By Briana Seftel
Israeli food is much more than falafel! Different from Jewish cuisine found in the U.S., Israeli cuisine draws from the cuisines of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Europe, making it a culinary tour around the world! Israeli cuisine is also very vegetable-based, so you can eat a lot without the guilt. Eat well in the Holy Land with these ten must-try dishes.
This breakfast dish is popular worldwide and can be eaten morning, noon and night! Eggs are cooked in a spicy, chunky tomato-red pepper sauce and served with a pile of pita or challah on the side. While shakshuka originated in North Africa, it has become a staple of Israeli cuisine.
Sure, you may be thinking "I can get hummus back home!" Rest assured, hummus in Israel is a whole other beast (and much better, if you're asking for our honest opinion). Chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), garlic and lemon are blended together to create a light-as-air spread perfect with falafel, shawarma or on its own with freshly-baked pita.
Similar to a Greek gyro, shawarma is an Israeli favorite of spit-roasted meat (usually turkey), tahini sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and a smorgasbord of toppings like Yemenite hot sauce and German sauerkraut. The meat, cooked with lamb fat, is slowly roasted on a vertical spit and sliced to order.
The ultimate Israeli street food, falafel is the perfect fuel to keep you going. Ground chickpeas are mixed with flour, spices and fresh herbs, then rolled into balls and fried. Traditionally, falafel is served in a pita with lettuce, tomato, pickles and a variety of sauces depending on your preference. Falafel is certainly on the healthier side than a burger or hot dog, so go ahead and gorge while you're there!
Popular all over the Middle East, kanafeh is a sweet and savory pastry made of crunchy shredded phyllo dough, gooey cheese, rose and orange blossom syrup, and crunchy pistachios. One of the best places to try this traditional dessert is at Mehane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.
Like its cousin hummus, baba ganoush is a popular spread that is eaten with pita or spread on sandwiches. Whole eggplant is cooked over an open flame until blistered and soft, then mixed with lemon, garlic, tahini and mayonnaise. It's savory, smoky and totally addictive!
This hybrid dough-bread is a typical dish of the Yemenite Jewish community. Traditionally served on Shabbat morning, the dough is left to bake slowly overnight until it is golden brown and slightly sweet. Served with eggs that have been cooked along with it and schug (Yemenite hot sauce), jachnun can also be eaten sweet with jam.
These handheld pastries make the perfect portable snack or light lunch. Originally from Turkey, think of bourekas as Israel's answer to empanadas. Flaky dough similar to phyllo is topped with sesame seeds and filled with beef cheese, spinach, potatoes or mushrooms.
A popular breakfast food in Tel Aviv, sabich is a sandwich of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, tahini, Israeli salad and a pickled mango sauce called amba. The sandwich was brought by Iraqi Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. A symphony of textures and flavors, this sandwich is irresistible.
Sesame is one of the most prominent flavors in Israeli cuisine, so it comes as no surprise that one of the most popular sweets is made with sesame. Found all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean, halva is a dense confection of ground sesame, sugar and other natural ingredients. Formed into a dense block, the texture of halva can be compared to Butterfinger candy. Halva comes in a wide variety of flavors like rose, pistachio and chocolate, and is even mixed into ice cream.
Bonus: Israeli wine
No, it's not Manischewitz...Israeli wine has undergone a sort of renaissance when it comes to wine. Mainly grown in the Galilee and Golan, Israel produces approximately 36 million bottles of wine annually, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most planted variety. If you're dining out in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ask your server if they carry Israeli wine. Chances are they do, and they would be happy for you to try some!