The food of the Israeli-Palestinian region is rich in history, culture, and fresh local ingredients. Many of the foods popular in Israel today have been introduced by immigrants from all over the world. You’ll find dishes with their origins in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa as well as classic Palestinian dishes that have been adapted and evolved over time. Palestinian dishes are popular all across the Middle East and are usually local iterations of foods that transcend borders.
You’ve probably enjoyed many Israeli or Palestinian dishes without even knowing it! If you’re curious about the region’s cooking, let’s explore some of the best Palestinian and Israeli dishes.
Falafel is the most iconic Palestinian food – some might call it the national dish. In case you haven’t had the pleasure of biting into a crispy falafel, allow us to introduce you to these vegetarian fritters. Falafel is made from pureed chickpeas or fava beans, spiced with cumin and coriander and mixed with fresh parsley and garlic. The paste is formed into small balls and deep-fried until golden crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside.
Falafel is usually eaten in pita bread sandwiches stuffed with tabouli, pickles, and tahini. They’re also commonly served alongside their other chickpea counterpart, hommus. You’ll find all kinds of falafel served in street food stalls across Israel and Palestine. Some are small, round, and green while others are flat and large. Some falafel is encrusted with sesame seeds and other times they’re served with fried eggplant (yum!)
Shakshuka has its origins in Tunisia but has become a much-loved Israeli dish that’s just as popular for breakfast as it is for dinner. The dish is made from a base of eggs and a sauce made from fresh diced tomatoes, and almost always served in the pan it was made in. Other ingredients can be added to shakshuka depending on taste, including onions, spinach, feta cheese, peppers, and herbs. It’s usually served inside a steaming hot piece of fresh pita bread, like many other popular Israeli dishes.
While shakshuka is adored by almost everyone, there’s some divide as to how it should be cooked. Some insist that the yolks should remain intact while cooking, while others firmly believe that a shakshuka tastes best when the yolk is mixed in like an omelette.
Just like shakshuka, burika has its origins in North Africa. In Israel, the pastry dish has been transformed into a mouth-watering street food snack that’s truly unique in flavour and texture. The base of burika is a thin, savoury crepe that’s stuffed with mashed potato eggs. The crepe is then deep-fried until crispy, stuffed again inside a piece of pita bread, and served along with salad and hot sauce. Each mouthful of burika is truly remarkable – part crispy pancake, part fluffy pita, soft mashed potato, rich egg, and freshness from the vegetables.
Most Israeli dishes have roots in either Middle Eastern, North African, or Eastern European cuisine. Jerusalem mix, however, is different. It’s a somewhat recent creation that was dreamed up in the heart of Jerusalem, most likely in a local steakhouse. Jerusalem mix is made from a combination of beef and chicken offal (including liver, spleen, and heart) mixed with onion, cumin, turmeric, and other spices. The meat mixture is either fried or slowly roasted over a fire, emitting a mouth-watering aroma that wafts through the streets and brings in hungry diners.
Jerusalem mix is usually eaten for lunch, served on a plate with hummus, chips, and Israeli salad. It’s also a part of Israel’s ubiquitous street food scene, where it’s usually served stuffed inside a loaf of pita bread and mixed with hummus, tahini, pickles, and veggies.
Hommus is arguably the most well-recognised Palestinian dish in the world. The chickpea dip is deeply embedded in Palestinian culture, and every person will have their own preference for how they like it. Unlike the west, where hommus is just a dip, in Palestine and Israel hommus is the star of the show! A simple hommus recipe is made with a base of cooked chickpeas pureed with olive oil, tahini, and garlic. People will change the ratio of these ingredients to their liking, sometimes also adding cumin or garlic for extra flavour.
Hommus is served differently depending on who’s cooking it and who’s eating it. The texture may differ from chunky to silky smooth. It can also be served with various toppings such as pine nuts, cumin powder, minced meat, or sumac. On top of that, there’s always a drizzle of olive oil before serving. In Palestine, hommus is served as an appetiser or mezze, along with several other small dishes. It’s always eaten with a piece of pita bread. The bread is ripped into small pieces and used to scoop the hommus into the mouth.
This is a dessert pastry that’s held in extremely high regard all over Palestine. Knafeh is made in a huge shallow pan over a fire. It’s usually eaten from street food stalls but can also be found at restaurants and dessert houses across the country. People will line up for a fresh slice of the warm, rich dessert. The base of knafeh is a thick, shredded semolina pastry stuffed with a mild-tasting white cheese. A rich sugar syrup, flavoured with orange blossom and cardamom, is poured over the knafeh to make it moist and soft. Knafeh is always topped with crushed pistachios and served straight from the pan, hot with melting thick cheese and a crisp pastry crust.
This Israeli street food snack has its origins in Georgia, where it’s known as the national dish. And for good reason, too! Khachapuri is made from a diamond-shaped pastry that’s laden with cheese and topped with a fried egg. It’s the perfect, mouthwatering combination for a quick breakfast on the go. Some street food vendors offer their own various toppings to add to khachapuri, including beans, prawns, or squid.
In Israel, schnitzel is almost always made from chicken breast coated with egg and breadcrumbs. It’s an extremely popular street food staple, served inside a piece of warm pita bread with hummus, tahini, pickles, salad, and chips. Schnitzel is also served in restaurants and at home, where it’s eaten with chips, rice, or pasta. Every restaurant and household will have its own take on schnitzel, using different herbs and spices to flavour the breadcrumb mixture. One thing is for sure, however: everyone agrees that the thinner the schnitzel, the better it tastes.
With its origins in Moroccan cuisine, sfenj is Israel’s take on doughnuts. It’s served at street food vendors all over the country, fried fresh and served warm, sweet, and crispy. The batter for sfenj is made from unsweetened dough. This dough is left to rise, shaped into rings, fried, and coated in sugar. Eating sfenj fresh is a must. The texture is best when it’s crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside.
Sabich was originally eaten by Iraqi jews on Shabbat mornings. It has now integrated deep into Israel’s food culture to become a popular daily staple. These days, sabich is sold all over the country in street food carts, and even in specialised restaurants. The sandwich is made from various ingredients stuffed into a loaf of warm pita bread. The most popular stuffings for a sabich are fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, and salad. Other ingredients can be added according to taste. These include potatoes, s’khug (Yemeni hot sauce), amba (Iraqi mango pickle), pickles, onion, and parsley.
This is not your usual doner kebab! Shawarma is a hugely popular Palestinian and Israeli street food that’s seen all over the Middle East. A shawarma stall will have marinated meat rotating on a vertical spit, grilling for several hours in its own juices. The meat is shaved off fresh and served in a pita bread sandwich. Various garnishes can be added, like salad, hummus, tahini, veggies, pickled turnip, and amba. The most popular meat used in shawarma is lamb. You can also find chicken shawarma as well as turkey or veal.
This is the Israeli take on a barbecue. Mangal is usually cooked over charcoal grills at street food stands, restaurants, and homes. The most popular meats used for this Israeli-style BBQ are steaks, kebabs, liver, and various skewered meats. Other veggies, like onion and tomato, are also grilled over the charcoal and eaten alongside the meat. Every household or restaurant has its own unique marinade for manal. This gives it a unique taste every time, depending on the herbs and spices used.
This decadent pastry has its origins in Yemen and was introduced to Israel by the Yemenite jews. It’s made from a giant piece of thin pastry that has been rolled up into a long, multi-layered finger. The batter for jachnun is usually made from white flour, butter, and sugar. The dough mixture is flattened, rolled into a cylinder, and then left to slowly bake in the oven for 8-10 hours. The end result is a warm, sweet, and ultra-rich piece of goodness. Jakhnun is sold in some street vendors and is considered a special treat that’s mostly served on weekends – especially Shabbat morning.
Taste the best Israeli & Palestinian foods on a food journey
You don’t have to travel to Israel or Palestine to enjoy the region’s best cooking. Explore the rich flavours and learn more about the history of each dish with our food journeys. The Taste of Israel journey will lead you through the diverse range of Israeli cuisine. Our Taste of Middle East food journey will give you a taste of Palestinian cooking alongside other hearty Middle Eastern dishes. Led by a private chef, you’ll be taken on a tour of the region’s best foods – authentic, wholesome, and made just like a local would. Click here to book your food journeys.