When you're talking about food Israel grows 95% of its own produce, and is a major exporter - all within the borders of this tiny country. This is provided in a large way by moshavs and kibbutzim, which are cooperative, self-sustaining communities focused on agricultural products and other businesses. From irrigation to pest control to food storage, Israel has invented, and shared with the world, some of the most advanced ways to encourage the most beautiful produce from dry, dusty ground.
Why am I talking about desert and great agricultural inventions? Because we all know great food, even in Israel, starts with great ground. Produce, and thus food in Israel is lush, colorful, vibrant and delicious. When you think there's nothing but desert, just add water and suddenly an oasis appears.
Food in Israel is a beautiful mix of ancient recipes that migrated out of the land of Israel along with the ancient Israelites. Throughout millennia these were influenced by the products and customs of the lands in which these Israelites settled. Eventually these traditional recipes returned along with the Jewish families immigrating back to Israel. Now, combined with Middle Eastern influences, and modified and modernized by local ingredients, these ancient recipes are deeply ingrained in Israeli foods.
Regional ingredients highly influence Israeli food. Peppers, zucchini, chickpeas, eggplant, sesame seed, nuts, olive oil, avocado, and every vegetable you can think of, is roasted, grilled, mashed, ground, stirred and chopped, sliced, diced, julienned and whirled into amazing dips, salads, appetizers and side dishes to shine alongside savory lamb, chicken, fish and beef.
Don't forget the herbs and spices that add life to each and every food dish in Israel.
Za'atar is an herb, spice and sesame seed mixture perfect for dipping olive oil soaked bread into. It's earthy, green, dusty flavor contrasts perfectly with smooth fruity olive oil.
Israeli food is curried-up by this regional spice combo. Meats, vegetables, stews, salads, anything goes with curry.
Chickpeas are cooked and mashed into a delicious and garlicky hummus dip topped with olive oil and pine nuts and used to dip veggies or crackers into.
Sesame or sunflower seeds are ground into a sweet, crumbly but very rich dessert called halva. The mixture can be combined with just about anything - pistachios, coffee, chocolate or whatever suits your taste-buds. When in the Mahane Yehuda, or the Shuk, you'll see vendors with a hundred different combinations. They're all good but go easy, it only takes a little to satisfy a sweet tooth.
If there were a way to list all the amazing foods in Israel, we would. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Roasted Eggplant, combined with tahini (roasted, ground sesame seeds), for a dip, or grilled straight up, open face, and topped with roasted peppers, olive oil and spices. Smooth and creamy.
One of the more famous foods in Israel is the falafel. Chickpeas and/or fava beans are rolled into balls, cooked and served in the pocket of a pita with your choice of pickles, various vegetables, salads, fries, and more, along with various sauces. My favorite is tzatziki, made with yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice and dill. So refreshing.
Ron's favorite Israeli food is the shwarma. Lamb, chicken, beef or turkey is grilled and kept hot on a vertical skewer then shaved off and added to various salads or wrapped in flatbread, burrito-style with whatever veggies suits his fancy at the time.
We've had numerous falafels and shwarmas at Moshiko's on Ben Yehuda Street, probably our favorite place.
There's every kind of fruit for making a salad. Be adventurous and try the dragon fruit or star fruit. Try a pomelo, the thick-skinned, grapefruit like citrus fruit or the prickly pear known as "sabra". Go even more exotic with the sweet and fragrant lychee.
And of course, the pomegranate, with it's crunchy, colorful, flavor packed seeds. It's said that there are 613 of them, one for every instruction in the Bible.
Strangely, during our visits to Israel, we somehow found ourselves eating in Italian restaurants, like Rimon in the Mamilla. Even there, food Israel style was on the menu.
Are pretty much all about the produce. In many hotel dining rooms, the breakfast buffet consists of salat, or finely chopped vegetable salad in various combinations, fruit salads, cheeses, fragrant breads, sweet pastries - oh, the pastries - meats, fish, eggs and more. Salat and eggs - fried or boiled - is a popular breakfast food in Israel.
Keep in mind, many restaurants, bed and breakfast or hotels keep kashrut or halal. This is the Jewish or Muslim dietary laws where eating meat and dairy together are not acceptable, nor is eating pork or shellfish. Though, considering Israel is a pretty international country, there are places where these food items are served.
Coffee is very popular in Israel with coffee bars everywhere. As is wine, in fact, locally made wines are extremely good. Beer is also a popular beverage.
Food Israel style can be adventurous. But relax, enjoy the atmosphere, the food in Israel is fantastic.