdered sugar. But many people also buy them from the grocery stores when there is not enough time to cook them. During the holiday season, these delicious morsels are bought and consumed by the dozens everyday at parties and family gatherings.

B'teavon! (bon appetit in Hebrew)