All cuisines are a result of influences of many forces, including historical, sociological, and agricultural. And Israeli cuisine is no different. Therefore, many foods that are typically considered ‘Israeli’ originated from the wider cuisine of the Middle East — including the popular falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls in pita) and the famous ‘Israeli salad’ of cucumbers and tomatoes in distinctively small pieces. In addition, Jewish traditions of Eastern Europe play an integral role in Israeli cuisine, with ingredients such as sour cream and dishes such as borsht (a cold soup made from beets).
You can get a great pasta dish or fancy sushi in Israel, but when visiting this unique country, you should try to get as much of Israel’s traditional local food. The three main signature dishes in Israel are hummus, falafel and shwarma. It’s true that all three (or variations of those) can be found in other Mediterranean countries, but Israel has embraced them and made them her own. Whether in a street kiosk in downtown Tel Aviv or in a romantic seafood restaurant on the beach, you can’t go wrong with the street food joints. Of course, hummus is a favorite dip among Israelis, and you can find it anywhere. It’s healthy and delicious.
Jewish dietary laws also have a strong influence, including the separation of milk and meat and the aversion to foods such as pork and shellfish. In addition, Jewish holidays and festivals have helped shaped the cuisine, resulting in the Israeli tradition of sufganiot (soof-gah-nee-oht; jelly doughnuts) on Hanukkah and an original Israeli haroset (chah-roh-seht; a traditional Passover food) recipe. Despite being the only county in the world for the Jewish people, a large portion of the people do not keep Kosher, and a large part of its restaurants don’t carry a Kosher food tag. If you are looking for Kosher food while in Israel, a safe bet would be to visit hotel restaurants, which are required to serve Kosher food. Most large supermarkets and food chains also offer Kosher products.
It is no surprise that geography has a large influence on Israeli cuisine and, therefore, foods common to the region; olives and olive oil, wheat, chickpeas, and yogurt all play a featured role in Israeli cuisine. Israeli food customs also conform to the wider Mediterranean region, with lunch, rather than dinner, being the focal meal of the day. Jewish customs also have an influence, so Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner, and to a lesser extent Shabbat lunch, are the main festive meals in Israeli homes.
Drinking coffee and tea are also part of the Israeli food culture. Israel’s tap water is safe to drink although many brands of mineral water can be bought anywhere. The most popular alcoholic drinks are wine and beer. Israeli wine is famous worldwide and has been winning prestigious awards over the past several years.
A widespread trend among Israeli food culture is a large breakfast consisting of cheeses, salads, olives, distinctive Israeli bread, juice and coffee. Israel’s loaded-down breakfast tables are based in the country’s Biblical heritage; in Genesis, the patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, set the standard for Jewish hospitality by searching out travel-weary guests and strangers to be lavishly feted in their tent. Lunch is considered to be the most important meal of the day in Israel, served at noontime when children return home from school. Most Israelis eat lightly in the evening, with dinner possibly consisting of dairy products, salads or eggs. Pita and bread is usually served at every meal as well, in almost every Israeli home.