Israel is a country possessing a fascinating history while being as exciting and relevant today as it has ever been. The nation sits at the eastern terminus of the Mediterranean sea and is influenced by its neighbors in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
Culture, arts, lifestyle, and business in Israel are all inspired by the country’s unique place in the world, which extends to Israeli cuisine. From home kitchens to small cafes to bustling restaurants, you will find various dishes across Israel.
While situated on the Mediterranean Sea, Israeli food goes beyond the classic Mediterranean diet that gained popularity in North America for its balance of health and flavor.
Healthy and flavorful options are plentiful in Israel, spiced up with the influence of middle eastern and Jewish culinary traditions.
If you’re new to Israeli food but want to eat like a local on your next visit to Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, we’ve compiled this list of popular Israeli food to get your taste buds on the right track pronto.
Challah is a type of bread you might not know by name, but you’d probably recognize it instantly based on its unique appearance.
Its name is biblical, a large part of Jewish traditions like Shabbat.
To be traditional, a piece of Challah dough is omitted from what gets cooked and used as a ceremonial offering.
Eggs and sugar give this unique bread much of its traditional texture and differentiate it from other Mediterranean and western European bread-like baguettes.
If you’re asked to picture a delicious potato pancake fried to a golden brown color, you’re already envisioning latkes.
Latkes are an Israeli food that has become a staple worldwide, so you’re just as likely to find them in a Williamsburg deli as on a Haifa patio.
While potato pancakes and latkes are synonymous, other vegetables are often used in place of or alongside potatoes.
These can include zucchini, onion, or carrots. Vegetables are either grated or pureed, which changes the textures of the final product.
Latkes are enjoyed year-round but originated as an Ashkenazi Jewish tradition to celebrate Hannuka.
Apple sauce can be a sweet addition, but if you’re more interested in savory, you will want some sour cream.
Hummus is another Israeli food that has become popular worldwide.
A versatile spread and dip, hummus traditionally consists of ground chickpeas and aromatics like onion and garlic.
Like many Mediterranean and Israeli dishes, this chickpea melange can be easily made vegetarian or vegan.
You’ll find hummus in traditional sandwiches like shawarma and falafel, but it can also be served as a stand-alone dip for chips, pita, veggies, and more. I love eating hummus with warm pita bread.
Some of the best versions are undoubtedly found in the middle east, but hummus is readily available in stores and restaurants across the globe.
These shaped chickpea patties have a unique taste that doesn’t come across as meat or vegetable.
Often served in a pita wrap, falafel can provide an interesting crunch or a hearty filling, depending on how it’s prepared.
The chickpea patties are shaped into rounds or balls after being mixed with herbs and spices.
These are generally deep-fried but remain a healthy choice ingredient-wise.
You’ll find falafels in a sandwich, atop a salad at your favorite middle eastern restaurant, or in a handful of trendy health food restaurants across Europe and North America.
5. Sabich Sandwich
The Sabich Sandwich is a delicious offering served on a laffa or pita.
Laffa is traditionally more middle eastern, hailing from Iraq, whereas pita is the more Mediterranean choice.
Your wrap of choice will be filled with fried eggplant and boiled egg. The egg is an indicator of what led to the origination of this dish: breakfast!
Iraqi Jewish peoples brought it to Israel in the early 1900s, and it has been a popular snack or meal ever since.
Mujaddara is a dish I first associated with Lebanon since it’s served throughout that country.
It’s an Israeli invention, though, consisting of rice, lentils, and onions. Did I mention onions?
Mujaddara is known mainly as a rice dish, but the key to its unique flavor is copious amounts of caramelized onions.
Many recipes call for upwards of five or six onions, with less rice than you may expect.
This is partly because the onions cook down to a beautiful caramelized mush and partly because they are the centerpiece of this dish!
Many restaurants will even opt for an onion ring or two on top of your rice goodness.
7. Baba Ganoush
Like hummus, baba ganoush is a common dip for pita, chips, or veggies.
It uses a tahini base, a traditional sesame seed butter that appears in many of these dishes, augmented with garlic and eggplants.
Should baba ganoush be spicy? Should it have extra garlic and onions? You’ll hear a different answer to these questions from any Israeli you talk to.
It comes down to personal preference. You can add chili flakes for spice, and many other vegetables can enter the equation depending on which home or restaurant kitchen you’re dining at.
We haven’t gotten to a salad yet on this list, so Tabbouleh is a fitting Israeli dish to discuss now.
While many cultures base salad around lettuce, tabbouleh uses parsley as the main source of green vegetable content.
Bulgar can provide a grain addition to a traditional tabbouleh, and adds healthy carbs and protein to this salad.
There is plenty of acid in the lemony dressing that adorns tabbouleh’s ingredients, and this is generally kicked up another notch through the addition of tomatoes.
9. Laffa Bread
Laffa Bread came to Israel through the migration of Jewish Iraqis in the 1940s and 1950s.
It resembles pita, but without a pocket, and is similar to naan in its preparation.
Clay ovens like a tandoor are traditionally used to make laffa, but modern Israelis often cook the dough in pizza ovens or frying pans.
Laffa Bread is often used as a wrap to keep sandwiches like falafel, shawarma, and sabich together.
While it is still a common food in Iraq, this tasty bread is now popular throughout Israel.
Many Israeli dishes are hip and popular in North America because they are flavorful and healthy.
Shakshuka is a versatile offering that fits this description to a tee. Many diners in North America think of shakshuka as a breakfast dish since it involves eggs, but this can be a tasty meal anytime in the day.
Peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, make up a traditional base for shakshuka. Once a desired flavor and texture have been achieved with this sauce, eggs are submerged into it until they reach a desired level of doneness.
This is a popular dish among home chefs in Israel and abroad since it’s a true “one-pot meal”. Enjoy it with a baguette, pita, or laffa.
Hamantaschen, also called Hamantash or Haman pockets, are pastries traditionally associated with Purim, a Jewish holiday.
Haman is a character in the story of Purim, and these unique treats traditionally represent Haman’s ears.
The dough that makes a Hamantaschen recognizable is somewhere between that of a scone or a cookie.
This dough is shaped into a triangle surrounding a central filling that is generally either savory or sweet.
Savory versions can contain anything from meats to pizza-type fillings. Sweet fillings make up a more traditional iteration of Hamantaschen and can range from custards to jams to fresh fruits.
Whether it’s breakfast, a snack, or dessert, you can find one of these triangular treats to suit your flavor needs.
Rome, Italy, and Ottawa, Canada are two cities I’ve visited where locals claim to have “the best shawarma outside of the middle-east.”
If these two places aren’t enough of a testament to the global appeal of this seasoned meat dish, look no further than the many shawarma restaurants in every other major city.
A rotating vertical rotisserie is a technical term for the skewer on which a cone of meat cooks.
This is a more economical version of a traditional spit roast and an efficient way to keep meat cooking and warm simultaneously.
Shawarma originally consisted of lamb, but you can now find beef, chicken, veal, and turkey versions worldwide.
The meat is often served in a wrap as street food, but it is delicious as a protein atop rice or a salad too. Try a bite before delving into your condiments or side dishes.
Bourekas are baked pastries that originated as a staple of Sephardic Jewish cuisine.
Phyllo or puff pastry is generally the dough quotient of this dish. This is common with savory Mediterranean treats like Spanakopita, and each local region has its preference.
Meat, vegetables, and cheese can be found within Bourekas, depending on your location.
The most common time to enjoy one of these pastries is as a tasty snack between larger meals.
There are a lot of breads on this list, but they are all unique and delicious.
Jachnun may be one of the more unique variations out there, with complex flavors originating from the use of Fenugreek and woodsmoke.
The Jewish tradition of Shabbat prohibits cooking and operating appliances on Saturdays, so this bread is often placed in an oven or smoker to cook on a Friday night.
By the time devout members of the Jewish faith are forbidden from cooking, there’s a tasty snack ready from the night before!
Bamba is a unique addition to our list since it’s not something you’ll find at most restaurants.
What is it? A snack food! Often described as “cheetoh-like”, Bamba has this aesthetic but with a flavor coming from peanut butter.
Bamba was once cheese flavored to appeal to fans of Doritos and Cheetohs, but this didn’t catch on in Israel.
When the stalwart company switched to a peanut butter filling, it was a success!
Many Israeli ex-pats would tell stories of craving this unique snack outside of its home country, and they were delighted when it began appearing in the United States.
It’s hard to know whether or not you’ll be able to find Bamba at your local grocery store or bodega, but pick up a colorful bag if you see one! It just may be your new favorite treat.
16. Jerusalem Bagel
A Jerusalem Bagel vaguely shares the shape and appearance of a traditional bagel, but the similarities mainly stop there. These “bagels” aren’t boiled. Instead, they’re baked and use yeast.
The concept behind this unique baked good came from the Middle East and was adopted by Jewish communities throughout Israel.
The texture of Jerusalem Bagels tends to be less dense than the bagels many of us are used to. But before you think they’re entirely different, these are frequently adorned with sesame seeds!
17. Israeli Salad
Last but not least on our list of Israeli cuisine is yet another salad. This is a zesty and delicious way to consume a handful of raw vegetables, generally cucumber, tomato, and onion.
Many additions are common, such as scallions and bell peppers. Traditional preparations of Israeli salad don’t contain lettuce, which improves the dish’s preservability and resistance to spoiling.
A dressing of lemon juice and olive oil generally adorns traditional Israeli salads. This dressing can be augmented with yogurt or tahini butter. Simple, yet effective!
Msabbaha is a delicious and hearty dish that is beloved in Israel and beyond, and it’s very similar to hummus.
It consists of warm chickpeas, tahini lemon juice, pine nuts, and a variety of spices. The result is a creamy and flavorful dip-like dish that is often served with warm pita bread or flatbread. Unlike hummus, however, the chickpeas are intact and not mashed in this dish.
Some variations may also include toppings like boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes, parsley, and onions.
Israeli hamutzim is a popular and delicious appetizer that is commonly served in Israeli restaurants and homes. It consists of a variety of fresh pickled vegetables, including pickled cucumbers, carrots, and bell peppers.
The resulting dish is crunchy, flavorful, and refreshing, making it a perfect starter for any meal. In addition to being delicious, Israeli hamutzim is also very healthy, as it is packed with vitamins and nutrients from the fresh vegetables.
Overall, it is a must-try dish for anyone who loves fresh and flavorful appetizers.
20. Kubbeh Adom
Kubbeh adom is a popular and flavorful Middle Eastern dish that is widely enjoyed in Israel and beyond.
It consists of deep-fried dumplings made from a mixture of bulgur wheat and ground beef or lamb, which are seasoned with a variety of spices like cumin, coriander, and paprika.
The dumplings are then served in a rich and flavorful tomato and beet based broth that is often garnished with fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro.
The combination of the crispy dumplings and savory broth creates a satisfying and delicious dish that is perfect for cooler weather or anytime you’re craving something hearty and comforting. It is popular in Iraq as well, and many Jewish Iraqis make this dish.
Halva is a sweet and nutty confection that is popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, including Israeli cuisine.
It is made from a base of sesame paste, sugar, and often includes other ingredients like nuts, chocolate, or dried fruits. The mixture is heated and then poured into molds, resulting in a dense, crumbly texture that is reminiscent of fudge or nougat.
Halva is often served as a dessert or snack and is popular during holidays and special occasions. Its rich, nutty flavor and unique texture make it a beloved treat around the world and a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish that has gained popularity around the world due to its delicious and unique flavors. This dish was brought to Israel by Georgian Jews.
It consists of a bread filled with a mixture of cheese, eggs, and butter, which is baked until golden brown and bubbly. The bread is typically shaped into a boat-like form with the cheese mixture placed in the center.
Khachapuri comes in many different varieties, with different types of cheese and other ingredients like herbs or meat being added to the filling. It is often enjoyed as a breakfast or lunch dish and is a beloved staple in Georgian and Israeli cuisine.
Sufganiyot is a beloved pastry that is traditionally consumed during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
These Israeli deep-fried doughnuts are typically filled with jam or other sweet fillings like chocolate or custard and are dusted with powdered sugar. Sufganiyot are a popular treat in Israel and around the world during Hanukkah, and their popularity
has led to a variety of unique flavors and toppings being added to the traditional recipe. Some popular variations include toppings like sprinkles or nuts, while others include fillings like caramel or even savory fillings like cheese or meat.
Regardless of the variations, Sufganiyot remains a delicious and festive treat that is loved by many.