About the food of Israel

Man reading a newspaper in the Dead Sea. Photo by Ranveig.

Listen up, hipsters. While you can find snow in the mountains of Israel, you’re a lot more likely to find a splash of sunshine and a heavy dose of beautiful Mediterranean summer. In short, Israel has the perfect climate for a smile – especially while floating effortlessly along the dead sea, even if your right foot looks like it is about to fall off.

No judgement here, but you might want to get that thing checked out, Mr. Anonymous Newspaper-reading Man.

As good as the weather is, things get a little more sour when it comes to the food. Literally. Cover up your paper cuts, friends, because this beautiful country is renowned for her citrus production. Lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits all zing their way into the most wonderful juices [recipe], salads [recipe], and treats on the Israeli table.

Eilat on the southern tip of Israel

For something a little more tame, try hitting up an Israeli street stand. The most popular street food includes falafel, hummus, and pita. Imagine pulling up your chair to chow down on a pita stuffed with falafel, hummus [recipe], cucumber, tomatoes, and french fries… all together… in a single bite. Israel has it (and they call it the chipsalat). Epic.

Then there’s ptitim – or Israeli cous cous – something commonly served to children in Israel as a wonderful quick-fix meal. No wonder locals are shocked that ptitim has become a gourmet treat in the west.

And finally, there’s breakfast. You could eat a simple meal of labneh (a soft cheese) with bread, 0r experience the delight of shakshouka [recipe]… a hearty tomato and pepper based sauce with gently poached eggs, all sopped up with thick slabs of country bread. Rumor has it, shakshouka will get you through the toughest work day (although, here’s hoping your day is never tougher than a smile).

And that’s just the beginning… What are your favorite foods from the region?

Nahal Tze'elim canyon situated in the Judean Desert, Israel, near Masada, descending to the Dead Sea. Photo by Ester Inbar. | Maps courtesy CIA World Factbook. | Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.

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Comments

  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    I love falafel (in fact, I just had some the other day, with tahini), and I had very memorable falafel from a street stand in Jerusalem (this was in 1987 and I still can remember it). What I don’t like about the region, or the thing I could never get used to was eating Israeli salad for breakfast. My aunt lives on a kibbutz (a commune) in Israel, and we had salad for breakfast every day. I don’t really like cucumbers, and first thing in the morning was just not a pleasant way for me to wake up.

    • Lisa Lehman says:

      I loved the Israeli breakfast of salad, olives and especially the “white cheese”. I’ve never been able to track down the cheese here to reproduce it, unfortunately. I live in upstate NY and occasionally think about going into NYC to see if it’s being imported somewhere. (Anyone have any suggestions?)
      My son just got back from his first visit, and apparently ate his way across the country with schwarma. I was vegetarian when I lived there, so it was the delicious felafel for me all the way. Bourekas (cheese, spinach, or potato-filled pastries) were also wonderful.

      • Jessica Bennett says:

        I once got an Israeli feta-type cheese at Zabar’s in NYC. If they don’t still carry it, there are a couple good cheese shops I can think of that might have it. You could try Ideal Cheese Shop in midtown (near the UN), Murrays in the West Village and I can’t remember the name of it, but there’s a cheese vendor in the Essex Market on the Lower East Side that might have something you’re looking for. You could try calling these places first, so you don’t waste a trip, although I don’t think a trip to NYC could ever be a waste.

      • CanadianLibyan says:

        Hi Lisa,
        I am not sure exactly what white cheese you ate, but there are several possibilities: labneh, which is not really cheese and not really yogurt, but almost a combination of the two. It’s like a slightly thinner-textured creme cheese or a very thick yogurt, and is a little sour.
        There are also three very commonly eaten white cheeses: Haloomi, Akawi, and Nabulsi.
        Or you can look here and see if the one you are looking for is listed:
        http://mideastfood.about.com/od/tipsandtechniques/a/cheese.htm
        I don’t know if where you are in upstate NY is closer to Canada or to NYC, but if you are close to Canada, there are a few places where you can find Arabic cheeses. In St. Catharines, there is King and Academy Variety which carries a small selection of Middle Eastern products including labneh and cheeses. There is a small store on Geneva Street although it is new and I don’t know yet what it carries. I think the store is called al Rayyan. I think that these 3 grocery stores also carry some Arabic cheeses: No Frills, Food Basics, and FreshCo.
        Here is a list of stores in the Hamilton area that might carry your cheese:
        http://www.zabihah.com/c/Hamilton+228/?t=g

        And in Mississauga:
        http://www.zabihah.com/sp.php?l=mississauga&t=markets&r=10

        Or if you prefer kosher, there might be some stores here which carry your cheese:
        http://tinyurl.com/nwzelcc

  2. Paul Bowler says:

    The Israeli’s are great with liver; I remember having this incredible calves liver pate in Tel Aviv. Also a lot of eastern European foods imported by the disapora like cabbage stuffed with meat and the ubiquitous Wiener Schnitzel. And bagels of course! Along with all those other lovely jewish baked goods

  3. This inspired me to check out Israeli cuisine on the Internet. Jewish immigrants arrived from all over the Middle East, from Morocco through to Iran, and brought the cuisines of their homelands with them. So if you asked an expert in cuisine of Muslim countries, “where can I find one country where I can sample dishes from every country from Morocco and Tunisia (which is where shakshouka comes from) through to Yemen, Iraq and Iran?”, the expert would have to send you to Israel. (As for immigrants from Europe, the early Zionist immigrants, because of both climate and ideology, decided to abandon heavy Russian and Polish dishes in favor of lighter Mediterranean fare.)

  4. Sasha Martin says:

    Jessica: I’ve had that for breakfast and I’m not even from the region … of course, it was leftover salad… but still – delicious for a cucumber/tomato lover like myself :)

    Paul: Bagels are one of my favorite foods – especially toasted with cream cheese (not very authentic, but I love it all the same).

    Brian: How awesome! I love a good melting pot… a “global table” so to speak ;)

  5. Shawarma is delicious and hummus is eaten on EVERYTHING. It’s so good. As for something sweet, halva is interesting if you’ve never tried it. :)

  6. While my husband goes several times a year to visit family, I go for special occasions. The food is always one of the highlights of my trip. When you eat out, invariably and happily, they provide multiple salads on your table as part of your meal. It’s so easy to eat healthily there with all that deliciousness provided to you. I always come back saying that I will continue, but, sadly, it doesn’t happen.

  7. I loved the baba ganouj (sp?) and the fresh baked pita to scoop it up with! Think the eggplant was fire roasted and flavored further with kosher salt, roasted garlic and fresh pressed olive oil….mmm, delicious!

  8. I think shakshouka is probably the second most-popular breakfast in Israel. The first being fresh vegetables (salad or otherwise), cheeses (mostly white, such as cottage cheese, “white cheese” similar to ricotta but saltier, feta, and “tzfatit”, which is semi-hard, but white), and fresh bread. And of course coffee that put Starbucks out of business.
    Also, Paul, bagels have never been a widely popular Israeli food. They’re Jewish, and you can find them in Israel in places where there are a lot of Americans, but the Arab “beigaleh” that are more common here are not boiled or dense.

  9. Israel spoiled me on hummus. Never again will American made hummus be good to me. The thing I loved the most was the cheap falafel fast food that was tasty and not horrible for you. Of course, I don’t like tahina on my falafel, and that shocked a few people.
    I will say though, I wish they cooked fish in a way to where the fish didn’t look like the actual fish I was eating.

    Their way of cooking is wonderful for someone with hypoglycemia like me, especially with breakfasts that aren’t laden with sugar and empty carbs. יופי!

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