Israel has a truly unique food culture, one that has been shaped by geography and history. As a desert nation, Israel has an entirely different agricultural profile compared to what we’re used to in North America. Israeli cuisine makes far more use of staples like olives, olive oil, chickpeas, and yogurt than we do in the west. But that’s just part of the puzzle. What really makes Israeli cuisine so interesting is how many different parts of the world it draws from! As Jews living all over the globe return to Israel to live in the Holy Land, they bring parts of those cultures with them. A typical Israeli pantry looks like a meeting of the UN with spices from North Africa and South America sitting next to products from Europe which will be combined to make a Mediterranean dish! Combine all of that with Israel’s lively street life and the popularity of small food stalls and gimmick restaurants and you have no end of interesting treats to sample!
Best of all, you can try many of these favorites at home. Put a little international zing in your kitchen by trying some of these popular Israeli dishes!
When you’re looking for a distinctly Israeli dish, it’s only natural to try one that has "Israeli” in the name! This fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers is a nice and light addition that can go with almost any meal. Dressed in a little olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini, it’s both tasty and delicious!
I did a double take the first time I saw khachapuri. "Is that an egg on that bread?” It sure is! This delicious bread treat originates from Georgia but is incredibly popular in Israel. A sure-fire breakfast hit, this boat shaped pastry is stuffed with cheese with a beautiful golden fried egg on top. It’s pretty easy to make and is great for dipping or topping with your favorite condiment. Who doesn’t like a little humas in the morning? Some people even enjoy adding shrimp and garlic to this bread goody and serving it for dinner – how versatile!
When you’re looking for a meal to remind you of Israeli street life, you can’t beat the humble kebab. Served everywhere in the country and with as many variations as you can imagine, the kebab is an absolute staple of Israeli cuisine.
While there are endless variations to be tried, one of the most popular in Israel is the so-called Romanian kebab (also known as mititei). This kebab is made with ground beef, a generous dose of garlic, some onions, and a little bit of sugar to caramelize everything. They’re simple, quick (although you do need to prep it ahead of time to chill in the fridge a bit), and guaranteed to impress the family the next time you fire up the BBQ!
Alright, let’s be honest. If we’re talking favorite Israeli desert treats, Sfenj, Israel’s preferred doughnut subsitute sold by street vendors and tiny cafes all over is the best. Like an extra airy but crisp doughnut, these are dusted with sugar and impossible to resist. But they also need to be eaten as fresh as possible for the full effect and not too many of us have a barrel of frying oil around the house to do them right.
Thankfully, we can still enjoy atayef at home! These are delicate thin pancake bites stuffed with nuts (or cheese if you’re feeling adventurous) and usually served dripping with syrup. Although they are associated with Tu B’shvat, you can enjoy these treats any time of year. Easy to make, tasty, and totally unique! Try making a batch for your family as a surprise and see how quickly they ask for more.
If you’re going to have a sweet treat, you’ll need something savoury to wash it down, so why not try Israel’s upside-down coffee? This drink was all the rage for a few years and still enjoys decent popularity at cafés and espresso kiosks across the country.
Café hafuch is similar to a latte, but in reverse. When you make a latte, you put your espresso shot in the vessel and pour frothed milk on top. With café hafuch, first you put in your steamed milk and slowly pour your shot over top of it. Layer it with another dab of milk froth, garnish with nutmeg, and you’ve got a nice compliment to anything sweet that is creamier than a typical latte. In Israel this drink is frequently served with a chunk of dark chocolate, give it a try for the full experience!