The nation of Israel is a fascinating place for any historian and especially so for fans of classical and religious history. With that said, its burgeoning tourist scene does not fall purely on the cobbled streets and holy shrines of cities like Jerusalem and Jaffa. Any tourist visiting this tiny nation will also appreciate the beauty of the gardens of Haifa, or the thronged streets of the modern city of Tel Aviv. Wherever you go in Israel, you will also be blessed with the chance to experience its remarkable cuisine - a mix of traditional Middle Eastern dishes developed in these very streets and some more esoteric dishes brought back to Israel by returning members of the diaspora. Below, we’ll give you some guidance to the top street food you must try in Israel and where to find it.
While it may be common to think of hummus as a side dish, it is popularly seen in Israel as a dish in and of itself, served with plenty of accompaniments that include fried onions and pickles, as well as plenty of pitta bread for dipping. Depending on where you get it, there can be additional variations, which include spiced cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. Either way, it’s a highly affordable and very palatable dish that should be one of your first meals in any Israeli city - although it’s particularly good in Jerusalem.
A popular dish first made famous in Egypt, ful has become a street food staple within Israel - particularly in areas with higher Arabic populations. It’s actually a close cousin to hummus but, instead of chickpeas, ful is made with mashed fava beans. This tends to make it chunkier than hummus and gives it an earthier taste, which melds exceptionally well with a topping of caramelised onions and chillies to give it an extra kick.
Originally developed in the former Soviet state of Georgia, this warming cheese bread is reminiscent of pizza, but better. The dish is made by pressing dough to form a well in the middle and filling that gap with multiple types of cheese. This is then baked for a short time before adding an egg into the middle of the well. Following this, the bread is returned to the oven to finish cooking and then served hot, allowing diners to dip the bread crust into the gooey mix in the middle. The Machane Yehuda neighbourhood of Jerusalem is home to Hachapura, a Georgian restaurant that specialises in this dish.
On any trip to Israel, you will be encouraged to try falafel sandwiches - and you absolutely should, as they are delicious - but the sabich is another option for an open sandwich you should be sure not to miss out on. The main ingredients are fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs, though it also contains salad, hummus and tahini, along with a piquant mango sauce. The dish was originally designed as a breakfast meal - “Sabich” is an Arabic word meaning “morning” - but these days, you can buy and eat them at any time of day.
If you’re looking for sweet fast food, then Sfenj is certain to be your friend - a light doughnut fried in seconds, it’s one of the simplest dishes you’re likely to try during your stay in Israel. It’s Maghrebian in origin and it is served either plain, rolled in sugar or dipped in honey. For many Jewish people of Moroccan descent, Sfenj is a major part of Hannukah celebrations and it can be made in the home or, in some cases, found at roadside bakeries or food stands.
Shawarma is a form of fast food that has been hugely popular for decades within Israel and the wider Middle East and has spread into much of the west as a delicious street food option for revellers leaving clubs or just diners in a hurry. Although its popularity experienced something of a dip in Israel, from the middle of the last decade, it’s recently seen a comeback and the appearance within Jerusalem of a number of restaurants preparing traditional shawarma is nothing but good news.
This meal, often served in pitta bread, consists of thinly-sliced meat that has been cooked on a rotating spit. It can be enjoyed with salad and a number of sauces, or simply garnished as the diner sees fit.
Arguably the most famous Israeli food in the west, the experience of falafel is one for which you must make space in your day and in your stomach. These spiced, herby balls made from crushed chickpeas are deep-fried and served - usually in a pitta bread - with plenty of salad. They can also be paired with hummus for a filling, affordable meal that can be found far and wide in any Israeli town, from street carts or restaurants alike.
If you’re looking to pick up breakfast while on the move in Israel, you should take the opportunity to give shakshuka a try. This is a hugely nourishing breakfast staple imported into the country by North African Jewish returnees and it features a stewed mix of chopped tomatoes, peppers and, quite frankly, whatever else the maker chooses to add. Into this mix, eggs are cracked and poached in the simmering stew, which is then served when the eggs are fully cooked. It’s a regular on the table at Israeli breakfasts and perhaps should be everywhere.
Babka is a taste experience that everyone should have the opportunity to sample at some point and it’s best that you enjoy it from a street vendor rather than make it yourself – it takes forever to cook! A sweet brioche cake that is usually filled with cinnamon and melted chocolate, babka is a sweet treat that should be sampled by any visitor to Israel and is the ideal accompaniment to an afternoon coffee.
There are many different recipes for Burika, but the most popular type found in Jerusalem street markets includes taking a thin sheet of pastry and coating it in a thin layer of mashed potato, before deep-frying just one half of the mix and then adding a cracked egg. The whole thing is then folded over before being returned to the hot fat to complete cooking. On completion, you are presented with one of the tastiest dishes you could hope to experience, a gooey, starchy melange that needs to be tasted to be believed.
Get a taste of Israel
The above delicacies are all part of Israel’s vibrant street food scene, with a mix of vegetarian and meat-eaters’ delights that ensures any diner will be overjoyed with their experience. Whether you’re in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, or somewhere else entirely, there are culinary delights that await you. Make sure you indulge because you’ll regret missing out on these excellent dishes.
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