Israel. The Holy Land. An amazing state formed relatively recently. Food in Israel is similar to the country, it is an incredible mix of cultures, all kinds of national dishes, interweaving between East and West.
After returning to their ancient Land, the Jews not only brought with them a variety of languages and traditions, but also the culinary heritage of the different countries, which in conjunction with indigenous dishes, created a multi-faceted Israeli cuisine. The food of Israel also has a strong influence of Arab traditions.
National cuisine of Israel is divided into Ashkenazi and Sephardic. Sephardic refers to the Jewish people from the Middle East; the food in this cuisine is piquant and hot, rich with aromatic spices and herbs. Ashkenazi cuisine is associated with the Jewish people from Eastern and Western Europe; it has more moderate, less spicy dishes with flavors familiar to Europeans.
It should be noted that religious Jews in the preparation and consumption of food follow the laws of Kashrut. For example, pork and shellfish are strictly forbidden to eat; dairy products should be cooked and eaten separately from meat dishes.
The food, cooked by the laws of kashrut, is considered “kosher”, “permitted” to use. In Israel, there are many “kosher” restaurants and cafes, which are divided into dairy and meat, but there are plenty “non-kosher” restaurants with the Chinese, French, Russian cuisine.
Snacks and street food of Israel
A very traditional Israeli dish that takes the first place in popularity is certainly hummus. This is a paste made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, onion, lemon juice and spices. Hummus can serve both as an appetizer or a side dish and as the main course.
As a street food Hummus it is added to pita, round bread with a pocket that is used for placing food inside. Hummus with pita combination is a very tasty and healthy fast food.
In general, street food is very popular in Israel. There are many different diners, stalls, shops, where you can find a quick and tasty snack.
Not less popular snack food in Israel is Falafel, a dish of the Arab origin.
Falafel is made of hummus chickpeas milled into a paste and seasoned with spices. Small balls formed from this paste are deep-fried and served in a pita bread with salad, pickles and the tahini sauce (tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds) poured over the top.
Another favored dish is a burekas pastry. Burekasim are made of puff pastry filled with cheese, potatoes, spinach and other vegetable filling.
Be sure to try the Israeli kebab Al ha-Esh (translated as “on fire”) – all kind of meats cooked on the grill.
Main dishes of the Israeli cuisine
By the religious Jewish law cooking on Saturday is not allowed with the exception of food prepared in advance, on Friday that is put in the oven to simmer until the next day.
One of such Shabbat meals is cholent. In the Sephardic cuisine this dish is called Khamin. Cholent is a traditional Jewish stew made of roast meat, potatoes, beans, onions, eggs and chickpeas. It’s cooked overnight and served on a Saturday morning. This dish is especially good in the winter season.
If you are a fan of the fried eggs, you should try the dish called shakshukah. It’s made of eggs in a spicy tomato sauce with onions and bell peppers. There are many variations of Shakshukahs, it is accustomed to serve it in a cast iron frying pan with fresh bread.
From the assortment of fish dishes, “St. Peter’s Fish” is worth noting. It is grilled Galilean tilapia. Why is it called St. Peter’s Fish? Because according to the Biblical texts, Peter had caught this fish in the Sea of Galilee. There was a coin in the mouth of the fish, and with that coin Peter paid the Temple tax.
Sweets of Israel
Israel offers a variety of confectionery: baklava, sufganiyot (donuts), blinchikes – pancakes with various sweet fillings, homentash – pastry with poppy stuffing, candied fruits and more.
An interesting dessert which is certainly worth a try is kanafeh. This incredibly tasty and tender delicacy is made of thin kadaif noodles and goat cheese. Kanafeh is served with sugar syrup poured over and with a sprinkle of crashed almonds, walnuts and pistachios.
One of traditional sweets of Israel for kids is Bamba – Corn sticks, soaked in a thin layer of peanut butter. They are incredibly popular, there’s no children party without Bamba.
Undoubtedly, Israeli cuisine deserves close attention in terms of gastronomic tourism. Israel is a country of contrasts, which original dishes filled with spicy and unusual flavors that never seem boring. The food of Israel will surprise you.