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Fresh pastries at Machane Yehuda
Fresh pastries at Machane Yehuda

On a five-day Taste of Israel tour organized by Stand With Us, I visited local restaurants, bustling food markets and participated in cooking classes that connected me to some of the people and mouth-watering foods of Israel.

Since I’m still progressing from what used to be a picky palate, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed so many different foods and had plenty of yummy options to choose from at each meal—too many options, maybe, as my overfull belly protested when I played the “just one more bite” game. Some of my favorite local foods include savoury shakshouka, spicy zhoug and creamy hummus.

What to eat in Israel
If you don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, you’ll probably find Israeli menus challenging to decipher. Here’s a cheat sheet so you, too, can eat well when you’re in the Holy Land:

A buffet feast at Nora's Kitchen. Can you spot the dolma in this photo?
A buffet feast at Nora’s Kitchen. Can you spot the dolma in this photo?

1. Dolma
Stuffed grape leaves filled with rice.

Falafel at Dan Jerusalem Hotel
Falafel at Dan Boutique Jerusalem Hotel

2. Falafel
Deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas and spices.
Ingredients: Chickpeas, onions, garlic, parsley, red peppers, cumin, salt, pepper, baking soda and baking powder

halva
Halva at The Halva Kingdom in Machane Yehuda

3. Halva
Ground sesame seeds mixed with sugar and flavorings such as coffee beans, chocolate and almonds.

Hummus-Abu-Hassan
Mostly devoured hummus

4. Hummus
Chickpea spread.
Ingredients: Ground chickpeas, olive oil, sesame seed paste (tahini), paprika, fresh onions, lemon juice

5. Jachnun
Doughy pastry. The finely rolled pastry is rolled into a log with margarine between the layers.

Pre-dinner pastries made a wonderful welcome to Dan Jerusalem Hotel
Pre-dinner pastries are a wonderful welcome at Dan Boutique Jerusalem Hotel. Can you find the kadaif?

6. Kadaif
Shredded phyllo dough topped with sugar and baked till golden and crispy. These pastries look like pretty little birdsnests.

Kanaffe-Kanafeh-Abulafia
Topped with chopped pistachios, this kanaffe comes from Abulafia Bakery in Yaffo

7. Kanaffe
A savory sweet cheese-filled pastry. It’s drizzled with sugar syrup and served warm.

Lahmacun-Dan-Gourmet-Cooking-School
Lahmacun (seasoned ground lamb, tahini and parsley) at Dan Gourmet Cooking School

8. Lahmacun (Lahmabiajin)
Like a no-cheese pizza with seasoned ground lamb meat, drizzled with olive oil and tahini and sprinkled with parsley.

Malabi-with-flaked-coconut-Abulafia
Malabi with flaked coconut, from Abulafia bakery in Yaffo

9. Malabi
Milk pudding in rosewater and sugar syrup. It’s typically made with milk or sweet cream and thickened with cornstarch.
Ingredients: Sugar, water, red food coloring, lemon and rose-water extract

Shakshouka-Shakshuka
Shakshouka from Dr. Shakshuka’s famed restaurant in Yaffo

10. Shakshouka (also spelled shakshuka)
Eggs in a tomato pepper sauce. Sop it up with some pita and savour it. Yum!
Ingredients: Tomatoes, garlic, hot green peppers, paprika, eggs, cumin

11. Sambusak
A savoury turnover. It can be sesame-seed crusted and filled with cheese or meat.

Cauliflower-Tabbouleh-Haifa-University
Grated cauliflower tabbouleh at Haifa University and Puzzle Israel’s Taste of Israel dinner 2013

12. Tabbouleh
Cracked wheat salad. Make it gluten-free by replacing the bulgur with grated cauliflower.
Ingredients: Bulgur (cracked wheat), lemon, parsley, mint, green onions, tomatoes, olive oil

Warm pita sprinkled with za'atar, sesame seeds and olive oil
Warm pita sprinkled with za’atar, sesame seeds and olive oil
Za'atar spices up the baked dough at front. Abulafia bakery in Jaffo.
Za’atar spices up the baked dough at front at Abulafia Bakery in Jaffa

13. Za’atar
A mixture of green herbs such as oregano, basil thyme, thyme and savory. It’s also used to describe a mixture of the herbs with sesame seeds, salt and sumac.

14. Zhoug
Hot pepper sauce. Careful. It can be really spicy so start with just a taste by dipping a tiny corner of some pita into it. If you can take the heat, munch on! Green chili peppers with seeds, garlic, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cilantro.

Where to eat in Israel
Now that you’re salivating, do you want a few recommendations on where to eat? I didn’t have one bad meal while I was in Israel so follow my lead and you, too, will be well fed throughout your trip:

Chef Haim Cohen steps away from the stove and chats with dinner guests at his Yaffo - Tel Aviv restaurant
Chef Haim Cohen steps away from the stove and chats with dinner guests at his Yaffo Tel Aviv restaurant

15. Yaffo Tel Aviv, restaurant, Tel Aviv
98 Yigal Alon St., Electra Tower, Tel Aviv
Visit Chef Haim Cohen’s restaurant for irresistible food with a comforting, home-cooked flair. The ambiance in his dining room matches the chef’s warm and inviting nature. He’s got hospitality to spare and masters meals that’ll make you feel like you’re right at home even though you’re abroad.

Behind-the-scenes access to Herbert Samuel's busy kitchen at dinnertime.
Behind-the-scenes access to Herbert Samuel’s busy kitchen at dinnertime

16. Herbert Samuel, restaurant, Tel Aviv
6 Koyfman, Tel Aviv, Israel
Boasting a huge selection of mouthwatering menu options, this place is impossible to leave hungry. Chef Roshfeld, a leading chef of Israeli cuisine, keeps a packed dining room so book early to get a reservation.

Nura's making lamb meatballs for her food-blogging guests
Nura’s making lamb meatballs for her food-blogging guests

17. Nora’s Kitchen, restaurant, Mount Carmel
Traditional Druze cooking in Daliyat El-Carmel at its finest. Chef Nura (a.k.a. the cooking Superwoman to me) takes private bookings so your best bet at scoring a prized seat in her dining room is to ask some local Israelis to help arrange things. Here’s her Facebook page (in Hebrew).

This Jerusalem food market is a foodie's delight.
Machane Yehuda food market is a foodie’s delight

18. Machane Yehuda, food market, Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s iconic and historic market is cradled between Machane Yehuda St and Agripas St. Check out: Basher Fromagerie for delicious cheese; the Halva Kingdom for sweet halva; and Uzi Eli for fresh-squeezed juices. You just might get a free massage and lots of laughter at the latter.

A tree grows in the dining room at Link restaurant
A tree grows in the dining room at Link restaurant

19. Link, restaurant, Jerusalem
3rd Hama’alot St., Jerusalem
Dine in a casual and intimate setting at Link in Jerusalem. This hybrid restaurant/bar/bistro features a yummy selection of meat, fish, pasta, salads, soups and more. A word to the wise: Don’t forget to save room for their decadent desserts.

Dinner at King David Hotel is a grand affair with and totally worth the splurge.
Dinner at King David Hotel is a grand affair with and totally worth the splurge

20. King’s Garden Restaurant at the King David Hotel, restaurant, Jerusalem
23 King David St., Jerusalem
Dining al fresco at King’s Garden Restaurant at the King David Hotel is an affair to remember. You’ll enjoy fine dining on a spacious terrace overlooking gardens, towering palm trees and the stately and swanky hotel as a backdrop.

With so many great dining options in Israel, surely I haven’t captured them all in this post. Share your favorite must-eat food or must-book Israel restaurant by posting in the comments section below.

For more on what to see and where to stay in Israel, click here. And because food photos are calorie-free, check out this photo gallery with more fabulous foods from Israel:

Savory bread at Yaffo - Tel Aviv restaurant
Savory bread at Yaffo - Tel Aviv restaurant
Ceviche in a cucumber yogurt sauce at Yaffo -Tel Aviv restaurant
Ceviche in a cucumber yogurt sauce at Yaffo -Tel Aviv restaurant
Calamari at Yaffo - Tel Aviv
Calamari at Yaffo - Tel Aviv
Tomato salad at Yaffo - Tel Aviv restaurant
Tomato salad at Yaffo - Tel Aviv restaurant
Couscous and vegetables at Farji restaurant
Couscous and vegetables at Farji restaurant
Sesame seed pastry from Abulafia bakery
Sesame seed pastry from Abulafia bakery
Chocolate croissants tempt passersby at Abulafia bakery
Chocolate croissants tempt passersby at Abulafia bakery
Artichoke chestnut soup at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Artichoke chestnut soup at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Tomato salad at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Tomato salad at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Salmon tartare at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Salmon tartare at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Yellowtail and tuna with roasted eggplant at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Yellowtail and tuna with roasted eggplant at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Lamb chops at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Lamb chops at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Gnocchi with truffles, chestnuts and peas at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Gnocchi with truffles, chestnuts and peas at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Veal canneloni stuffed with Swiss chard and parmesan cheese at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Veal canneloni stuffed with Swiss chard and parmesan cheese at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Scallops on black risotto in a green garlic cream sauce at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Scallops on black risotto in a green garlic cream sauce at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Pistachio ice cream at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Pistachio ice cream at Herbert Samuel restaurant
Fresh green olives at Nora's Kitchen
Fresh green olives at Nora's Kitchen
Eggplant, pickles and red peppers at Nora's Kitchen
Eggplant, pickles and red peppers at Nora's Kitchen
Babaganouj (eggplant dip) at Nora's Kitchen
Babaganouj (eggplant dip) at Nora's Kitchen
Kubbeh (fried bulgur) at Nora's Kitchen
Kubbeh (fried bulgur) at Nora's Kitchen
Thin flatbread, ready for dipping at Nora's Kitchen
Thin flatbread, ready for dipping at Nora's Kitchen
Qatayef (fried honey-nut-pastry) at Nora's Kitchen
Qatayef (fried honey-nut-pastry) at Nora's Kitchen
Chai tea at Nora's Kitchen
Chai tea at Nora's Kitchen
Kohlrabi salad with carrots, mint and parsley, served at Haifa University
Kohlrabi salad with carrots, mint and parsley, served at Haifa University
Roasted red peppers and eggplant
Roasted red peppers and eggplant
Poike (Galilean beef stew) served at Haifa University
Poike (Galilean beef stew) served at Haifa University
Pear crumble at Haifa University's cooking event with Puzzle Israel
Pear crumble at Haifa University's cooking event with Puzzle Israel
Welcome drinks at Dan Carmel Hotel
Welcome drinks at Dan Carmel Hotel
Welcome desserts at Dan Carmel Hotel
Welcome desserts at Dan Carmel Hotel
Pita puffing up as it bakes at Ashnatur bakery on Agripas Street
Pita puffing up as it bakes at Ashnatur bakery on Agripas Street
Paprika at Mahane Yehuda
Paprika at Mahane Yehuda
Fruit pie with caramel sauce and vanilla cream at Dan Jerusalem hotel
Fruit pie with caramel sauce and vanilla cream at Dan Jerusalem hotel
Eggplant and meatballs at Link restaurant
Eggplant and meatballs at Link restaurant
Irresistible chocolate hazelnut pie with vanilla ice cream at Link restaurant
Irresistible chocolate hazelnut pie with vanilla ice cream at Link restaurant
Steamed fish with porcini risotto in truffle butter at King David Hotel
Steamed fish with porcini risotto in truffle butter at King David Hotel
Pretty and delicious desserts at King David Hotel
Pretty and delicious desserts at King David Hotel
Jen Melo

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7 Comments On "What and where to eat in Israel: Top 20 tips"
  1. Gayle|

    Was the food you referred as graving even prepared at. Haifa University only offered during a one time event or is it available on a regular basis at a particular restaurant or stand on campus? Please clarify. Many thanks.

    1. Jen Melo|

      Hi Gayle. It was one-time hosting during a pop-up event but I recommend visiting the university’s website for more information on other events that may be held there. http://www.haifa.ac.il/index.php/en/
      Cheers,
      Jen

  2. theidearoom|

    Mmmm…I want to go back! Great tips and article Jen!

  3. ally|

    Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, this is fabulous, my sweet Jen!! Gosh, I miss my girl!! xoxo love love hugs hugs

  4. mike moffitt|

    greetings from tasmania……..google figbat oswald and see if you can work it out.

  5. mike moffitt|

    i came up with a theory that involves the book of genesis (fig leaves) buddha (sitting under the bodhi fig tree) jesus (many sayings about figs) ross hornes’ book (new health revolution) and science (figs are the most important source of food for fruit eating rainforest animals). i then experimented on the figs by eating mainly dried figs (same brand) for over 10 years now and found cycles which i related to the numbers in psgs 11/12 of the book of revelations. this theory has gone everywhere. so far i have had eliminations at days 504, 840, 1176, 1512, 1848, 2184, 2520, 2856, 3192 and 3528. today is day 3749. i have definitely found something. i am not lying. what i have discovered has gone around the world and many songs have been written about it…….the foo fighters’ last 4 albums……coldplays’ last 4 albums……”vertigo” by U2 (my first name is phil). an elimination is a day when you experience strong flu-like symptoms and feel terrible. bad stuff is washed out of your body.

  6. Johnny McCarron|

    I’ll be honest and admit that I had no idea that hummus is considered an Israeli food. I’ll have to look more into how I can eat this delicious food more healthily. I’ll have to go out to that part of the world to truly experience it. Do you have any other tips about getting Israeli food while in the states?

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