I went to Israel immediately following a trip to Italy.
To be honest, I expected Italy to set the bar too ridiculously high for almost any country to follow.
And it did.
Italian food was delicious, fresh, and cheap.
But while I had never heard anyone raving about the food in Israel..
The food from Israel topped Italy in a huge way.
Like Italian, Israeli food is delicious, fresh, and (relatively) cheap.
But with an even greater variety and WAY better for vegetarians, veggie-lovers, and healthy eaters (Israel ranks 9th for healthiest eating in the world).
I even went during Passover, so there wasn’t even bread/most carbs (a somewhat typical backup for vegetarians while traveling)! Not even pita until the very last day.
But the hummus! The falafal! The flavor of everything!
Israeli food is all about high quality, fresh ingredients, with an emphasis on vegetables and customization.
Even lacking in carbs and all – Israel rocked my socks, culinarily speaking.
It’s a “melting-pot” cuisine
What is “Israeli food”?
When I asked Israelis this, they kinda smiled.
Most said “We don’t have Israeli food”.
Because, like American, typical Israeli food is a mix of many different cuisines that have been combined and made unique. This especially includes Arabic – with Israelis also having hummus, salad, kabobs, and falafal.
Israelis customized falafal from the typical Arabic dish to be more of a meal, stuffed inside a big soft pita along with veggies and dressings and spices. The tahini used for dressings has Arabic roots but is distinctly Israeli in usage.
The presentation is AMAZING
In Israel, meals are events.
Lots of options, lots of dips/spreads/seasonings so each eater can customize his or her meal… even at “normal” weekday meals.
The average Israeli dinner puts American Thanksgiving (especially in terms of deliciousness, presentation, and number of dishes) to shame.
Dinner was usually a meat dish, a vegetable dish, a salad, a bunch of veggies, a bunch of pickles, sauces, dressings… the list goes on but all beautifully put together.
Breakfast has a twist
One of the most surprising things about eating in Israel was what we had at breakfast.
Like, a green salad.
As an American, this was weird to me (I grew up with high carb sweet breakfasts: pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cereal).
As a veg-adoring vegetarian, I LOVED it.
It’s one of the travel takeaways that I’ve incorporated into my own life. Starting the day with greens instead of heavy carbs makes me feel so much better!
Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, salad, rice crisps (Passover means no bread), a bunch of spreads, cheese, pate for the nonvegis, olives.. and more.
The wine is outstanding
I had never heard of Israel as a prime wine destination. But it is! The northern Golan region produces some world-class grapes, resulting in super tasty wine. A $17 bottle ranks similarly to $150 wine from other regions.
More and more wine connoisseurs are discovering boutique Israeli wine, but it still hasn’t caught on as well as it should around the world.
Meaning that when you’re there – you’ve got to take advantage and try first hand.
Most wineries are open to tours, and happy to discuss the land, the culture, and the awesome wine the region produces.
Especially awesome is the growing trend to go sulfite-free and all natural at many of the Golan wineries.
The snacks are addicting
The Israeli snacks are in a league of their own. And so different from American snacks that I don’t even have the right adjectives or comparisons to describe their awesomeness. But I’ll try. Or you can watch this hilarious video of Americans trying the Israeli snacks here on Buzzfeed.
Bisli (rhymes with Ron WEASLEY) is fun to say and fun to eat. Best junk food snack I’ve ever had in my life, no competition. Described as a “wheat party snack”, it reminds me of stiff rotini with barbecue seasoning.
And of course you can’t forget Bamba, which is sort of like a peanut butter flavored cheese puff (minus the cheese!).
According to Israelis, the reason that way fewer Israeli kids have peanut allergies (especially compared to the epidemic in America), is that most Israeli babies’ first solid food is Bamba. The research supports it.
While I have learned to make hummus myself (they even have the ingredients in Brazil and it’s CHEAP! recipes here), I am a falafal failure and I’m counting the days til I can have the real stuff back in Israel (hopefully next year!)
Have you ever been surprised by a country’s cuisine?
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