6 foods you have to try in the Holy Land

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If you have travel plans in Israel (perhaps with one of our upcoming tours!) you owe it to yourself to experience the real flavor of the country. Yes, Israel is a modern industrialized country, so there are plenty of familiar chains such as McDonalds and Dominos if you just want something predictable. And if you’re not feeling adventurous, you can always rely on the humble bagel for breakfast or a quick snack. But why limit yourself to the standard fare when there is so much more to experience!?

Don’t come back from the Holy Land without sampling these delicious treats!


Falafel

C’mon, this wouldn’t be a real list of Israeli food if it didn’t start with falafel. Perhaps the most well-known Israeli dish in the world, it’s likely you’ve had falafel before -- but you’ve never had it like they make it in the country it was born in!

Falafel is a mix of chickpeas, beans, and spices packed together tightly into balls and then deep fried. It’s a simple enough dish, but the key is in the spices used. Every falafel chef in Israel has their own special blend of spices, their own personal take on what makes the perfect falafel, so be sure to sample the dish at a few different spots to get the full experience!

Don’t worry about running up a bill either. Falafel is a street food staple you can find in every market and nearly every corner, with vendors cooking it up nice and cheap. Think of it as Israel’s answer to a New York foot long – omnipresent, affordable, and oh so very satisfying.


Botz

There is nothing like a fresh cup of coffee in the morning! Even in the arid and hot lands of Israel, lots of people can’t start their day without a steaming cup of coffee to get them going. Don’t go thinking this will be your typical double-double though. In Israel, the preferred drink is what they call botz, or translated to English, "mud.”

Botz is a richer, more aromatic blend then you may be used to. Made up of dark Turkish grinds typically served without cream and garnished with a dash of cardamom, a cup of botz is a high-octane boost to any morning. Intimidated? Don’t feel like you need to gulp it down in one go! Take the time to savor it and get used to the taste. Israel has a thriving café culture where you can relax and enjoy a drink at your own pace and maybe meet some new friends. Make some time for a break in your busy schedule so you can enjoy this Israeli treat.

By the way, if a cup of mud really doesn’t sound like your thing, you can always get a mug of what we’d consider normal coffee in the West. Instead of ordering a "coffee,” ask your barista for a "Nescafe” with whatever cream and sweetener you usually take. Don’t ask why they call it that, it’s just the name that stuck in the area for the typical American cup.


Hummus

Another Israeli staple, hummus is a tasty spread made from crushed chickpeas and tehina sauce seasoned with garlic, olive oil, salt, and a dash of lemon for zing. Just like falafel, there is an endless number of ways to make hummus by playing with the ratio of the ingredients or tossing in a little something extra, so don’t be afraid to give a few different versions a try!

Hummus is an interesting dish in that it can either be served as a side, a snack, or as the main entrée of a meal! It can be spread on pitas, hardboiled eggs, and nearly anything else. You can get it served fresh at a restaurant, prepared in front of you at the market, or off the shelf in the grocery store; it’s just that popular.

Really, if you’re dining in Israel for any period of time, the question isn’t if you’re going to eat some hummus, but how much you’re going to eat!


Jachnun

Jachnun might not look like much, but don’t be fooled, this tasty treat is a labour of love that you shouldn’t pass up! You might have a little more difficulty finding a sample though as jachnun is frequently only sold on Saturday mornings depending on where you go (bigger hotels might have it available on other days). This is because jachnun takes a ridiculous 10-12 hours to bake!

Made of buttery rolled dough, jachnun is kind of like a croissant on steroids. You can enjoy it as is, but most will recommend you garnish it with some schug, a Yemenite hot sauce. In the spirt of trying new things, by all means give it a shot, but go easy on it your first time though. While most of the stereotypes of Israeli food being overly spicy are exaggerations, schug is the food equivalent of molten lava!

Paired up with some bread and a hard boiled egg or two alongside it, jachnun is the perfect, luxurious way to start your weekend. Provided you don’t feel like immediately taking a nap afterwards at least.


Atayef

Looking for something less rich? Atayef is just the dessert for you! These pancakes stuffed with walnuts offer a sweet and subtle way to finish a meal. You can order these for yourself, but they’re often served to the table as a pallet cleanser.

With a hints of vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon, these fluffy cakes are perfect if you want something sweet, but not overpowering. Don’t worry though, if you’re the type that has a sweet tooth, atayef is typically served with a dish of warmed syrup or honey for dipping (try mixing it with a cup of botz for a nice balance of sweet and bitter!)


Shakshooka

Lastly, don’t come home without trying an order of shakshooka! This meal that eats like a feast is a regular crowd pleaser in Israel combining a rich variety of flavors. It’s almost reminiscent of Italian or Mexican cuisine with its abundant helping of tomatoes and tomato sauce, generous use of garlic and onions, and mix of herbs. But then just when you think you have it figured out, there is a dash of paprika in there turning the whole dish on its head, and its finished with eggs poached right in the pan with the tomato sauce! Talk about going from typical to extraordinary!

Be prepared to make a scene with this dish. Shakshooka is served right in the pan it’s made in, delivered to the table sizzling hot. Get out your bread and start dipping – it might look like a lot right now, but once your travel mates get a taste, that pan is sure to go down fast!

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