The question of whether there is one distinct category of Israeli food is a hotly contested topic. Israeli food, like many cuisines, incorporates influence from its numerous surrounding countries and cultures, reflecting the movement of people to and from its borders. Drawing ingredients and dishes from the Middle East, the Mediterranean and North Africa, Israeli food is an amalgam of diverse cuisine styles. Recognisable staples like hummus, labneh, couscous and falafel will be found everywhere in Israel, and all are easy to make at home. The list of must-tries is endless, and what follows is the mere beginning of the amazing culinary gems to sample.
Borekas are light, flaky dough parcels filled with either cheese, ground beef, mushrooms, spinach, eggplant, olives or mashed potatoes. They are both a popular street food as well as a breakfast item. Kosher conventions dictate the shape of the borekas based on their filling, with dairy-filled borekas shaped into triangles, while non-dairy fillings should be shaped in rectangles or squares. Borekas are usually savory, but you’ll occasionally find sweet ones too; either way, these flavourful parcels are not to be missed.
A well-known favourite also found throughout the Middle East and North Africa, falafel is usually enjoyed in a nest of pita bread with tahini sauce. Falafel is made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), onions and a variety of spices, and then deep fried. They pack a nutritional punch too, as chickpeas are protein- and vitamin-rich; a healthier fast-food alternative and popular street food.
3. Mint Tea
This traditional infused tea provides great relief from Israel’s summer heat in the months from June to September. The cooling quality of the mint makes it a great summer drink, and the tea is commonly available throughout Israel. It’s usually mixed with sugar and lemon, giving it an even more refreshing edge.
Also commonly found in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Shakshuka is a hearty breakfast dish consisting of eggs poached in a tomato sauce with chili peppers and onions. Enjoy it with challah bread to soak up the rich tomato sauce.
Sabich is an appetizing Israeli sandwich, a pita usually filled with fried eggplant, hummus, potatoes, tahini, Israeli salad, parsley and hard boiled eggs. The word “sabich” is thought to come from the Arabic word for “morning”, but can be happily consumed any time of day.
6. Semolina Cake
Traditional Israeli semolina cake is infused with tart lemon and olive oil, and forms one of the food traditions of Hanukkah. There are many versions of the recipe, all of which are easy to reproduce at home. The olive oil and crumbly texture of semolina give this cake a uniquely tart and sweet flavor combination.
Brisket is essentially the cut of beef from the lower chest or breast area. Jewish tradition has brisket braised in pot roast form and is enjoyed during several holy days, including Passover and Sabbath. Brisket is usually braised in some form of liquid (including tomatoes, wine, barbecue sauce and more), with many variations and is a huge favorite adopted across many cultures and countries.
Another popular breakfast (and brunch) item in Israel, khachapuri is a simple yet delicious meal of eggs baked onto leavened bread with gooey melted cheese. This flavorful concoction originates from Georgia and is popularly consumed in Russia and Armenia, and is now also a staple Jewish cooking.
9. Potato Latkes
Also eaten during Hanukkah, potato latkes originated in northeast Europe. Latkes are usually made by grating potatoes, which are then strained with onions to remove the moisture. Eggs and flour help form the little pancakes, which are then fried until golden. The crisp, savory latkes are served as appetizers, sides and even afternoon snacks with tea.
This introduction to traditional Israeli cuisine is a mere taste of the variety available. Whether you are visiting Israel or just eager to get more insight into Israeli culture, trying its food is a fun and essential part of getting to know the heritage. The great thing about Israeli cuisine is that it’s easy to make many of the country’s delicacies in your own home. Equally, if you’re taking Hebrew classes or want to begin, getting a taste for the food can be an awesome motivation to immerse yourself in that world.