The Israeli cuisine is a melting pot. Israel is an immigration state, collecting its people from four corners of the world: Eastern and Western Europe, Arabia and the countries around the Mediterranean. Its cuisine is based on the culinary traditions of all of these cultures, in addition to local Palestinian cooking.
The immigration culture has produced a great wealth of flavors, color and aromas: from the shakshouka, an egg dish originating in Tripoli, to the European chulent stew, the Turkish shawarma meat wrap and the Moroccan tagine stew – all have a place of honor in the Israeli cuisine and all take on new interpretations in the hands of young promising chefs.
Until recently, most tourists’ culinary greeting in Israel took the shape of falafel – fried balls of chickpeas inside a pita bread, an overrated dish that had become the national dish. But in the last decade or two Israel – and particularly Tel Aviv, its cultural capital - has formulated an impressive culinary offering.
The current generation of Israeli chefs were brought up in traditional kitchens, and are giving classic dishes their own twist. Meir Adoni, for instance, the chef of Catit, one of Israel's finest high-end restaurants, was brought up on his mother and grandmother's Moroccan cooking. Adoni studied classical French cuisine and specialized in molecular cooking. Today he creates innovative dishes with echoes of his mother's kitchen, like Bruschetta of veal brain with harrisa (a Moroccan spicy pepper sauce), lemon, lettuce and parsley butter. Meanwhile, Rafi Cohen, in his prestigious Rafael, serves couscous with spicy fish kebabs, and in Aviv Moshe's Messa you'll find shawarma.
The Israeli fusion phenomenon is also found outside of the fancy restaurants. One of the hot trends in Israel is the “return of the pita” - the flat Middle-Eastern bread that embraces foods from completely different worlds, like steak and egg, fish and grilled vegetables or stir-fried shrimp. On of those responsible for this revolution is celebrity-chef Eyal Shani.
Tel Aviv is the culinary capital of Israel. In this cultural epicenter you'll find fancy restaurants alongside French-style brasseries, Italian-style trattorias, tapas bars and sushi bars. For a glimpse of what Tel Aviv can offer, check out Carmel market – as well as a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables you'll find food stands, from kebab to sushi; and in the surrounding streets there are wonderful restaurants to be found.
An hour's drive from Tel Aviv you can experience a whole other world of flavors in Israel's capital, Jerusalem. Pay a visit to the market – Machane Yehuda market – where in recent years, chic cafés, small taverns and upmarket restaurants have popped up next to the meat and spice booths. Restaurant Mahneyuda, offers excellent food, dazzling colourful design, great music and wonderful atmosphere.
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Top 5 dishes
Shakshouka is a dish originating from the Tripolitan (Libyan) kitchen, a rich breakfast-dish of eggs cooked in thick, spicy tomato and pepper sauce. The dish is eaten with simple bread and can be found nearly everywhere, from common eateries, to neighbourhood coffee shops and chic chef restaurants. It is served in many variations – with cheeses, sausages or vegetables.
Israelis take their hummus very seriously. This paste of pureed chickpeas mixed with tahini (sesame puree), herbs and spices, is usually eaten with a pita bread. The best hummus is found in Arab restaurants, in Jerusalem and in Galilee.
Israelis love their breakfast. The classic Israeli breakfast includes fresh vegetable salad, very finely chopped (with olive oil and lemon juice), an egg in various cooking styles, freshly-baked bread and cheeses. The food always comes a glass of fresh orange juice. This is served in lots of different ways at every coffee shop, hotel or restaurant.
This Iraqi sandwich has evolved into a popular street food in Israel. Sabich is made up of a soft pita filled with slices of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, potato, fresh vegetable salad, parsley, onion, tahini and amba – a spicy yellow sauce with a very distinct smell. You'll find it as street food as well as more sophisticated versions in restaurants.
Grilled eggplant is a dish you'll find in many variations all over the country, from local coffee shops to high-end restaurants. The eggplant is placed whole on the grill, thoroughly grilled from all directions and then stripped from its skin. Tahini or yogurt is then poured on it, as well as various additions: chopped vegetables, meat, seafood or spices.
The trend for farmers’ markets is now worldwide, but it only caught on in Israel two years ago. For the past year, Tel Aviv’s farmers’ market has been housed in the renovated port marketplace. Growers come to sell their fruit and vegetable in the marketplace alongside stalls selling meat and fish, a bakery and a tapas bar.
Itzik HaGadol (Itzik the great) is a great example of the popular Middle-Eastern formula-restaurants. The method is simple: sit down and the table is immediately filled with dozens of little plates filled with fresh salads: eggplant salads, eggs salad, zucchinis, pickles, roasted and fried vegetables, hummus and tahini accompanied by huge pita breads straight out of the oven. For the main course it is best to choose a cut of meat that benefits from time spent on the grill. The place is huge and always buzzing with activity (a sign of freshly cooked food), service is great, just be sure to leave room for the main course after the abundance of starters.