The first thing you need to know about Israeli food is that there isn’t actually specific Israeli food.
Israel is a melting pot of cultures from around the world and dishes are common among people with specific backgrounds rather than Israelis as a whole. For example, my friend was raised on Iraqi food because that’s where her parents were from, so go-to traditional dishes for her would differ from someone whose grandparents came over from Greece.
There are communities within the country that have their own dishes based on their origins or religion. You’d go to a certain area and someone would recommend you try X because the area has a strong Y population and you’ll get one of the best Xs there.
But don’t feel you’re missing out because this all comes together to make the Tel Aviv an amazing place for anyone who loves food.
So they’re just copying everyone else?
Well, while you can’t really find ‘Israeli dishes,’ they do have a couple of unique ways in which they like to serve food. First of all, Israelis friggin’ LOVE salad. You can get pretty much everything in salad form, including sushi, as I found out during a trip to a Japanese restaurant.
Another characteristic is that no one seems to mind doing the dishes – or at least that’s my conclision after seeing the abundance of plates, bowls, etc, used at every meal. You’ll often get lots of little dishes with various dips and portions whenever you order things. A typical breakfast in Tel Aviv, for example, is a vast collection of mini portions – pastries, bread, dips, eggs, granola, salad, etc.
There are, of course, special sweets, pastries and recipes that are popular in the country, but you’ll always find that they’re specific to a community of people from a different country who settled there years ago. You’re actually eating Arab, Jewish, etc dishes rather than ‘Israeli cuisine’.
Israeli Food: Where to eat in Tel Aviv
But while you may not have specific Israeli dishes to try, I can recommend some seriously great restaurants to eat at during your stay based on the tastiness of food. Oh and don’t forget to grab some street food from Carmel Market at some stage.
This place is catnip to Tel Aviv hipsters, but if you can get over that, you’ll love eating here. It’s a Mexican-Korean restaurant – something that sounds bizarre on paper, but works amazingly well, although I did feel some dishes were more Japanese than Korean. I tried five or six dishes and my favourite was the Korean Nachos, which was basically prawn crackers covered in cheese, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream.
The online menu is in Hebrew so I’m not going to be much help with the specific dish names…
The mullet ceviche and chicken tacos where also incredibly tasty, as was the Korean dish my friend ordered. Can’t remember what it was exactly, but it looked a little like ramen.
The reason I can’t remember the previously mentioned dish is probably because of the cocktails. I was immediately addicted to the one I ordered (it had Rosa in the title) whose main ingredients were gin and rose water. Just heaven.
Finally, came dessert and we decided to split two between us. The chocolate fondant was tasty, but much like all other run-of-the-mill versions, it’s hard to be disappointed. The special of the day was a version of chocolate mousse, sprinkled with pistachio and covered in a miso sauce. Unbelievably good.
Much like my Mexican-Korean experience, I didn’t expect to find myself eating sushi in Tel Aviv, but there you go. I’ve been craving chicken ramen for ages, so that was my first decision when opening the menu. Next up was the red tuna and avocado maki, followed by chicken and beef dim sum.
Everything was incredibly tasty and of course, they gave us a complimentary cabbage salad to pick at while we waited for our food to be made. Did I mention Israelis love their salad.
This was where my friend brought me for my very first meal in Israel. I’d arrived at Athens Airport at 7am and wasn’t allowed out of Ben Gurion Airport until around 5pm, due to Israeli airline security and passport officials thinking I was the dodgiest person ever. Many hours of interrogations and searches meant I hadn’t eaten and was experiencing serious ‘hanger’.
My friend wasted no time in getting me to a restaurant where I could just destroy something containing carbs and meat. She recommended the Moroccan Beef Sandwich (200 Grams is the name), I didn’t argue and it turned out we both made really good life choices because that sandwich was HUGE and also AMAZING.
Like I said, Tel Aviv is a city where you can get pretty much whatever you want and we wanted Italian carbs on my last night. I’d say it’s a popular ‘date night’ option for locals, but the restaurant still has a casual vibe. They allowed us to bring my friend’s giant Husky-Alsatian dog in with us, and myself and the waiter spent the rest of the night joking around. Seriously, he and my friend dared me to eat two desserts at one point – which I did.
Anyway, their Penne Carbonara is just fab and the other pasta dishes I saw looked equally tasty. I liked my pizza, which consisted of mushrooms, white truffle sauce and parsley, but they do need to get a handle on the mushroom portion control, because I had to remove at least a third of them and the base suffered some sogginess. I do think this was just an issue of prioritising taste over texture, etc, and I’d be confident the other pizzas would be of a higher quality.
Dessert is where they really got me though. My tiramisu was surprisingly light considering how creamy it was and really satisfying. My friend insists their chocolate dessert is their crowning glory though. I guess it’s best described as a Nutella and Mascarpone Calzone and yes, it is extremely good.
PS: Tipping rate in restaurants is 12%.