Israel is known for and also visited for its religious and historical sights, cosmopolitan cities, diverse beauty of desert, lush landscapes and beaches, culture and amazing people. What many come to learn is that street food provides visitors a blend of gastronomy experiences that provide a unique balance of both the Eastern and Western influences you will find here.
Locals enjoy strong flavors and fresh ingredients and the street food is no different, making the options healthy and offering a no pun “taste” of Israeli life.
Israel offers many restaurants and market stalls offering some of the best street food in the world. As you wander the cities these are 5 of the top dishes you will not want to miss.
No doubt you have heard of falafel which is unofficially the national dish of Israel and rightly so since it can be found everywhere you travel throughout the country. The tasty dish originated in Egypt and was brought to Israel by the Yemenite Jews in the 1950’s. Made from ground chickpeas mixed with a blend of spices and then deep fried, they are typically served stuffed into a housemade pita with salad, tomatoes, pickles and topped with a tahini or hummus sauce. As you are exploring the markets in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, this is the one food that is a “must try” while visiting Israel. Some of the more popular locations to get your falafel on are Shalom Falafel and Falafel Brothers.
If falafel is the national dish of Israel, hummus would hold second place. Considered by Americans as a dip, in Israel, hummus is a staple and a favorite meal because it is nutritious, inexpensive and quick and easy. Made from mashed chickpeas that are blended with tahini sauce, olive oil and spices like garlic, salt, cumin and lemon juice, topped with a garnish of pine-nuts or parsley and then served in a large bowl. Eaten scooped up with a piece of pita bread with or without hot sauce and other healthy accompaniments like pickles and onions, hummus is so popular here that you will find many local hummusia’s all vying for the right to be called the “best”. It is up to you to sample and decide for yourself.
Another well known Middle Eastern dish that is usually made using spiced chicken, lamb, veal or turkey that is thinly sliced and stacked in a cone shape and slow grilled until juicy on a rotating spit. Once the long cooking process completes, the meat is carved and served stuffed into a pita or on top of a salad with tahini or hummus and pickled vegetables. (Are you starting to see a theme here). Schwarm is a Turkish word for grilled it originated in the Ottoman Empire where it was made from lamb or mutton. We have been told that for the best Shawarma, there are a few standouts, Keter Hamizrach in Tel-Aviv or Massov in Jerusalem are best bets. Oh and come hungry!
Considered one of Israel’s best secrets, Bourekas, Burekas or Burke’s as they are locally called are stuffed flaky turnovers, created by the Turkish Jews and very very popular around Israel. Brought into Israel by Turkish and Balkan immigrants from Bulgaria and Slovenia in the 19th century, you will find them everywhere throughout Israel. Handmade with phyllo dough and served many different ways with savory fillings of cheese, potato, spinach, mushroom, roasted eggplant or even in a pizza style, they are best when enjoyed crisp and fresh out of the oven. You can also find sweet versions at some of the local bakeries to enjoy with a strong cup of popular “mud coffee”. Find them in the local markets and from cart stands throughout Israel.
Last but not least, is the very popular breakfast sandwich Sabich. Similar in namesake to the BLT, the name is from the letters of the main ingredients of the sandwich, S – salatim (salad), B- beitzim (hardboiled egg) H – hatzilim (eggplant). Created by Iraqi jews, this local staple is in the form of a pita stuffed with slices of deep fried eggplant, cooked overnight hard boiled eggs and Israeli salad (diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and peppers) and cabbage and then topped with traditional tahini and tangy amba (pickled mango) sauce. You can also find them made with optional add ons like vegetables, potatoes, onions and hot sauce. Made in a way that you get a burst of all flavors in every bite, it has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
To savor any of these delicious local favorites, stop in at one of the many open-air markets that are popular throughout Israel. Some of the more popular are the vibrant Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Jerusalem where you can enjoy the lively Israeli life. And while you are there, sample some of the local olives, goat cheese and sample the popular prickly cactus fruit, sabra.
Israel can be experienced on its own or as part of a Middle Eastern tour, combined with Egypt. Our favorite experience is a 11 night river cruise along the Nile river with a post stay visit to Israel for a real bucket list experience. Find out more about Egypt Nile cruising, from the link provided.