Oh yes, Israel is one heck of a place to come if you’re into eating good food! There is just such a variety of amazingly delicious foods available in Israel (largely due to the huge melting pot of culture and immigrants from, yes, 120 different countries!), you’ll be spoilt for choice. So put that drooling tongue away and wash those hands – there’s no need for knives and forks with this little lot!
We’ve come up with a list of the five best Israeli foods you have to taste, and which we are almost certain will leave you salivating for more. If you’re feeling peckish, look away now!
The king of Israeli food, no question, though actually originally from Egypt. A delicious mix of chickpeas and/or fava beans, plus spices liberally applied according to each falafel stand owner’s secret recipe, these little falafel balls are then thrust into a pita, nestling alongside freshly cut salads, hummus, tehina sauce, pickled vegetables and maybe some chips.
You can find falafel on almost every street corner, especially in the larger towns. Prices are very cheap, often as low as 10-15 shekels per portion – and then there’s the unspoken rule of free salad refills (you’ll have to pay for more falafel balls), as long as you have any semblance of a pita left to hold it in! A cheap, very satisfying meal.
The prince charming of Israeli food, hummus (or humus, hummous, etc), hummus is actually originally Lebanese. Hummus is a kind of dip or spread made from crushed chickpeas and mixed with tehina sauce, lemon, olive oil, salt and garlic.
It can be served in many ways, including as a main dish accompanied by ful (fava beans) and hard boiled egg, as well as a side dish at a big meal. Hummus has also become big business in Israel, where in addition to the many cafes and restaurants that serve it, you can also find an amazing variety of hummus in tubs in every supermarket.
Hummus is also known for its high nutritional value. And it’s also very accepted if you wipe clean your hummus plate with a chunk of pita bread, in fact it takes some style in doing so (just watch those around you).
And no, hummus has absolutely nothing to do with Hamas, but might well play havoc with your intestinal gasses (read: fart city). Check out our beginners guide to hummus for the full picture!
You can often find shawarma in exactly the same place as falafel, and if not, it’ll usually be very close by. Another street food extremely popular in Israel, shawarma is typically slices of turkey, chicken or lamb, which are usually shaved off a huge slab of meat rotating (vertically) on a big spit. Similar in style to the Turkish doner kebab.
Eaten in much the same way as falafel, stuffed into a pita with salad, hummus, tehina sauce, pickles and chips, or for the big boys, a lafa, which is an Iraqi-style pita, rolled up around the slices of meat and salad. Costs much the same as a falafel portion, though if you go for the lafa you could be paying around 30 shekels. Personally, I find shawarma a much more satisfying meal than either hummus or falafel.
The king of weekend eating, Jachnun is a traditional Yemenite dish usually only served on a Saturday morning (though is available in many hotels and restaurants throughout the week). Jachnun is made of rolled dough made with plenty of unhealthy margerine, which is then cooked overnight for around 10-12 hours.
The best way to eat Jachnun is with grated tomato, spiced up a little with some Yemenite schug (be careful, it can rip your tongue off!), along with a hard-boiled egg, preferably one also cooked in the same overnight pot. Read here for more jachnun delights, including the best places to eat it.
Another fantastic Israeli food that also has its roots in the Arabic world. This concoction of tomatoes, onions, plenty of garlic, as well as some crucial spices such as sweet paprika, is usually a fairly liquidy mess that is then topped off with a poached egg in the same frying pan.
If you order shakshooka anywhere, such as at the great Dr Shakshooka in Yafo, don’t be alarmed to see the frying pan placed in front of you, still piping hot. Usually a cheap and satisfying meal, as long as you get enough bread to soak up all those frying pan juices.