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Travelers visiting Israel for the first time will discover a nation of incredible, diverse flavors.
A mix of Jewish diaspora cooking combined with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, Israeli cuisine is flavorful, fresh and healthy. Whether you’re into no-frills street food and market fare; elaborate multicourse gourmet meals; or if you possess a major sweet tooth, Israel has something for you — even if you’re vegan, and especially if you’re kosher. While we recommend eating as much as possible, make sure to try these 11 things when visiting Israel. And come hungry!
Well-known all over the world, this dip is made from mashed chickpeas combined with olive oil, tahini, perhaps a squirt of lemon juice and sometimes a dash of paprika. Eaten as a meal with pita bread, Israeli salad and falafel, the dish is famous in Israeli — your toughest decision will be where to get it, as it’s served in most Israeli restaurants. Particularly popular is masabacha hummus that has a different texture as the chickpeas are left whole. Check out Abu Hassan in Jaffa for some of the best hummus in Tel Aviv. The atmosphere is casual, with waiters shouting and rushing around, but it may be the best hummus you ever eat.
Chickpeas are a favorite in Israel. Falafel is a fried ball typically made of mashed up chickpeas and fragrant herbs. Often eaten in a pita layered with hummus and other sauces and vegetables, falafel isn’t something you need to spend a lot of money on. In fact, some of the best falafel can be found on the street, like at the market in the town of Acre (also known as Akko). For a restaurant experience, sample it at Afteem in Bethlehem.
Israeli breakfasts are pretty much always incredible — but what really stands out is the savory baked egg-and-tomato dish, shakshuka. Often served directly in a cast iron skillet, shakshuka is warm, hearty and delicious. Get it at Cafe Kadosh in Jerusalem, where you can enjoy your dish outside on a sunny day.
Tahini is a simple sauce made from sesame paste, lemon juice, olive oil and other herbs and spices. It’s typically used as a dipping sauce, a topping for pita bread, as part of an Israeli breakfast or alongside hummus and falafel. Get it almost anywhere, and eat it with almost anything.
Although winemaking in many regions of Israel dates back to biblical times, local wines only recently made a splash on the international scene. While some varieties are kosher, others are not, and you can find both in the five main wine regions around the country: Shomron, Shimshon/Samson, Judean Hills, Negev and Galilee. Visitors can sample wine at over 300 Israeli wineries, or sip glasses at intimate wine bars in Tel Aviv, such as Elkalai.
Israeli Druze are an ethnic minority and religious group living mainly in the north of the country. Druze cuisine is a mix of Israeli, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare, and the recipes often mix together sweet and savory flavors. Some of the best dishes to sample are siniya with tahini (ground meat mixed with cardamom and rice), and the Druze version of maqluba — a savory dish of meat, vegetables and rice cooked in a pot and then flipped upside down. Look for restaurants in the north of Israel near Golan Heights to sample this type of food. Some locals will even invite tourists into their homes for a special experience of sampling home-cooked Druze delights.
On the go? Grab a sabich — a warm pita sandwich overflowing with hard-boiled eggs, roasted eggplant, tahini, spices and more. Sabich Frishman in Tel Aviv is the place to go for this flavorful street food. Just be warned, you may have to wait in line during peak hours for your order.
This milk pudding is made with rose water, and the sweet treat is served for both dessert as well as breakfast. Recipes vary, but some of the best varieties have a light dusting of pine nuts or pistachios on top. Get it at the Shuk Hapishpeshim, the famous flea market in the Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
Contemporary chefs around Israel are reimagining gourmet takes on this famous pastry, but the best way to sample it is the original way: with cheese baked in a special noodle, vermicelli-like pastry dough soaked in a sugary syrup. Snack on this at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
Tahini sauce makes a sweet reappearance in the classic dessert, halva. Blended with nut butter and sugar, halva is a crumbly, dense treat perfect for snacking. Try this, too, at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. It’s also served at the breakfast buffet at the Waldorf Astoria if you want to start your day off sweet. (Very, very sweet.)
Much of Israel is along the sea (or at least close to it), meaning you can enjoy fresh, delicious seafood in many parts of the country year-round. One of the best places to get it is at the Uri Buri Restaurant in Acre (Akko). Famous chef Uri Buri uses only the freshest and highest quality ingredients in his dishes, which range from scallops in cream to raw shrimp and St. Peter’s fish with beetroot.
Know before you go.
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