If you, like myself, are a big fan of Middle Eastern food there is just no better place in the world to choose for your culinary travels than Israel. Imagine the Middle Eastern flavors combined with Arab, North African & Mediterranean influences; foodie heaven on earth! Count to that that Israel is an ethnic melting pot of immigrants from all over the world and you will understand the food scene is extremely diverse. And with almost everybody speaking English and Western standards in hygiene & service it's also really convenient travelling around. That, plus the beautiful weather most of the year, tons of historical & cultural sites and the lovely clean beaches makes it your perfect next holiday destination.
We were in the lucky position that the Israeli friends we visited are pretty crazy Israeli foodies; no better way to taste the country than with locals. They have showed us around the best restaurants, street food vendors and wineries. We could have never have visited all of these places and book a trip to Bethlehem in one week if they hadn't took the time to drive us around.
After a week of eating too much delicious food (yes even for a crazy foodie there is a limit!) I am very inspired to make a table full of mezze with all that great flavors on little plates.
But for now I will share my Top 10 tips for foodies visiting Israel. Off course these tips only cover the tip of the iceberg because there are tons of great places for foodies to discover in Israel.
1) Make reservations @ Machneyuda restaurant
Probably the most popular restaurant in Israel; located next to Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. It's owned by three Jerusalem chefs who run the restaurant together. The Israeli food with a Mediterranean touch is tasty and based on the fresh ingredients from the nearby market stands. Try the excellent calamari (with onion, tahina and a blue cheese/eggplant puree) and ShikShukit ( cooked minced beef and lamb in Mediterranean spice mixture with a mix of tahini and yoghurt) which are both house classics. And ask about the 7-course tasting menu if they forget to tell you about it! (what happened to us and we still regret not being able to order it...).
|Calamari at Machneyuda restaurant, Jersusalem|
But it's not just the food that makes this restaurant so busy that you really have to make reservations in advance; it's the whole atmosphere. The open kitchen, the familiar manners of the waiters, the loud music and best of all the chefs singing and 'drumming' on the pans. Don't go here if you're looking for a romantic dinner for two. Try to get seated at the kitchen bar so you can join the chefs on a toast!
Machneyuda chef playing 'drums' in the kitchen!
2) Eat hummus at Abu Ghosh
This Arab Israeli town is also known as 'Hummus capital of Israel', need I say more? I would never dare to express my opinion about where to get the best hummus; even Israelis among each other can't agree on this question :). But I can say that it looks like to me that the Arab places are the most popular ones. Check out this nice post about the search of the best hummus from travel & food writer Katherine Martinelli if you want to read more it.
3) Lunch @ Raphael restaurant on Shabbat
Raphael restaurant is located in front of Frishman beach, situated in the David Tower and diners have an amazing sea view overlooking the Mediterranean beachfront.
But the view is just a very nice extra; chef Raffi Cohen cooks delicious Mediterranean/Israeli food with Moroccan influences and the best ingredients. It's pretty expensive, although worth every shekel. But the Shabbat lunch deal on Saturday is the best food deal ever! You pay 125 Shekel (about € 26,- or $ 34,-) and start with home made bread and rolls with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar & butter.
|Starter at Raphael restaurant, Tel Aviv|
Then the real feast starts; a variety of appetizers (mezze) will arrive at your table; I counted 11!
|Appetizers/ Mezze included in the 125 NIS Saturday lunch deal at Raphael restaurant, Tel Aviv|
|Lamb shoulder with vegetables & couscous at Raphael restaurant, Tel Aviv|
4) Visit the Jaffa Port Market in Tel AvivCalled 'a new mecca for hungry foodies' by Haaretz you will find various food stands and restaurants in renovated warehouse number 1. It's still an active fishing port too which makes it really lively.
We especially liked the Beer market; a small stand which sells dozens of Israeli made beers in many different styles.
|Beers from the Beer Market inside Jaffa Port Market|
5) Try a Sabich sandwich
I still can't believe I never heard of this extremely popular Israeli sandwich before; it's a fresh pita stuffed with hard boiled egg & fried eggplant. Lots of it! And off course the usual fillings like hummus (off course), tahini, salads (cucumber & tomato ) and a tangy sauce from pickled mango called amba. We ate it late in the evening (and there was still a line of people waiting to order) at a place called Oved, located just east of Tel Aviv on Sirkin Street in Givatayim. It's amazing how much food will fit into one pita! Another good place to try it more centrally located is Frishman Sabich on the corner of Dizengoff & Frishman Street. You will recognize it at the big line of people waiting to order. Here they served it slightly different with red cabbage and extra pickles on the side. Just as with hummus and the iconic falafel sandwich there are probably just as many versions as there are chefs. And it's definitely worth a try.
6) Visit some Israeli wineries
I can hear you think: 'Israeli wine, really?' Yes! You will be amazed about the quality of some of them. There are over 250 wineries of all sizes. But it's still a young wine country; over 95% of them have been born in the last 20 years even though wine has been produced in this region sicne biblical times. Lots of wineries are open for visitors and most them offer a tasting for a few shekels. Often the tasting is free when you buy a bottle. One of the biggest and oldest wineries in Israel is Carmel which offers different tours and tastings. From the boutique wineries we visited I really liked Tzora Vineyards and Vitkin Winery. The first one also sells some really tasty local cheeses and makes a unique icewine. Vitkin has a nice tasting room and provides a lot of interesting facts about wine making in Israel. Nice to know; in some of the Israeli wine regions the grapes are picked during the night!
7) Order Msabbaha instead of hummus
Msabbaha (or musabbaha) is a variation of hummus with the main difference being the texture and the fact that it is served warm. Part of the chickpeas remain whole and are covered with tahini sauce and olive oil. It's a really nice variation and some call it 'next level' hummus. More about hummus and msabbaha at this great Hummus Blog.
|Msabbaha at Sisi restaurant, Tel Aviv|
8) Dine at a locals home
The Israeli people are very generous where it comes to food. We were invited to attend some home made dinners at our Israeli friends house and their parents. Every time there was a table full of fresh and tasty food made from scratch. If you don't have Israeli friends but would like to eat a homemade dinner you should check out the Eat With website which has lots of Israelis who can host you.
|Shabbat lunch at Dina's mom house|
|Delicious carrot salad with honey roasted pecans, made by our friend Dina|
9) Stroll some local markets
Be amazed about the huge amounts of fresh vegetables and herbs, tons of olives, nuts and dried fruits, big piles of spices and have your eye out for halva; a tahini (sesame paste) and honey mixture. On the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem there is a stand know as the Halva Kingdom with 100 different kinds of halva. And most of the times you will find small market restaurants and juice stands, where oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates and carrots are squeezed to order, in or around the market.
|Halva Kingdom at Mehane Yehuda market, Jerusalem|
|Nuts and dried fruits at Mehane Yehuda market, Jerusalem|
10) Buy a bottle of Sabra at the airport before you leave
Sabra is a chocolate-orange flavored Israeli liqueur which is probably the hardest local product ever to buy in the country itself! During our last visit 5 years ago we only got to take 1 bottle home because they don't seal bottles at Ben Gurion airport (we had a stopover in Swiss) and we didn't find more bottles during our visit. This time it was the same thing; we visited a few wine/liqueur stores and all we found was just 1 bottle (with the coffee flavor instead of the original chocolate-orange one). According to one of the shop owners it is an 'old fashioned' drink. But it actually is really nice; all our dinner guests who had a taste of it where enthusiastic about it and we got several request to take some extra bottles home! So buy some before you leave the country and make sure you can bring it through security if you don't have a direct flight.
For more information about Israeli cuisine or Israeli wines you could check this sites: