Israel is a heaven for food lovers, the perfect combination of Middle Eastern cuisine with various ethnic kitchens from all around the world, reflecting the country varied population. Add to all of this the growing trend of high cuisine cooking, throw in a pinch of fusion and you are well on your way to a very tasty trip in the land of milk and honey.
In search of the perfect Hummus
Naturally, we start our journey with Hummus, the paste-like dish made of ground chick peas, which in Israel is much more than mere food. Each Israeli you’ll meet is ready to tell you about “the best Hummus in Israel”, but don’t expect to get a name of one place – passions run high when it comes to Hummus and so are the disagreements. But don’t worry; you should have a chance to decide for yourself soon enough.
Here are a few beloved Hummus places that will let you develop your own particular preference: Ali Karavan, also known as Abu Hassan, in the old Jaffa; Saaid, at the heart of the market in the old city of Akko; Lina in the old city of Jerusalem and Abu Ali in East Jerusalem; Abu Adham in Kfar Yasdif in Lower Galilee, Bahadunas in Bialik Street in Ramat Gan. The full list goes on and on but those are good places to start.
Haifa: mixed tastes
After satisfying the Hummus crave we can head on to Haifa, a city with mixed population and mixed kitchens. One of the best falafel in Israel is located here – Falafel Hazkenim, Hebrew for “Old guys falafel”. This mythological place was established in 1950 by an old couple who used to cook the on a primus stove. Soon the line of people was so long that it reached the next neighborhood… Since then, the owners have changed, the primus stove is gone, but the recipes and the long line are still there.
Another nice place to go to in Haifa is Mayyan Habira – “beer fountain” in Hebrew. It’s located by the port, and has a nostalgic atmosphere. You will find here a very large selection of beers to accompany the meat dishes.
Nazareth: the new Arabic cuisine
Still in northern Israel, in the city of Nazareth, there are some great Arabic restaurants, some of which run by young and ambitious chefs who take the traditional home cooking and give it a modern twist. Check out Tishrin, Darna, Diana, Abu Ashraf, El Taboun and many other restaurants, but skip desert – great Arabic pastries are waiting for you in local sweet shops, like El Muktar Sweets or Mamtakei Hayedidut (“friendship sweets”). And while you are in Nazareth, don’t miss out on a tour of the market with its many stalls of specialty food items, olive oils and spices, a true celebration for foodies.
Tel Aviv: from street markets to fancy restaurants
Now we come to Tel Aviv, but before we try some of its wonderful restaurants, let’s start with the open markets: Shuk Hacarmel and Shuk Hatikva are a must for any food lover. All senses come alive here: the smells of the spices, fresh fish, cheeses and sausages, the lovely colors of the fruits and vegetables, the creative calls of the sellers and the tastes that await you at every stall and around every corner.
In Hatikva market you can find some of the best kubbeh (an Iraqi delicacy made of burgul staffed with meat) in Israel and near Hacarmel market there are some great tiny restaurants serving hearty Yemenite food. Two very different kinds of markets you will find in tel aviv port area and in Sarona complex. Both are covered, up-scaled markets with expensive and fancy products, great for high-end picnic lunch.
Tel Aviv has restaurants that fit every taste and every budget, from extremely creative and very expensive Catit restaurant of chef Meir Adoni, one of Israel’s top chef, to simple workers’ places in southern Tel Aviv where you could have a hearty meal for less that 50 shekels. If you want to mingle with some local celebs go to Port Said restaurant of chef Eyal Shani, who is famous for his poetic criticism as a judge at the Israeli TV show Master Chef. This place is always packed full with local Hipsters and has a good, simple food and great music played from old records.
For lovers of traditional Eastern European Jewish food, the best place to sample this cuisine is on Thursday night at the ultra orthodox city of Bney Brak, a short distance from Tel Aviv. Just before Friday preparations for the upcoming Sabbath begin, you can eat all the kigel, gefilte fish and tchulent your heart
Jerusalem: happy market tastes
This is the time to head up to Jerusalem, where Mahne Yehuda market is bustling. Inside the market you will find tinyrestaurants that serve dishes from the Turkish, Kurdish, Persian, Iraqi, Romanian, Polish and other ethnic kitchens. For a vibrant, upbeat and extremely popular place near the market, try the Machneyuda restaurant, where chef Asaf Granit is doing his special magic in the kitchen and outside.
Fish lovers will find great dishes in the southern Mediterranean city of Ashdod, where Idi restaurant is the place to try the fresh catch of the day. And a bit more south along the shore, in the town of Ashkelon, you could taste young and upcoming chef Eitan Shriber’s dishes at Linda Restaurant.
A trip through Israel’s myriad of kitchens is a true joy, whether you are looking for ethnic dishes, sophisticated gourmet food or fast and tasty street delicacies. Bon appétit, or as we say in Hebrew – Beteavon!