Written by Adityobarna Mukherjee.
Israeli cuisine comprises both local dishes and dishes which have been brought to Israel by Jews from the Diaspora. Several products which played an important role in the foods of the ancient Israelites continue to play an important role in today’s cuisine also.
These were known as the seven species which are: olives, figs, dates, pomegranates, wheat, barley and grapes. Food items which are common in the Mediterranean region, such as olives, wheat, chickpeas, dairy products, fish, and vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, and zucchini are also prominent in Israeli cuisine.
The availability of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in Israel has resulted in it being cooked and served in several ways. As Israeli agriculture developed and new kinds of fruits and vegetables appeared on the market, chefs began to experiment and prepare new dishes with them.
Israel is a hub of incredible and diverse flavours. Israeli street food is the perfect representation of the country’s food culture which has just tons of different delicacies to be savoured.
Now let’s start our journey of trying out some of the must-try foods when you visit Israel as there’s no chance that you can miss these foods while you’re there.
1. Chraime (Sephardic Fish Dish)
Chraime is a Moroccan white fish stew cooked in spicy and tangy tomato sauce. It is then sprinkled with paprika, cumin and coriander. This dish has derived its name from the Arabic word “hot” and is a traditional dish of Sephardic Jews who are Moroccan Jews and Israeli Jews of North African descent.
The occasions on which Arabics eat this dish are Erev Shabbat (Friday night Shabbat dinner), Rosh Hashanah and Passover for the Seder. This dish has become one of the popular dishes in Israel due to Maghrebi-Jewish immigrants.
Who said delicious and healthy can’t be there in the same dish? If you’re looking for something like that, Shakshuka is the word for you. Shakshuka is one of Israel’s most popular dishes which is typically served for breakfast or brunch. It is also called “Shakshouka”.
Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce made of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion and garlic and the common spices used in it are: cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. It is one of the dishes which existed in Mediterranean cuisine for centuries.
Shakshuka is a typical dish of North African and Arab cuisine and is traditionally served in a cast-iron pan. The fact that the shakshuka is so versatile and flexible adds on to its lists of amazing facts. Due to this, the shakshuka can be made with lamb mince, toasted whole spices, yoghurt and fresh herbs.
Spices generally include ground coriander, caraway, paprika, cumin and cayenne pepper. Tunisian cooks may add potatoes, broad beans, courgettes to the dish to enrich its taste in a different style.
Though it is usually made with poached eggs, preparing the dish with scrambled eggs would just be equally right and delicious. Because of the use of eggs, it is often served as breakfast in the English speaking countries but in Israel, it makes a really yummy evening meal as well.
It is traditionally served for breakfast with warm pita bread, challah, or naan but can also be paired up with hummus, grits, roasted potatoes, herb salad, cucumber salad, or Greek salad. The presence of eggs, tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables makes the dish both delicious and healthy.
Shawarma is a dish in Middle Eastern cuisine consisting of meat cut into thin slices which is stacked in a cone-like shape and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical spit. Though it is mainly made of lamb or mutton, today’s shawarma is also made with chicken, turkey, beef or veal.
Thin slices are shaved off the cooked surface, ready to be served in a delicious manner, as it continuously rotates. Shawarma is considered to be one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt.
The technique of grilling a vertical stack of meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks first appeared in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, present-day Turkey, in the form of doner kebab.
The different types of spices that are used in the preparation of Shawarma include cumin, coriander, turmeric, ground coriander, black pepper, salt as per taste and paprika. Shawarma is usually served as a sandwich or wrap, in a flatbread such as pita.
In the Middle East, chicken shawarma is served with garlic sauce, fries and pickles. Forget about the taste, the smell itself while cooking it is incredible and mouth-watering.
Food items that can be served alongside shawarma are lemon rice pilaf, chicken rice pilaf, juicy greek salad, middle eastern shredded cabbage, carrot, mint salad, etc. Trying to stay away from carbs but still want to have this? We’ve got you covered. You can go ahead and put it over a salad or maybe over some cauliflower rice too.
4. Baba Ghanoush
The dish Baba Ghanoush is also often spelt as Baba Ganoush or Baba Ghanouj. It is a dish similar to hummus but with an earthy taste, made with grilled or roasted eggplants mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and many other seasonings. Eggplants are a very key ingredient in the traditional Israeli cuisine and are found to be prepared in many variations like smoked, grilled or in salads.
Baba Ghanoush is used as a dip or a spread along with pita or Lechem bread and veggies. It originated in the East Mediterranean. You will come across many eateries in Israel where this lovely dish is prepared, so hop into one and give your taste buds a swing.
Sabich is an Israeli sandwich of a flatbread such as pita or laffa which is full of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, Salat Chatzutz, parsley, amba and tahini sauce.
Amba is a sauce used in the making of sabich is made from pickled mango and other Israeli pickles, which are spicier than American bread-and-butter pickles. The traditional Shabbat breakfast of Iraq uses these ingredients. Sabich is sold in many businesses throughout Israel.
The ingredients that are used in the sabich sandwich were brought to Israel by Iraqi Jews, who came in the 1940s and 1950s as refugees. The Iraqi Jews ate a chilly meal of precooked fried eggplant, boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs as no cooking was allowed on the Sabbath.
The dish was first sold in Israel in 1961 at a stall on Uziel Street in Ramat Gan. In 2020 a square which is adjacent to the establishments’ current location was named “Sabich square”. The sabich is topped with green or red zhug as a condiment and sprinkled with minced onion.
The fusion of different textures along with various different flavours such as crispy, crunchy, soft, creamy, tangy and mildly spicy in every bite — is irresistible.
Babka is a sweet, buttery yeast cake flavored with spices and swirls of chocolate or cinnamon sugar. It is made by rolling and twisting ropes of dough to form the final dough. A layer of honey syrup is spread over the dough to make it more delectable. The process of making Babka is mesmerizing and should be experienced once in a lifetime.
Babka is a polish word meaning “small grandmother”. This dish has its origin in Poland and Ukraine and was introduced in Israel by Eastern European Jewish communities. Babka is conveniently available all across Israel and is definitely a must try.
Babka is prepared mainly during Hanukkah and is also popularly made in the United States during that time of the year. Other than the typical chocolate babka there are also other variations found such as apple babka, sweet cheese babka and cinnamon raisin babka.
Visiting Israel and not trying out the falafel dish is next to impossible. When you’re talking about the must-try foods in Israel, someone or the other will, for sure, mention falafel because you just can’t miss it. Made with chickpeas or fava beans or both, falafel is a deep-fried ball.
Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food, commonly served in a flatbread such as pita, which acts as a pocket. On serving the falafel balls it is very often topped with salads, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces which just adds on to its deliciousness.
These falafel balls can be served just the way it is at a party as an appetizer. The word falafel refers to the fritters themselves or to sandwiches crammed with them. The fritters are now served and consumed around the world as a replacement to meat.
The use of the ingredients has made this particular dish popular among the vegetarians and vegans as an alternative to meat-filled dishes. Falafel is usually ball-shaped but is usually made in other shapes, as per preferences, particularly doughnut-shaped.
The inside of falafel maybe green from the use of vegetables like green herbs such as parsley or green onion. Those who are concerned about the nutritional factors don’t worry much because falafel is high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber.
All the essential nutrients are present in this tasty dish of falafel which are calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, vitamin C, thiamine, pantothenic acid, vitamin B, and folate.
The amount of fat which is present due to the frying process can also be dealt with if one bakes it and in turn, reduces the amount of fat content.
Cholent is also known as hamin and is a traditional Jewish stew. On Shabbat the Jewish law does not allow cooking and therefore Cholent is a perfect solution to that criteria.
The ingredients in Cholent that is meat, potatoes, beans and barley are cooked partially on Friday before the sun goes down and then is placed into the oven and cooked throughout the night for at least 12 hours only to be taken out and served during lunch the next day.
Despite not being a sweet lover, I can guarantee you that this particular dish will make you want to taste it. It looks as good as it tastes and I personally get Valentine’s Day and Christmas vibes seeing it, though none of them is related to malabi.
Malabi or Muhallebi, it has several other names but what’s in a name? So Malabi is a milk pudding which is famous in places like Israel, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. The basic ingredients include rice, milk, sugar and rice flour.
After the introduction of muhallebi into Arab cuisine which was served to an Arab general named Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra by a Persian cook, the dish was named Muhallebi because he had liked it too much. One 19th-century English cookbook calls it Ramazan cakes.
It is made by boiling milk together with rice flour and sugar until the mixture reduces. It is then flavoured with rose or jasmine extract and is cooled before it is sprinkling it with powdered sugar. Mastic is used to flavour the malabi/ muhallebi and is therefore called sakizli muhallebi.
Rice flour is used to thicken the pudding but it can also be replaced with corn starch or wheat starch depending on the maker’s preference. In Israel, while making the dish, milk is sometimes replaced with almond juice to make the pudding pareve.
Malabi is served in Sephardi homes as the breakfast meal to break the fast on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The best part about it is that it is served in Turkish weddings to symbolize the sweet life that lies ahead.
Kanafeh is a traditional dessert made from shredded filo pastry or fine semolina dough which is soaked in sweetened syrup, rose water and then layered with samneh (clarified butter), cheese or clotted cream or nuts.
The baked Kanafeh is also sprinkled with crushed pistachios or walnuts. The syrup is added during serving the Kanafeh so that the flavours are fully enjoyed and is always served hot. The texture of Kanafeh is crispy from the outside and then it slowly melts into your mouth.
The cheese used in Kanafeh is Akawi cheese which is made from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk. Akawi cheese is salty to taste and is used commonly in many Middle Eastern dishes.
According to legend, Kanafeh is said to have originated in Damascus in Syria during the 7th century by the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty.
Also Read: 11 Famous Sweet Shops In Bangalore.
Jachnun or Jahnun as it is also called is a Yemenite Jewish pastry which originated from the Adeni Jews. It is served in the Shabbat morning as a tradition. The dish gained popularity through the Yemenite Jewish immigrants.
Jahnun is basically thinly rolled out dough, brushed with Samneh, which is basically clarified butter spiced with Hiibe and aged in a smoked vessel, generally using wood of a specific tree. Sometimes, a little honey is also used.
It is traditionally cooked on a Shabbat hotplate at a low temperature and the cooking process is started on the Friday morning usually so that it can be taken out and eaten on Shabbat (Saturday) morning as in Jewish custom it is forbidden to start cooking or turn on/off electrical implements during the Shabbat.
The Jahnun pieces are either baked or steamed inside of a lidded pot to prevent it from drying or burning and also helps in trapping moisture. This process of cooking turns the dough into dark amber colour, providing it with a deep, sweet and caramelized taste.
It is served with tomato salsa, a freshly grated tomato dip, hard-boiled eggs and zhug. The dough used for Jachnun is the same as the one used for Malawach.
In Mahane Yehuda, which is the largest marketplace in Israel, there’s a famous restaurant named Jachnun Bar which serves Jachnun and Malawach, with your choice of savoury and sweet toppings.
Tahini is made from toasted hulled sesame seeds which are then grounded to form the traditional Tahini paste belonging to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is often consumed as a dip, spread, dressing or used in cooking to increase the flavor of the dish.
Tahini is a key ingredient in many dishes like hummus, salad dressing, Halvah and Baba Ghanoush. Tahini sauce is very healthy and is also gluten-free. If you are looking for alternatives to nut butter then Tahini sauce will definitely be your savior.
In Israel, people use Tahini sauce over pitas packed with falafel. Tahini looks similar to peanut butter but is less sweet than nut butter.
Burekas is a very popular baked pastry in Sephardic Jewish cuisine and Israeli cuisine. It has several other names such as Bourekas, Burekasim, Borekas, etc. The shape and filling of the burekas can vary from one maker to another depending on their whims and fancies.
Burekas are typically made with either boureka dough, puff pastry or phyllo dough, depending on the origin of the maker. But as observed, it is generally made out of puff pastry and some of the popular fillings are feta cheese, mashed potato, spinach and cheese, kashkaval cheese, eggplants, mushrooms, etc.
When the Sephardic Jews moved to pre-state Israel during the first aliyah, they bought bourekas with them and they had also opened up bakeries to sell their pastries. The popularity of the burekas took no time to be gained and it was loved by people from every ethnic group in Israel.
Starting from Turkish Jews to Greek and Bulgarian Jews, everyone started opening up their own eateries and sold their own type of burekas which differed in both taste and shape. One fun fact about the burekas is that the shapes of the burekas depend on their filling.
For instance, the cheese-filled burekas are mainly served in the right angle and isosceles triangle shape whereas potato-filled burekas come in a certain box shape. The spinach filled burekas resemble a pastry knot.
The Turkish bourekas are served in equilateral triangle shapes and are filled with various fillings whose type can be determined by the addition on their outside.
Bourekas can be topped with different types of seeds ranging from sesame seeds to poppy seeds and nigella seeds. Za’atar may also be used as a topping. It ranks among the favourite home treats for Sabbath.
Hummus is a Middle Eastern dip read made from mashed chickpeas which are soaked overnight, garlic, lemon, salt, olive oil and tahini, and can be found even served alongside most dishes at restaurants.
In Israel and also in other parts of the Middle East, Hummus is eaten with pita bread as it lends a unique flavour to a meal without overpowering it.
It is also a healthy snack and very filling too. Hummus is found in most superstores and delis nowadays. Hummus is very nutritious, rich in fiber and fully a plant based protein.
Lox is a popular food in Israel and is made of salt-cured salmon in bagelwith cream cheese. This dish is garnished with tomatoes, cucumbers, capers and onions. This dish was introduced to Israelis by the Ashkenazi Jews.
The word Lox has been derived from the German word for salmon “lachs”. Lox is prepared in a light salting and then cold-smoked, which provides the typical “Nova” smoked salmon flavor.
15. Israeli Breakfast Buffet
Israeli breakfast is loaded with nutrition and is world famous. Israeli breakfast is a very important and the most delectable meal in Israel. A variety of dishes is served such as shakshuka, hummus, tahini, baba ganoush, labneh, Israeli salad, olives, chocolate rugelach, fresh vegetables, bread and pastries along with tea or coffee.
It is typically a dairy meal and a variety of cheese is served. As it is a dairy meal no meat is consumed during breakfast. Fish is permitted. Israeli breakfast signifies collective living and dining.
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Adityobarna Mukherjee is a contributor at The Strong Traveller and a writer by heart who swiftly makes her way through words. She’s most likely to be found in a cozy corner with a book. She lives to travel and vice versa. Apart from this, she also finds interest in making new dishes as much as finding new restaurants and cafes. A true perfectionist, she loves meeting new people and having a good conversation.