Israel is one of the most controversial places in the world. The differences of the people who live there are highlighted on the news, and people have strong, opposing opinions about the land that’s recognized as Israel today. But what does everyone in Israel have in common? We all have to eat. As such, here are the top 10 foods you have to try on your trip to Israel.
Israeli falafel are different from other countries’ because it uses only chickpeas, not fava beans as others do. You can have it served on its own, with hummus, in a pita, or as a filling for shawarma. It’s one of the most common Israeli street foods, perfect for a quick meal on the go.
Even if you’re not Jewish, you’ve almost certainly heard of Challah bread. It’s a braided, yeasted bread that’s a little sweet and often topped with a sprinkling of poppy or sesame seeds. Challah is a traditional Jewish staple at Shabbat and other holidays, but you’ll also find it on restaurant menus and for sale in Israeli markets.
Israeli “Medjool” dates are considered by some to be the king of all dates. You’ll most likely see the date trees while driving around the country, and you’ll see dried dates for sale in every market. They’ll be served with yogurt, ice cream, cheese, or simply on their own. Watch out for the pits, but don’t miss a chance to try some.
7. Jerusalem Bagels
It’s a pretty big deal when a city has its own bagel. While bagels are popular just about everywhere, Jerusalem bagels are a little different. They’re more oval-shaped and thinner all the way around. Instead of being boiled in water first, like typical bagels, they are sent straight to baking and have a fluffier texture, rather than chewy like bagels you may be used to. They’re also distinctive in that they are traditionally covered in sesame seeds.
Looking for an Israeli dessert? You’ll want to have the malabi. It’s a rose water milk pudding, layered with a raspberry syrup, then topped with coconut and sugared nuts. It’s a refreshing sweet bit of street food during an afternoon of touring, or you’ll find it as a nice finisher after a meal at an upscale Israeli restaurant.
It may seem similar to the Greek gyro, but in Israel, shawarma is one of the most popular street foods. You’ll find it wrapped in Laffa bread or filling up the inside of a pita pocket, and it’ll be full of grilled or pickled veggies, plus meat or poultry cooked on a spit, and topped with tahini or other sauces. Interestingly, the most common meat in Israeli shawarma is not lamb, goat, beef, or even chicken–it’s turkey! Keep that in mind when ordering so you’ll have a real taste of Israel’s favorite shawarma.
If you have a sweet tooth, you have to try the halva. It’s a honey- and tahini-based sweet (you read that right) that comes in a variety of flavors like vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, etc. It’s similar to a dense, baked meringue cookie–soft, yet crumbly, and kind of melts in your mouth. You’ll find it in sweet shops, but also on breakfast buffets if you like a sweet in the morning.
3. Laffa Bread
Think of this more like a soft, flat bread than a pita. Laffa is on the thicker side, but used similarly to the way you use pita–as a vehicle for dips and spreads, but also as a wrap for shawarma and the like. It’s cooked in a taboon, or a clay oven similar to a tandoori oven, and it’s often served fresh-baked and warm. If you go in thinking it “just bread,” you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find it’s much more than that.
What started as a North African dish became an Israeli favorite long ago. You’ll find it on many a menu across the country, especially at breakfast. It’s basically eggs cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers, onions, herbs, and spices. You can find all manner of variations out there that includes cheese, sausage, spinach, and more. Or it’s easily made into a vegan-friendly dish as well.
Sure, every Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African country (and beyond) has hummus (or hummous, as it’s sometimes spelled). Israeli hummus, however, has a noticeably smoother, creamier texture. That comes from a higher ratio of tahini in the recipe, more blending time, or a combination of both.
It’s also more often available as an entire meal option, not just a dip on the side as is often the case elsewhere. You can get a huge bowl of hummus topped with meats, veggies, spices, egg, etc. It’ll also come with some of the softest, warmest laffa bread or pita you’ve ever had. Come hungry!
Which Israeli food is your favorite? Or which one would you want to try first?