Home » The Best Food to Try in Israel and Where to Find It

The Best Food to Try in Israel and Where to Find It

by backpackisrael
Published: Last Updated on 17 minutes read
Vegetable stalls in Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem

When I travel to a foreign country, one of my favorite things to do is to go to a local restaurant and taste some local dishes. If you’re reading this post, I suppose you feel the same. And you’ll probably be happy to hear that Israel is a wonderland for foodies. There is so much food EVERYWHERE that you can spend days trying to sample it all. In this post, I’ll cover some of the best foods to try in Israel and also provide some important things to note when eating out.

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Things to note when eating out in Israel

  • Most restaurants in Israel are Kosher. This means that they do not mix milk products with meat products. So, if you’ve just bought a meat shawarma, don’t enter a dairy-based Kosher restaurant with it. The people at the restaurant will most likely tell you to take the shawarma, or whatever it is, out of the restaurant, and it might be an unpleasant experience. 
  • There are places with limited seating places. For example, if you want to have lunch in one of the markets, there are some places with seats, but usually those seats are limited. So, don’t count on sitting in the markets, and get ready to eat while standing or waiting a long time for a table.
  • Places have menus in English. Especially in tourist areas, there are also menus in English, so there is no need to worry about that.
  • Tap water is free. If you want to drink water and you’re sitting in a restaurant, feel free to ask the waiter for a jug of tap water. The tap water in Israel is amongst the best in the world, so there’s no problem drinking it. Ask specifically for tap water because tap water is free. If you ask for mineral water, it would cost a lot.  
  • It’s customary to leave a 10-15% tip at restaurants. Leaving a tip is expected if you’re sitting down in a restaurant. If you don’t leave a tip, the waiter might come running after you. It happened to me once. However, there’s no need to leave a tip if you’ve just bought something from a food stall or haven’t sat down.

So, what are some popular foods to try in Israel?

Before I begin with the list of popular foods in Israel, I want to write it again – there are many types of food to try in Israel. Israel is a melting pot of cultures. People came to Israel from around the world and brought their traditional foods with them. Until today, many people keep eating the food their grandparents or great-grandparents brought from abroad. Some foods went through some changes after meeting the Israeli culture, but some stayed the same.

Here are some of the most common foods in Israel, how they evolved, and where you can taste them:

Falafel

Some say the falafel is Israel’s national food and the country’s most famous dish. So, you should definitely try it while in Israel!

The falafel was most likely invented by the Copts in Egypt, who wanted to eat something that would make them full on days when they were not allowed to eat meat. They used the Egyptian fava bean to create their deep-fried falafel ball.

In Israel and other places in the Middle East, the falafel balls are usually made from chickpeas. But the real Israeli twist to the falafel is the fact that it is generally served in a pita. This started in the 1950s, when the Israelis had to work hard and had no time to sit in restaurants. So, they found this patent of carrying the falafel balls with them in a delicious, warm pita filled with tahini, hummus, vegetable salad, pickles, and many more good things.

Where can you find good falafel in Israel?

Falafel balls on the left
Falafel balls to the left

Hummus 

Hummus is one of the most popular pita spreads, but it also comes as a dish on its own. It’s made from mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. At home, I also add cumin. It’s usually served in a round dish, with olive oil in its center and paprika sprinkled on top. Most places also offer different toppings like chickpeas, broad beans, mushrooms, or even ground meat. It’s a very satisfying meal.

There are different ways to make hummus, so you will probably get a different type of hummus wherever you go. It differs in texture and taste. Some are more grainy, and some are smoother. Some are sourer than others.

Unlike the falafel, no one is sure about the origins of the hummus. Some believe it came from Ancient Egypt, but others think people only started eating hummus in the Crusader period.

Where can you find good hummus in Israel?

Hummus with colors
Colorful hummus at HaHummus Shel Tchina. It doesn't usually look like this!

Shawarma

Shawarma is the first and only meat dish on my list. But don’t be mistaken – Israelis love meat, especially barbeque. You’ll find a lot of meat-based restaurants in Israel offering chicken breast, pullets, beef, hamburgers, and also internal organs such as hearts and livers. But let’s get back to shawarma. It consists of thin-sliced meat stacked on a cone and roasted on a slowly turning vertical spit. The traditional meat is lamb, but today, there are also shawarmas made from chicken, veal, or beef. After it gets roasted, it gets cut off the spit. In Israel, it’s usually served in a pita, but you can also eat shawarma on a plate. 

This popular meat dish originates from Turkey, where they have been making shawarma for centuries.

Where can you find good shawarma in Israel?

Shawarma Emil
Shawarna Emil in Haifa

Sabich

Sabich is another tasty meal that consists of fried eggplants, hard-boiled eggs, vegetable salad, amba, parsley, and tahini sauce, all stuffed in a pita. Initially, the ingredients of the sabich were not stuffed in a pita. Iraqi Jews used to eat fried eggplants, hard-boiled eggs, and a vegetable salad for breakfast on Shabbat. When they came to Israel, they brought this breakfast with them.

In the 1960s, a man named Sabich Khavli opened a small kiosk next to a bus station in the city of Ramat Gan. Many bus drivers stopped at his kiosk. They were very hungry and wanted something satisfying to eat. So, Sabich took the ingredients that were left from his Shabbat breakfast, stuffed them into a taboon bread, and sold it to the drivers. They were delighted and started talking about the wonderful meal they had at Sabich’s. Slowly-slowly, more and more people arrived at his kiosk, and soon enough, the people started calling the meal “sabich.” It’s delicious!

 Where can you find good sabich in Israel?

Shakshuka

Now, let’s leave the pitas and talk about the shakshuka. The shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce, usually spiced with garlic and paprika. Usually, people eat it for breakfast or for dinner. Many people make it at home, but you can also find it in dairy-based restaurants. Some restaurants serve special shakshukas, like a shakshuka with mushrooms and goat cheese or a green shakshuka made with spinach sauce instead of tomato sauce.

The shakshuka arrived with the Jews who came from the northern regions of Africa – from Libya and Tunis. So, it probably originates from those regions.

Where can you find good shakshuka in Israel?

Man making shakshuka in the field
Making shakshuka outdoors

Burekas

The burekas came to Israel with the Jews who arrived from the Balkan and Turkey. Today, it’s one of the things you will always find in social gatherings. The burekas is a baked pastry that comes in different shapes and fillings. It’s easy to bring, it’s fun to eat, and it’s satisfying.

Originally, the Turkish burekas didn’t have a variety of fillings or a variety of shapes. During the Ottoman period, when the Ottoman Empire expanded, it was influenced by different ingredients, and new fillings were introduced into the burekas. The various shapes came from the Jews, who wanted to easily identify between the different fillings because there were burekas with cheese and burekas with meat. Religious Jews are not allowed to mix cheese and meat in the same meal, so they had to know the difference. Today, burekas with meat are very uncommon, and most of the burekas you will find are filled with cheese or vegetarian fillings. These include cheese, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and spinach.

Where can you find good burekas in Israel?

You’ll find burekas almost everywhere in Israel. They’re sold in bakeries and supermarkets, and there are also some restaurants that sell them as a fancier dish. Here are some good places to try burekas:

  • Marzipan Bakery and Pastry (Jerusalem). This famous bakery in the Machane Yehuda Market sells yummy burekas. They also sell excellent rugelach, which is a chocolate-filled pastry originating from the Jewish Ashkenazi community in Poland.
  • Puni Bakery (Tel Aviv).
  • Burekas Izmir (Haifa). In this place, you can find not only the Israeli burekas but also the more traditional Turkish burekas.
Cheese and potato burekas
The most common burekas is the cheese burekas to the left

Challah

If you’re in Israel close to Friday, it’s also a good opportunity to taste the challah bread. This traditional bread is eaten during the Shabbat feast on Friday evening. Learn more about Shabbat here. The challah is sold in bakeries mainly on Thursday evening or Friday morning. It’s a braided bread that is usually sprinkled with sesame seeds. For the Shabbat feast, you need to use a salted challah, but there are also sweet challahs. I recommend you try the salted one because that’s the most traditional.

If you want a special experience, you can book a Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem on EatWith. I haven’t been to this couple for Shabbat, but from the reviews, it looks like they’re great hosts. By joining a Shabbat dinner, you’ll be able not only to taste the challah but also to take part in the Shabbat ceremony, which is a central part of Jewish culture.

Another way to taste the challah in a special way is by ordering a schnitzel in a challah. It has become a very popular dish in Israel, served not only on Fridays but throughout the week. My favorite schnitzel in challah is sold at Challah. They have a branch on Allenby Street and also in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. The challah they sell is the sweet one. 

Challah bread before it enters the oven
Making Challah bread at home - before it enters the oven!

Jachnun 

The jachnun is a Jewish Yemenite pastry, traditionally eaten on Shabbat morning. It is made from rolled dough and brushed with butter, so it’s one of the fattest foods you’ll find in Israel. But it’s delicious- at least for me! It’s usually served with tomato salsa and hard-boiled eggs. If you like it spicey, you can also ask for zhug, a green hot sauce that also originates from Yemen. Today, the jachnun is eaten by all types of Israelis and not only on Shabbat, but if you’re staying at a hotel, you might find that it’s still served on Saturday morning.

Where can you find good jachnun in Israel?

Pomegranate juice

It’s not exactly food, but pomegranate juice is definitely something you should taste while in Israel, especially if you’re visiting during the pomegranate season, around September-October. The pomegranate is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and can help with inflammation and different health problems. 

You can find pomegranate juice in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, and the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

Israeli salad

Lastly, I want to finish with the Israeli salad, which I personally cannot live without. I prepare an Israeli salad every day, usually for dinner. In restaurants, it’s usually a side dish that you can add to any meal, especially morning meals. The Israeli salad is made from finely chopped vegetables, usually tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley. You can also add pepper, carrots, and lettuce to your salad. The dressing is typically a mix of fresh lemon juice and olive oil.  

Conclusion

The food in Israel is influenced from all over the world. There’s food that came from Turkey, from North Africa, and from Europe. In Israel, some foods were given an Israeli twist, while others stayed more or less the same. If you love food, you’ll love Israel. Have a delicious trip! 

If you have any recommendations for places to eat in Israel – share in the comments or let me know at [email protected]

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If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on my Facebook page or to contact me at [email protected].

If you’re searching for a tour guide in Israel, I also offer private tours in Israel.

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Yours,

Lior

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