Israel: A Mosaic of Ethnic Cuisines
A culinary tour of Israel
Israel’s vibrant food scene has made this small Mediterranean country one of the most exciting culinary destinations in the world, proving to be a fabulous way to experience the country’s rich mosaic of cultures. Early waves of immigrants brought their favorite dishes from countries in central and Eastern Europe, as well as from Arab countries. These dishes range from the familiar smoked fish, borscht and kugel to chopped salads, spicy soups and savory meat-stuffed fried pastries. Later waves of newcomers expanded upon the rich palate of flavors. Today, Israelis delightedly embrace global food and culture, as the nation’s ethnic cuisines have come into their own. You can taste your way through much of the world in Israel’s restaurants, and you’ll never feel deprived, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and kosher options to choose from.
North African Shakshuka: Shakshuka is the latest craze on the international food scene thanks to Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who featured the tasty dish in his hugely popular 2011 cookbook, Plenty. The poached eggs atop cooked red or green tomatoes and onions, flavored with paprika, ginger, fennel, cumin or other spices and vegetables, are now served at eateries around the country including the old-time favorite, Dr. Shakshuka in Yaffo, trendy Khalo in Baka in Jerusalem, or Eli’s Tunisian Restaurant in Ramle.
Iraqi Sabich: Sabich is a popular new food trend and can be found all over Israel. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant and a hard-boiled egg, then topped off with typical Israeli accoutrements: hummus, tahini, cucumber and tomato salad, pickles, plus a dousing of a mango pickle dressing called amba—itself a legacy of close ties between Jewish traders in Iraq and the Indian subcontinent. Sabich came into being as an Iraqi Shabbat breakfast; with cooking forbidden, Iraqi Jews would eat meals of already-prepared eggplant, potatoes and eggs. When many of Iraq’s Jews moved to Israel in the early 1950s, they brought their favorite breakfast with them. Today, the dish has been adapted to the Israeli palate and, accordingly, is wrapped in the ubiquitous Middle Eastern pita. Try Frishman Sabich, off Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv for a mouth-watering rendition of this savory dish.
Ethiopian Wots: You’ll find steaming spiced stews—known as wots—in a variety of urban restaurants, most of them small and family-owned. Vegetarians will love the chickpea and lentil wots, and meat lovers will lick their fingers after devouring chicken, beef or lamb wots—all of them served on a bed of soft, spongy, slightly sour injera flatbread. Wots are infused with Ethiopia’s national spice, berbere—a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain, radhuni, nigella and fenugreek. Try the doro (chicken) wot at Habesh in Tel Aviv. For a special kick, try the injera topped with tibs (savory small meat slices mixed with intensely spicy kara peppers) at Dire in Jerusalem. Vegans will adore the injera platter covered with spicy lentils and salads at Tenat in south Tel Aviv.
Kurdish Kubbeh: Kurdish food has several notable comfort foods, among them kubbeh and shamburak. Kubbeh are semolina dumplings filled with meat, often served in a broth as a soup. Try the kubbeh at the venerable Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem or at Momo’s Restaurant in Haifa. Shamburak is a canoe-shaped pastry typically filled with ground beef and fried in oil. The Jerusalem restaurant Ish Tabach serves only shamburak in several varieties. One, called siske, is filled with a slow-cooked beef while another is stuffed with beef tongue. (A vegetarian option features portobello mushrooms.)
Indian curries and dosas: Young Israelis love to explore the Indian subcontinent and have brought their passion for Indian dishes home with them—adding them to the cuisine of the groups of Indian Jews who had previously moved to Israel. As a result, there are many varieties of Indian food to relish. For tandoori meats and meat curries from the north, try the Tandoori chicken at Kohinoor in Jerusalem, and for vegetarian curries—chickpea is very popular—and lentil dals, head to Maharaja in the market in Ramle. Try the dosa (a crispy, rolled-up and stuffed thin Indian bread) at Namaste in Ashdod and the thalis (an Indian combination platter that usually includes several small tins of curries plus sides such as chutney and raita) at Chanchal in Tel Aviv. Jews from the Cochin region of India settled in the Jerusalem hills and Ella Valley and have opened a number of small family, home-based restaurants. We suggest trying the chamandi, made of ground almonds, coconut milk, curry leaves and mustard seeds at Matamey Cochin (Cochin Delicacies) in Mesilat Zion near Beit Shemesh.
Yemenite Jachnun: One uniquely Jewish Yemenite dish that is beloved in Israel is jachnun, made of dough that is rolled into thin sheets, then rolled up to bake overnight in a slow oven—it looks something like puff pastry but has a taste all its own! Typically served on Shabbat, jachnun is often served alongside hard-boiled eggs, a spicy sauce called schug and a dipping sauce made of grated tomatoes. It’s become so popular that it’s often sold, together with the schug, on roadside stands. Erez’s Restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter focuses on Yemenite specialties, including Yemen’s famous scented meat soup and lacho’ach, a kind of bread that is very airy and full of holes.
Produced by Moment with the support of The Israel Ministry of Tourism