Taste buds must work overtime in Israel thanks to the countless and diverse mouthwatering morsels waiting to be eaten here.
“When you’re eating in Israel, all your senses are involved. You can smell it and see it being made. In Western countries, almost everything is pre-packaged so you don’t get to see or smell it. Food here really overwhelms the senses, but in a great way,” says Inbal Baum, culinary tour guide from Delicious Israel.
Baum helped ISRAEL21c create this list of 10 extraordinary dishes you need to try:
- Zalatimo’s mutabak
Dozens of Israeli bakeries boast the best baklava. But Zalatimo’s Bakery in the Old City of Jerusalem, close to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, opened in 1860 and is the oldest operating baklava bakery in the world. It is hailed by everyone from man-on-the-street to culinary greats as “the” place to bite into a warm, hand-thrown wad of filo dough soaked in sugar syrup.
Zalatimo calls its pastries “mutabak” but everyone else calls them Zalatimos. The BBC program Jerusalem On a Plate featured a segment on London-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi all but fainting from pleasure with each mouthful of the goat’s-cheese-and-clarified-butter-filled variety.
- Benny’s Soda
At Benny’s Soda (Gazoz, in Hebrew) at 41 Levinsky Street in Tel Aviv, the artisanal soda-shop wizard Benny Briga uses all-natural flavors to create original flavored bubbly drinks.
This thirst-quenching master adds wedges of fruits (lemon, pomegranate, guava), herbs (lavender, lemongrass, lemon verbena) and roots (ginger) to fizzy non-alcoholic cocktails. “It’s something really special,” Baum tells ISRAEL21c.
Judges at the 2012 International Chocolate Awards competition swooned over a lemon praline handcrafted by Tel Aviv chocolatier Ika Cohen. She returned to the Italian contest with a gold medal-winning Za’atar Ganache in 2014.
Chocoholics will be delighted to know that the culture of chocolate in Israel continues to flourish. Keep an eye on Yulia Freger of Bruno Chocolate – she recently won two silver awards at the International Chocolate Awards for her Mumbai Crunch and Halvah Cream pralines.
- Albert’s marzipan
The official Marzipan Museum may be located in Kfar Tavor in the Lower Galilee , but true aficionados of this sweet nutty treat know that Albert Confectionery in South Tel Aviv (36 Matalon) is the place to get it in Israel.
The small pastry shop doesn’t look like much, but the secret family recipes for this almond candy dough handed down through the generations by Greek immigrant Albert Yehuda is the reason people queue up here. The handmade almond cookies are equally delicious. While you’re here, walk over to the Levinsky Market for another taste-bud overload.
- Pomegranate wine and beer
Everyone already knows that pomegranates are packed with vitamins, anti-oxidants and other health benefits. Israeli scientists have improved the pomegranate’s genetic makeup and Israeli entrepreneurs have innovated new ruby-red tastes such as pomegranate wines and beers.
Rimon Winery is the best known for its premium high-end pomegranate wines in about a dozen varieties. You’ll also want to swish around Gaaton or Haluza pomegranate wines and Pomegranate Ale by Dancing Camel brewery.
- Eli Mamman’s Halva
Halva can be bought at markets, stores and gourmet shops throughout Israel. But the main go-to place for this sesame-paste candy is Halva Kingdom in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market. Eli Mamman stirs Moroccan family secrets into his recipes to produce more than 100 flavors of this sweet confection. The first Halva Kingdom store opened in 1947 in the Old City of Jerusalem; the current location, at 12 Etz HaChaim Street in the market, opened in 1986.
- Leon’s bourekas
Bourekas are also ubiquitous in Israel, and everyone has a favorite Turkish/Bulgarian bourekas place. Leon and Sons bakery in Jaffa (17 Olei Tzion) is a three-generation family business known far and wide for its delicious flaky filo offerings made without margarine.
Other places people swear by when it comes bourekas are Tel Aviv’s Habourekas Shel Ema (46 Levinsky), Beersheva’s Bourekas Umi (107 Hapalmach), Yehud’s Hazan Bourekas (26 Hatoucha), Bourekas Bachar Ha’agala in Haifa (35 Derech Ha’atzmaut); and Jerusalem’s Bourekas Musa (30 Jaffa).
- Specialty sandwiches
Falafel and shawarma joints abound, but extraordinary bites can best be found in the multicultural specialty sandwich shops in every town and city across the land.
In Ramle, take your growling tummy over to HaTunisay Shel Eli (3 Shlomo Hamelech) for a Tunisian Fricassee; in Givatayim, head over to HaSabich Shel Ovad (7 Sirkin) for the most famous Jewish Iraqi breakfast sandwich in Israel; and in Jerusalem, Chochi’s Sandwich (14 Dahomay) reportedly serves up the best schnitzel sandwich in Israel.
In Tel Aviv, Itzik and Rutie (53 Shenkin) is a second-generation family takeout shop known for legendary sandwiches (egg salad, cream cheese, herring, sauerkraut). At Miznon (21 Ibn Gvirol), the new kid on the block, chef Eyal Shani serves up contemporary Tel Aviv in a pita.
- Abu Salem’s tea
When strolling through the shuk (market) in the Old City of Nazareth, follow your nose to Abu Salem’s Coffee House just off the main street, down an alleyway. While the home brew is good, the real reason to stop here is for the nut-infused cinnamon tea.
The café is a second home for many of the city’s elders, who come to play backgammon all day long and drink the otherworldly hot beverages on the menu. Proprietor Wessam gave up a career in graphic arts to carry on the tradition of his father and grandfather in running the café.
10. Viznich’s challah
The ultimate place to buy fresh challah is a matter of opinion. But there’s no denying the extraordinary experience of a visit to Viznich Bakery in Bnei Brak on a Thursday night or Friday morning as these white braided loaves of soft goodness are snatched up as they come out of the ovens.
The bakery, which has been around for more than 60 years, is in a neglected alleyway (Shimshon Hagibor). You’ll know you’ve arrived at the correct location by the dizzying smell of freshly baked challahs and the ever-growing lines of people, both secular and religious, waiting to buy them.