Israel is located in the Middle East and along the Mediterranean Sea, but its cuisine is both uniquely Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, and oftentimes blends the two. Israeli food has also been heavily influenced by Jewish people from the Diaspora who brought their cuisine back to the motherland, including those from Spain, Russia, Germany, Eastern Europe, Tunisia and elsewhere, thus creating a uniquely Israeli Jewish fusion cuisine.
When travelling through Israel, keep in mind that many Israelis keep kosher, which means, depending on where you are at, the food will be prepared according to the requirements of Jewish law. In these areas of Israel, some food will be forbidden, particularly pork and shellfish. Furthermore, meat and dairy will not be combined. However, if you find yourself in a place where only kosher food is served, you can still enjoy mouthwatering matzo ball soup, brisket, gefilte fish, kugel, latkes and a cornucopia of other traditional food from Israel.
Keep in mind that Israeli food is not just limited to traditional Jewish fare, as the country's Palestinian population has also contributed greatly to its cuisine. Palatable Palestinian dishes include kibbeh, musakhan and djej mahshi.
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Because Israeli food is shaped by the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it is swimming with hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, lox, shawarma, baklava and all kinds of kebabs. Chefs in Israel also make good use of world-class olives, nutrient-rich chickpeas, lentils, goat cheese, figs, lemons, pomegranates and a plethora of other healthy ingredients.
In fact, Israeli food is not only some of the most delectable on Earth but healthiest as well. According to the New York Post, Israeli food is the "no-diet diet for foodies,” and emphasises fresh produce, lean proteins and healthy fat. Israel is also a haven for vegans and vegetarians but still caters to carnivores.
Matzo Ball Soup
No list of Israeli food is complete without including matzo ball soup, the most classic of all traditional food from Israel. Matzo balls, which have their origin with the Ashkenazim, a Jewish Diaspora population that lived in Europe, are traditionally served in chicken soup at Passover. However, it can be found in Israeli restaurants year-round. The dumplings in the soup are usually made from matzo meal, eggs, water and chicken fat.
Shakshuka is a beloved spicy Israeli dish made of poached eggs, tomatoes, chilli peppers and onions with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and coriander. This centuries-old dish originated in Tunisia and was introduced to Israel by Jewish immigrants. In Israel, shakshuka is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Falafel is a staple all over the Middle East and is one of the most important foods in the Israeli diet. No matter where you go in Israel, you will have no problem finding this fresh, inexpensive favourite. Falafel is made from ground chickpeas, fava beans or both, which is deep-fried and is typically served with pita bread, salad, pickles and hummus.
Hummus can be found on just about any table in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It is as ubiquitous as salt and pepper, and for good reason, as it goes with just about everything as a condiment and tastes great.
Hummus is a dip made from mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. In Israel, hummus, one of the country's national dishes, is known for its buttercream-like texture and rich, nutty flavour, and is frequently served with such Israeli staples as falafel, pita bread and shawarma.
Shawarma is another much-loved food found all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It is made from meat roasted on a spit, which can be chicken, lamb, beef, turkey or goat. The meat is then shaved off the spit or rotisserie into thin slices and placed in a pita along with hummus, pickled vegetables, cucumber and tahini. Shawarma, the Middle Eastern version of the burrito, is this part of the world's most popular street food.
Brisket, a cut of meat that comes from the breast section of a cow, is a very important main course of many Jewish holidays, including Passover, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, as well as Shabbat. Again, however, you don't have to wait for the holidays to enjoy a good braised brisket, as it is served year-round at many restaurants.
Although typically a tough meat, brisket is slow-cooked for many hours at a low temperature to help make it tender. Brisket is usually served with latkes, kugel, matzo ball soup and many other sides.
This classic baked casserole consists of egg noodles or potatoes and is the preferred dish on Shabbat, Judaism's day of rest, as it is believed to bring spiritual blessing. However, like matzo ball soup, it can be found in restaurants any day of the week. Kugel, another Ashkenazi dish, also includes eggs, a fat and cream cheese, and sometimes cottage cheese.
Simple but succulent, latkes are popular potato pancakes made by frying mashed or grated potatoes, eggs, onions, flour and matzo meal. They are crispy on the outside and light and creamy on the inside. Latkes are oftentimes served with applesauce or sour cream. Latkes are also a traditional Hanukkah dish.
Lox, Yiddish for salmon, is just that, salmon, which is salt-cured and served on a bagel with cream cheese. Another food brought to Israel by the Ashkenazim, lox is popular with both visitors and observant Jews, as they adhere to kosher law and can be mixed with other foods, such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and capers.
One of the most iconic and traditional foods from Israel, gefilte fish is a mix of carp, whitefish, mullet or pike, all of which is deboned and ground and fashioned into balls or patties. It is also another dish typically served on Shabbat. For those who don't like fish, fear not, as gefilte fish doesn't taste fishy, and is more like a fish meatloaf. It is often mixed with eggs, spices, ground onions and carrots.
Kibbeh is a combination of ground beef, bulger, minced onions, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It can also be made with lamb, goat or camel meat, and formed into balls or patties.
These deep-fried delights are not only found in the State of Palestine but cities in Israel that have large Palestinian populations, such as Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, Jerusalem and others.
Musakhan, a popular Palestinian-Arab dish, is a roasted chicken made with caramelized onions, sumac, saffron, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Musakhan is usually served with or on taboon, a Levantine flatbread. In 2010, the Palestinians, according to Travel Palestine, in an effort to promote Palestinian culture, made the Guinness Book of World Records by making the largest musakhan ever.
Djej mahshi is another Palestinian dish featuring chicken, but, unlike musakhan, it is chicken stuffed with spiced rice, pine nuts and ground meat. It is usually served with yoghurt, salad and bread. Djej mahshi has traditionally been served to mothers after giving birth in order to help them regain strength, but you don't have to be a new mother to eat it.
Baklava, which is made from layers of flaky phyllo pastry dough, butter, pistachios, cashews and walnuts and typically soaked in sugar syrup, is another Middle Eastern classic. In Israel, baklava comes in a plethora of varieties depending on where you are but is usually quite aromatic and flavourful. The calorie-conscious can also find baklava bites in Israeli bakeries and cafes.
Sufganiyah is believed to have been brought to Israel by German Jews fleeing the Nazis. This Hanukkah treat is a round, holeless jelly-filled doughnut topped with powdered sugar, but you don't have to be celebrating the holiday to enjoy a sufganiyah. Furthermore, you don't have to settle for jam or jelly, as a sufganiyah can also be filled with custard, Bavarian cream and other delights.
Ma'aroud is a doughy roll that is filled with dates and cut into cookies. They are the perfect pastry for noshing. In Israel, ma'aroud are usually eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Any bakery in Israel worthy of the name will have them.
Do you have a perpetual craving for confections? If so, halva is the salve for your sweet tooth. Halva is a crumbly dessert made from flour, sesame (tahini) paste or other nut butters and sugar. Halva can also be filled with various nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, almonds and black sesame seeds. Halva is also pareve, meaning neither meat nor dairy, so is an ideal kosher dessert.
Qatayef, a cross between a pancake and a dumpling, is the preferred treat that Palestinian Muslims reach for after fasting for Ramadan. Qatayef consists of yeasted pancakes filled with nuts then fried till crunchy and covered in a thick sugar syrup.
Do you love cheesecake? If so, try the Arabic version, knafeh. It is made from pasteurized goat cheese or mozzarella and ricotta cheese and topped with crumbled pistachios and a shredded phyllo dough.
The word limonana is a combination of the Hebrew words for lemon and mint, and the drink itself is a combination of icy lemonade and crushed mint leaves. This refreshing concoction is the go-to summer drink during Israel's hot summer months, and limonana can literally be found everywhere, which makes sense as it is the national drink of Israel.
The pomegranate is sacred in Israel, therefore pomegranate juice is revered, and refreshing. In fact, the pomegranate is one of the seven special fruits of the Land of Israel. It is also healthy, as the pomegranate, according to Israel Agri, is rich in vitamins E, C and A and folic acid, while research indicates it is also a potential asset in preventing heart attacks and cancer. You can find fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice all over Israel, from street corners and cafes to open-air markets and the mall.
Arak might be the most popular and potent of all the potables found in Israel. This liquorice-flavoured liquor is served at just about any bar and nightclub in the country. Arak, an unsweetened distilled spirit with translucent milky-white colour, is oftentimes served with ice and combined with water, lemonade or grapefruit juice to dilute it due to its potency. They don't call Arak "the milk of the lions” for nothing.
Tubi 60, which comes from Haifa, is another very strong liquor and is also a favourite amongst Israeli clubbers. It has a citrus, herb, spice and floral flavour that is uniquely intoxicating. In fact, when it comes to liquor, it has a category all its own.
However, due to its high alcohol content, this is not a drink for the amateur drinker. In Israel, Tubi 60 has become synonymous with happiness, fun and nightlife.
The king of Israeli beers is Goldstar. In fact, this lager accounts for over 30% of the Israeli beer market. However, Goldstar is not the only game in town. According to RateBeer, some of the best beers in Israeli include Alexander/Mikkeller The Beer Of Milk & Honey, a porter; Dancing Camel Doc's Green Leaf Party, an IPA; HaShakhen Pressure Drop, another IPA; and Malka Keha, a stout.
Due to its temperate Mediterranean climate, Israel is a major wine-producing country, and winemaking goes back thousands of years in the region. Today, Israel is home to hundreds of wineries, which produce all the varieties, from merlot and syrah to chardonnay and cabernet. According to Wine Searcher, some of the best Israeli wines come from Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills, Golan Heights Winery, Recanati Winery, Yatir Forest and Margalit Winery.