Israel is a land of the eternal sun, sandy deserts and amazing foods. Created a little over 70 years ago, it is a country of contradictions, traditional values, gastronomical values and modern technologies. Israel is known for its holy places and the healing Dead Sea that awaits tourists all year round.
Most Popular Israeli Foods
The cuisine of Israel has been influenced over the years by Mediterranean and Arabic ingredients and cooking styles, plus significant influences from the Jewish diaspora.
The Local cuisine of Israel is usually divided into two main categories – Ashkenazi and Sephardic, as well as the country’s population itself. Ashkenazim, who make up about half of Israel’s Jewish population, are mostly descendants of immigrants from Central European countries. Immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula, as well as from the south of France, from Greece, Turkey and Italy are called Sephardic.
Ashkenazim love chicken broth, liver pate, forshmak and tzimmes. Sephardim on the other hand prefer such dishes as couscous, shakshuka or mafrum. These dishes are full of spices, fresh herbs and lemon juice for freshness, they were invented in hot climates, so they remain fresh and tasty for a long time.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Israel along with recipes for you to try yourself.
Shakshuka is a Maghrebi dish made from eggs, tomatoes, tomato paste, chilli peppers and onions. But there are also variations with paprika, feta, eggplant or spinach. Shakshuka, the unofficial national dish of Israel, actually comes from North Africa, but is very popular throughout Israel.
Hummus is a dip made from pureed chickpeas and tahini paste. In Israel, hummus is rarely found to be missing from any meze plate. It is traditionally eaten with pita bread. There are also variants of hummus with chicken or beef, which can be eaten as a main course.
Falafels are small fried balls prepared from ground chickpeas and a wide range of spices. They are classically served with salad, sesame paste tahini and hummus in a piece of pita bread.
Originally, falafel balls were considered to be poor people’s food that was only served with a little sesame sauce. Today it is a popular street food item that can easily be found in small roadside eateries and indeed throughout big restaurants in Israel.
Sabich is an Israeli sandwich consisting of fried or baked aubergine slices, hard-boiled eggs with tahini and is wrapped in a flatbread. It’s a tasty, meat-free alternative to shawarma. From small roadside stalls to big restaurants, this dish can easily be found throughout Israel.
Shawarma is a type of kebab consisting of chicken thigh meat, hummus, lettuce, eggplant and sauces. Though it is popular in Turkey also (known as doner kebab), the Israeli version is slightly more evolved the Turkish one.
Baba Ganoush is an appetizer dip made from grilled eggplant with tahini, lemon juice, garlic and spices. It is eaten as a starter with fresh bread or served as a dip with shawarma and falafel. It is quite similar to hummus except that Baba Ganoush calls for grilled or roasted eggplant whereas hummus uses chickpeas.
Amba is a sweet and spicy mango dip that is made from mangoes, vinegar, salt, mustard, turmeric, chilli, and fenugreek. It is most often served as a dressing on sabich and as a dip with falafel, kebab, salads and shawarma.
Jachnun is a Yemenite Jewish pastry that is usually eaten on the morning of the Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest). It is generally prepared using dough that is rolled and baked overnight. The final result is a dark paste, somewhat sugary in taste. It is often served with tomato salsa, boiled eggs and hot sauces.
Malawach is a pancake that is common in Yemenite Jewish cookery. It is a toasted cake, which can be eaten sweet with honey, or savory with hard-boiled egg, tomato honey and yolk (spicy). It can also be served as a wrapper to house many ingredients such as boiled eggs, hummus, fried onions, eggplant, pickles and much more.
Knafeh (Künefe) is a Levantine dessert made with cheese and kadayif. Knafeh is very popular all over the eastern Mediterranean including in Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Ideally, it is eaten warm right after it comes out of the oven and tastes much better when eaten with yogurt ice cream.
Malabi is a typical Israeli dessert made from rice flour or cornstarch and milk. It is a light milk pudding which is a variant of the Italian dessert panna cotta. The milk is flavored with rose water or orange blossom water and at the end, the malabi is sprinkled with sweet syrups such as maple syrup, and chopped nuts such as pistachios or walnuts.
Sujuk (Sucuk) Sausage
Sujuk is a dry, spiced sausage consumed in countries throughout the Middle East. Whilst most commonly associated with Lebanon and Turkey, it is revered in Israel too.
It is typically made of either beef, lamb or horse meat and is commonly eaten for breakfast where it is cut into slices, much like salami, and eaten with fried eggs.
Rugelach is a simple Jewish croissant-like pastry made from dough with cream and filled with chocolate ganache, nuts, raisins or jam. It is perfect with coffee or as a small snack in between meals.
Tulumba, also known as Pomba, Bamiyeh or Balaḥ ash-Shām, is a deep-fried dessert.
It prepared using an unleavened dough lump, which is shaped as a small ovoid and includes ridges lengthways. It is shaped with the help of a pastry bag or cookie press, which has a fitting end part.
Tulumba is initially deep-fried to give this dessert a golden colour, and then sugar-sweet syrup is added on top while it’s still hot.
Burekas covers a range of pastry dishes made by layering thin phyllo dough, with fillings such as cheese, minced meat, spinach and seasonings, along with a creamy egg yogurt mixture which is baked into a crispy and flaky pie-like dish.