When traveling to a new country, whether one is adult or child, the best way to learn about your vacation locale is through its cuisine. With Israel being a melting pot of cultures brought about not only by immigrants from around the world in the last century and a half but also by locals who have been there for decades; one finds a rich history and broad influence of flavors from European, Ottoman, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern to name a few. For those planning to visit Israel here are our Ten Must-Try Israeli Foods for Families with Kids.
One of the things that Israel is renowned for is its fruit and vegetables. From the fruit of the land, amazing salads are produced, and Tel Aviv is fast becoming the go-to place for vegans. Also, the salads can double up as dips, side dishes or even be a meal on their own. Rich in vibrant color and flavor; each dish is a culinary adventure in its own right.
Travelers can enjoy garbanzo bean hummus paste with the ground sesame seed tahini, or the roasted red and yellow bell peppers in their marinade to the finely diced, or a simple Israeli salad of cucumber and tomato and a drizzle of vinegar and olive-oil dressing which is almost a national dish.
There are dozens of ways to prepare eggplant from smoked, to oven-baked or deep-fried; mixed with mayonnaise or garlic and lemon; the options are endless, and the same goes for cauliflower. A top favorite is Tabouleh with its finely chopped parsley, and mint and travelers shouldn’ forget the olives and pickles. Lots of olive oil, herbs, and garlic are used in the making of the salads, and they can make the most hardened carnivore enjoy their meal.
Falafel and Schnitzel
Israel’s version of the German-Viennese veal or pork dish is the Schnitzel – a thin preparation of chicken breast; breaded and fried, served with chips or in a pita with salads, hummus, and tahini. This dish is a staple in the local diet. You can buy it from street vendors or order it in restaurants, bought frozen and ready to heat and eat. It is not uncommon for Schnitzel to be on a typical Israeli family’s menu at least once a week.
Not to be outdone, the vegetarian counterpart made from the very versatile chickpea is the renowned falafel. Specially prepared chickpeas are shaped into little spheres and deep fried. Containing Mediterranean herbs and Middle Eastern spices this dip bursts with flavor. Also served in a pita with chips, hummus, and salads, it is Israel’s top street food.
Known as kebabs and kebobs in other parts of the world, in Israel, they are called Shipudim – cubes of meat – typically chicken thigh meat, beef or lamb -skewered onto sticks of wood or metal and barbecued on an open fire. In the open-air markets or restaurants and from street-food vendors, Shipudim combine Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture. One can get Shipudim served with salads and pita bread as a substantial midday or evening meal.
Found at most social gatherings, making easy school lunches, served at picnics, parties, and other events; Bourekas are a street food and make great travel food too! These pockets made with phyllo pastry layers and filled with potato, spinach, cheese or mushrooms, more than likely have their origin in Turkey. Interestingly, their various geometric shapes and sesame or poppy seed toppings indicate their filling. Triangles with poppy typically mean mushroom. Round with sesame are filled with white Bulgarian cheese, and the cylindrical ones are stuffed with potato. The spinach comes in a tube spiral, and a pizza flavor roll-up became available in the last decade and is a favorite for many.
The very name is a giveaway as to its Spanish origins; a simple yet beautiful preparation of hard boiled eggs traditionally served at Passover or on the Sabbath introduced to Israel by Sephardic Jews. Boiled in tea leaf and coffee-ground infused water, the shells take on a dark purple-brown hue and the egg white a creamy-beige. Cooked for that many hours, the proteins and sugars in the egg change structure and the egg becomes nutty in flavor and soft in texture. It is traditionally served with bourekas described above.
A signature dish of Israel, eaten traditionally for breakfast, lunch or dinner is a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, all-in-one-pan meal. Shakshuka consists of eggs poached in a stewed sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and Middle Eastern spices. In addition, some chefs add spinach for a variation on the theme. One typically eats Shakshuka with cheeses, salads, and fresh-baked bread or pita.
Pronounced with a guttural ‘h’ at the back of the throat, the Sabih is basically a Middle Eastern sandwich consisting of hummus, fried eggplant and sliced hard-boiled egg. It can be served between two slices of bread of your choice, or a pita pocket or in a wrap. Also, one can add ther toppings like a sour cream or spicy harissa, and it makes a very filling and tasty vegetarian meal.
Take a bagel, add Za’atar and what do you have? A very traditional Israeli staple found in bakeries, sold on the streets and open-air markets as well as in the grocery stores. Za’atar is a typically Middle Eastern plant, sometimes known as hyssop and a herb from the oregano family. The name Za’atar is also used to describe a mixture of herbs with sesame seeds and other spices used not only in baking but also in meat dishes. If you are looking for an inexpensive snack, get a za’atar bagel! This savory ringed bread dough-based treat is baked and then topped with olive oil and the green and fragrant spice mix.
Unlike in the USA where there are donut shops, it is rare to find sweet deep-fried treats for sale. However, a few weeks before Hanukkah (which falls anywhere between November to December according to the calendar of Judaism) there are donuts in abundance. The sufganiyot come in ring form topped with chocolate, and different colored frostings; plain and decorated with sprinkles. But more commonly associated with this religious holiday are the jelly-filled ones with powdered sugar on top. In recent years the fillings have become more creative and exotic. Fillings range from dulce-de-leche, chocolate and vanilla cream to cappuccino!
Even in the colder and wetter season in Israel, being in the Middle East and Mediterranean means that most of the year is hot. Therefore, Israelis have come up with some delightful liquid refreshments for hydration and enjoyment, apart from very necessary water. Served at restaurants and bought from street vendors or in grocery stores you will find a few of these healthy and refreshing treats.
First off, there is a drink called ‘Lemo-nana’ which is lemonade with ‘nana’ which is mint. Extremely thirst-quenching on a hot day, don’t leave Israel without trying it. Also, you can try freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices available in the markets, from street vendors and drink bars in shopping malls.
Another very refreshing drink to try is Almond water, a sweet cordial which has its influence in northern Africa. With added rosewater, the flavor of almonds shines through.
At the southern tip of Israel is a kibbutz called Yotvata. This location is famous for providing the whole country with something called “Choco,” from the Hebrew word for chocolate. It is a little sachet with a cup volume of chocolate milk! With just the right amount of sweet and the right amount of chocolate, taken straight out of the fridge, it is the perfect drink on a hot day and has been satisfying locals and tourists for six decades!