The most important tip I can give you on Israel  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Israel, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in Israel

Israeli cuisine is as diverse as the population which makes up this gastronomic country. Food here is generally of a very high standard, and immigrants from around the world mean that almost every genre and type of food is available. Not tipping in sit-in restaurants that have waiters is frowned upon, but is accepted for signalling atrocious service. It is standard to give 10%-15% (or more for exceptional service). 20% tip is considered generous. Including a service charge in the bill is no longer legal in Israel and should not be paid. In recent years, restaurants have been charging a “security fee” – roughly ?1-2 per person. However, this fee is not mandatory, and it is common to ask for the fee to be removed from the bill, as well you should.

Most restaurants accept cr cards, but do not accept personal checks. If you wish to include the tip in your cr card charge, state this before paying. Not all restaurants accept tips on cr cards. Fast and popular Falafel was officially adopted as the national food. These are small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside a pita bread with hummus-chips-salat (hummus, French fries and vegetable salad) and tehina. A selection of more salads is usually available, and you can fill your pita with as much as it can take. This is usually the cheapest lunch available (?10-15), and it’s vegetarian.

Israel Food photo

Photo by israeltourism

You can also order half a serving (“kha-TSEE mah-NAH”). Another popular option is shawarma, sliced turkey or lamb meat, also served inside a pita, or its larger cousin lafa, with hummus-chips-salat. Many other things can fit your pita: for example, Me’orav Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite mix), which contain several types of meat, or Schnitzel, a batter fried chicken breast somewhat inspired by the Viennese original. Hummus, a cream of chickpeas, tehina, lemon and olive oil, is also served on a plate, and scooped up with small pieces of pita. At places that specialize in Hummus, you can find the dish topped with cheakpeas, mushrooms, minced meat, fava beans and many other different toppings.

Another street food gaining popularity is the Iraqi-origin sabich, a pita bread stuffed with a hard boiled egg, batter-dipped deep fried eggplant, hummus, tehina, and salad. Dietary restrictions Kosher food The Hebrew word Kasher (??????), pronounced by East-European Jews as Kosher, means “fit” (in Israel, gyms are known as kheder kosher, i.e. fitness room). When associated with food, it means anything that is allowed by the Jewish religious laws concerning food. These laws are quite complex, but the short version is that they totally forbid certain products (such as pork and shellfish), and allow others only under restrictions – most importantly, that meat and dairy products are not to be cooked together or eaten at the same meal, which bans all sorts of Western staples like cheeseburgers and pizzas with meat toppings.

In addition, lighting a fire on Shabbat is forbidden, so only cold or long-simmered food is allowed. Having said this, due to the secular nature of much of Israel, many foods can be found, and many restaurants aren’t kosher depending on the region. Kosher laws do not usually apply to Arab areas of Israel (unless they cater to mixed clientele), although Halal dietary laws (the Muslim analog) do. Most of the hotels in Israel are Kosher, so breakfast is dairy, and during lunch and dinner you’ll not be able to get milk for your coffee or butter for your bread (although soy milk and spread are common substitutes).

Most big supermarkets sell only Kosher products, but more and more non-Kosher supermarkets and convenience stores have appeared in recent years, due in part to the huge numbers of secular Jews who have come to Israel from the former USSR. With restaurants, things are more complicated: in Tel-Aviv, there are fewer kosher restaurants than in more religious cities like Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, Kosher cafes and restaurants are much more common. Bear in mind that restaurants that remain open on Shabbat cannot receive Kosher certification, so some restaurants that do not carry a Kosher certification are nevertheless kosher as far as the food is concerned, and could have kosher kitchens. So if you care, you shouldn’t assume anything and always ask. Where restaurants are kosher, they will either be dairy or meat. Dairy restaurants are useful for vegetarian tourists, but still are likely to serve fish and egg products.

One attraction for practicing Jewish (and other) tourists is the kosher McDonald’s restaurants. Note that most of the branches are not kosher, so ask before ordering. Most Burger King restaurants in Israel are kosher, though – and so are branches of Burger Ranch, an Israeli burger chain. In addition, Pizza Hut branches in Israel are kosher, and thus will not serve pizzas with meat toppings, while Domino’s chains are not kosher, and serve a toppings selection similar to their Western branches. One pitfall with finding kosher food is that some con-men have found they can make money by setting up business selling fake kushrut certificates. Therefore someone looking for kosher food should look for a certificate from the local rabbinat or a recognized kashrut agency .

Israel Food photo

Photo by israeltourism

Certificates from unknown organizations should not be relied upon. Passover Another series of strict restrictions come into force during the seven days of Passover, when leavened bread (hametz) — taken to include any grain product that may have come into contact with moisture and thus started fermenting — is banned. Some Jews even widen the ban to cover rice and legumes. The main substitute for the bread is matza, the famously dry and tasteless flatbread, and you can even get a matzoburger from McDonalds during Passover. Vegetarians Vegetarians/Vegans should have a relatively easy time eating in Israel. Due to “kashrut” (the rules of keeping kosher) there are many restaurants that serve only dairy food, which makes them popular with vegetarians.

In some parts of the country you can also find Vegan restaurants. Amirim is a vegetarian/vegan village in the Galilee with several restaurants. Ethnic food Jews immigrating to Israel from different parts of the world brought with them many different cooking traditions. Most of these are now served in a handful of specialty restaurants, so check the individual chapters and ask around. Among the selection: Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish), Bulgarian, Turkish, North African, Iraqi, Iranian, and many others. One can also enjoy excellent local Arab cuisine served in areas with large Arab populations, mostly in the north of the country and in the vicinity of Jerusalem. One dish, however, is known across nearly the entire Jewish Diaspora. Known in Europe as Cholent and in the Middle East and North Africa as Chamin, it is a sort of stew that has simmered for many hours over a low fire. It is traditionally a Shabbat dish, originating from the prohibition on lighting fire and cooking on Shabbat.

The exact ingredients vary, but it usually contains meat (usually beef or chicken), legumes (chickpeas or beans) andor rice, eggs, and vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. Chamin is served in some restaurants on Saturday, and can be bought in delicatessens on Friday. Many Israelis like instant coffee and will order it in restaurants and shops. However, in the past two decades a café culture has developed throughout Israel, with standards equivalent to coffee shops in Europe. Israelis hold North American filtered coffee in low regard, and Starbucks failed in Israel due to its coffee being considered inferior by most Israelis. A popular way to brew coffee is known as “botz” (mud) coffee (also known as “cafe turki” or Turkish coffee), an inexpensive extra-finely ground coffee that is cooked on a stove and served unfiltered/unstrained, often spiced with cardamom.

There are several highly popular local coffee chains and numerous independent coffee shops. Israelis seem to have a preference for “cafe hafuch” (Cafe latté; lit. “upside-down”), but good espresso and various other brews are ubiquitous. You can also have a light meal with sandwiches and salads in most cafés. Aroma is Israel’s largest coffee chain that has good coffee. You can order sandwiches there in three sizes and choose from three types of bread. Arcaffé is slightly more expensive, but their coffee (some say) is better. Other chains include Elite cafe, cafe cafe, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Cafe Hillel (of which some branches are Kosher dairy).

Those who are used to Starbucks-like coffee or even Italian espresso may be impressed. Krembo (A hybrid of the words KREM and BO, “Cream” and “In it”, respectively) is a favorite Israeli chocolate snack. It is composed of a round cookie, on which cream (Most often Vanilla-flavored, but there is also a mocha variety) lies, covered with a chocolate shell. Krembos come wrapped in aluminum foil, and are very delicate. They are rarely found in the summer due to the weather. Krembos have been eaten in Israel for two generations now, and there is a well known argument as to the right way for eating it. 1. Holding the cookie while eating the chocolate and the cream, and then eating the cookie. 2. Holding the chocolate while eating the cookie and then eating the chocolate and the cream. 3. Eating all of it at once. 4. While holding the cookie, eating the chocolate. Then the cookie and “lastly” the cream.

What to Drink in Israel

Alcoholic The drinking age in Israel is 18. Beer There are three main brands of Israeli beer: Goldstar — a Munich -style dark draught, it is the most popular Israeli beer in Israel. Can be found in bottles and cans of 0.5 and 0.3 liters (1 pint and half a pint, respectively), or KHE-tsi and shlish (Hebrew for “half” and “third”. Referring to the amount based on litres, as Israel uses SI). It is also available from tap (meh ha-kha-VIT, Hebrew for “from the barrel”). Maccabee — a pilsener, lighter and smoother than Goldstar. Comes in bottles, cans or from tap. This beer has a bad reputation in Israel as being of foul taste. Recently, its recipe was changed and the beer has been regaining popularity in Israel. Still, due to its bad reputation many bars do not serve it. Be aware that the local variety of Maccabee tastes differently than the exported one. Nesher — comes in bottles, mostly malt.

Palestinian beers are also available: Taybeh — made in the first micro-brewery in the Middle East, “Taybeh Beer Brewery” is from Taybeh village, a short taxi ride distance from Ramallah, an extremely fresh and delicious beer that is popular with many Palestinians, Israelis and tourists alike. It is mainly found in Israeli Arab communities, Jerusalem, and Palestinian cities. Taybeh Brewery offers free tours of the facilities and has ?5 beers for sale at the brewery. Taybeh village also hosts it’s very own Oktoberfest-style beer festival held annually during the first week of October. The festival well-attended with foreign tourists and is growing in popularity. Lately, several brands of micro-breweries have established themselves, and a wide selection of bee rott boo teek (boutique beers) such as Bazelet, Golda, Laughing Buddha, Asif, Dancing Camel and many others can be found in selected alcohol houses and in some chain retail stores.

Israel Drinks photo

Photo by naama

In addition, a wide variety of international brands are available throughout Israel, some of which are locally brewed. Among the most popular are Heineken, Carlsberg, and Tuborg. Liqueurs A common liqueur in Israel is Arak. It is clear, and anise-flavored, quite similar to Pastis or the Colombian Aguardiente. It is usually served in a glass of about 0.3 liters, mixed with equal amount of water and ice. Some like to drink it mixed with grapefruit juice. Arak is usually kept in the freezer. A common brand is called Aluf Ha-Arak and Elit Ha-Arak (both of the same distillery) with the former of higher alcohol per volume and the latter of stronger anise flavor. They are of slightly different volume although the price is accordingly different.

Wines There are several local big vineyards and a growing selection of boutique ones, some of them of high quality. Soft drinks Most of the regular western sodas are available, and many have local variants that aren’t very different in taste. Pepsico, The Coca-Cola Company and even RC Cola fight for the soft drinks market aggressively. Israeli Coca-Cola is thought by Cola connoisseurs to be tastier and more authentic than elsewhere. This is due to the fact that Israeli Coca-Cola is made with sugar, and not with high-fructose corn syrup. Tempo (not to be confused with Tempo Industries, Ltd. which is the brewer of most Israeli beer and bottler of most soft drinks including the local Pepsi) and Super Drink are dirt-cheap local variants, at times sporting very weird tastes.

The generic name for Coke or Pepsi is “Cola”, and it usually implies Coca Cola; if the place serves Pepsi, they will usually ask if it’s fine. Also note that “Soda” generally means “Soda Water”, and is not a generic name for carbonated soft drinks. There are several more authentic soft drinks: Tropit — cheap fruit flavor drink which is usually grape. Comes in a tough aluminum-like bag with a straw. The bag is poked using the straw to make a hole through which you drink. A very portable drink (until holed), which has become very popular in summer camps. In the newer varieties there is a marked area where the straw should be inserted. Even then it can sometimes take practice to insert the straw without the juice squirting out, if you are from the US it is just like the Israeli version of “Capri Sun.” Chocolate milk — there are a number of brands of sterilized chocolate milk (SHO-ko) which comes in plastic bags and small cartons.

The tip of the bag is bitten or clipped off, and the milk is sucked out. As with Tropit, it is very portable (although due to its milky nature, not as much) until opened, after which it is impractical to reseal. It should be noted that chocolate milk in a bag is usually served cold, and it would be a very bad idea to warm it. Spring Nectar — fruit flavored drinks that comes in cans or 1.5L bottles. Sold in most supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations, as well as many take-away stands. Comes in a number of flavors such as peach, mango, and strawberry. Prigat — fruit flavored drink that comes in plastic bottles. Is sold at pretty much every supermarket, petrol station and corner-store around Israel. Comes in many flavors including grape, orange, apple, tomato and a few more exotic options as well. Primor — fruit juice in plastic bottles. Sold pretty much everywhere. Comes in many flavors, mostly citrus and apples.

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.