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Taking dietary restrictions on the road can seem daunting. Fortunately for the gluten sensitive in Tel Aviv, there are plenty of classic Israeli dishes that are naturally gluten free. By asking a few questions and gaining some basic awareness, gluten free diners will find plenty of delicacies to sample.
If your main experience with hummus has been dragging tortilla chips through a beige paste bought from a chain grocery store, you need to get out a little more, specifically, in Tel Aviv during lunch time. Hummusiyot are small, local retaurants that specialize in homemade hummus served as a main dish. Hummus (pronounced khu-moos) is a dip typically made of soaked chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon, garlic, and seasoning, all pulverized together until completely smooth. A serving of hummus usually comes in a flat bowl and is garnished with olive oil, paprika, parsley, and a long-cooked hard boiled egg. Most hummusiyot spoon hummus directly onto the plate (as opposed to spreading it on bread), so hummus can be a good choice for people who are very gluten sensitive. Hummusiyot typically offer side dishes of Israeli salad and falafel (fried balls of ground chickpeas), which can replace pita in the meal entirely. For the gluten free eater, it is important to clarify with the staff that the falafel contains no wheat flour and that it isn’t fried with other gluten-containing food items. The final hummus garnish is a chunk of raw white onion, and as soon as you sit down, a waiter will slide a dish of antipasti onto the table including pickles, olives, hot peppers, and these large chunks of onion. The onion is meant to be deconstructed slice by slice, dipped into the hummus, and eaten raw.
Shakshuka, another Israeli classic, is a traditional dish of eggs poached in a thick sauce of stewed tomatoes, onions, garlic, diced peppers, and plenty of spices. Many eat it with a side of bread (but of course, it can also be eaten with a fork), and while it is often considered a breakfast dish, no one will stop you from eating it all day long. It is completely gluten free, but as always, it is always wise to confirm at the restaurant. Some twists on traditional shakshuka include vegan shakshuka, in which the eggs are replaced with tofu, and ‘Mediterranean’ shakshuka, which includes eggplant and feta cheese for added depth and richness. Many hummusiyot also serve shakshuka, so a hummus place can be a great one stop shop for all gluten free eating needs.
Landver Cafe, Dizengoff Square branch, Dizengoff St 98, Tel Aviv-Yafo, +972-3-522-5622 (serves pre-packaged gluten free bread on request)
The quintessential Israeli fast food, shawarma is comprised of slabs of meat that are roasted on a spit before being shaved off and stuffed into a pita along with hummus and vegetables, but shawarma is equally delicious alongside a salad. Salads in Israel are basically an institution of their own, so they deserve a shout out. The vegetables are usually diced small and go far beyond the basic romaine, tomato, and cucumber combo. These salads are full of delicious add-ons, including tart, pickled cabbage, corn, roasted eggplant and sweet potato, cherry tomatoes, and slivered carrots, all dressed in tangy lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini. You can mix and match a salad of your choosing and then heap on a serving of shawarma for an easy, quick, seriously satisfying meal. For the gluten sensitive, eating out at the corner stores and stands (in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, for example) requires some risk assessment, as a single set of tongs is sometimes used to stuff vegetables into a pita as well as build a salad. Some places will change gloves and utensils if you ask nicely.
HaTurkiyah vehaKeves, Ibn Gavirol 92, Tel Aviv, +972-3-3002841 – good salads, aware of gluten sensitivity
HaKosem, Shlomo HaMelech Street 1, Tel Aviv, +972-3-525-2033 – can ask for GF pita, often has a line
These are only three naturally gluten free dishes that are part of the Israeli cuisine, but there are many more, tavshilim, slow cooked vegetables and meat, usually served over rice, sweet halva, savory tahini, and a refreshing scoop of gelato are not only naturally gluten free, but easy to find in Tel Aviv and most of Israel.