This September I had the pleasure of visiting Israel, thanks to a business trip, and pleasurable it was! Israeli cuisine is all about freshness – Fresh fish, fresh salads and fresh bread.
The day starts with a lavish breakfast. The typical Israeli breakfast is a grand affair with eggs, dairy, fresh fruits, salads, and of course, hummus
Hummus is pretty much synonymous with Israeli cuisine. It’s versatile, delicious, filling yet super healthy. Made from a chickpea flour, there are several versions served across Israel, and no meal is complete without hummus. As an accompaniment with the famous Pita bread or the larger soft pillowy Lafa bread, a side dish with meat of fish, or simply as a meal in its own right (topped with salads, olive oil, a boiled egg, boiled chickpeas and spices), hummus makes an appearance at every meal!
The other contender for the ‘national dish’ is the very popular Falafel. This fried delicacy has made its way across the world and can be seen in almost every middle-eastern specialty restaurant. It’s now elevated from its street food origins and is seen in various avatars in restaurants and malls. Nothing beats a falafel when eaten hot and crisp, wrapped in a bun or pita bread, with – you guessed it – hummus!
One specialty egg preparation that I particularly loved is called Shakshouka – a dish of eggs poached over a bed of tomatoes, onions, capsicums, eggplant, spinach and spices. Typically cooked and served in a cast iron pan, this breakfast dish of Moroccan origin proves to be an Israeli favorite.
Israel being majorly a coastal country, there’s no dearth of fresh fish. Fresh fish is served whole (Mediterranean style!) grilled or fried, dressed only with freshly squeezed lemon juice. My experience was so amazing – felt like the fish had just walked out the ocean behind my table and jumped onto the grill to land on my plate!
A major part of Israel is the sea cost or desert leading to water and land shortage for agriculture. To counter this, Israel is now a world leader in cutting-edge agricultural technology. And as a result, the array of fresh fruits and vegetables is beyond compare. Israeli salads are fresh, delicious, and are served with an array of dips and dressings. No worry for vegetarians here – a lot of healthy options are on offer! Here’s how a typical Israeli salad buffet looks. (Notice the hummus? 😉 )
There’s an entirely different ‘kosher‘ (abiding to Jewish laws) and ‘Shabbat‘ (the holy day – Saturday) cuisine, which, unfortunately, I couldn’t experience. However, it is something on my wishlist on my next trip there!
I must also mention the amazing meat dishes like Chicken with couscous, Mousakka (Potato, eggplant, meat) and of course kababs. There’s no pork since it isn’t ‘kosher’ (ie not abiding to Jewish laws) but the beef and chicken dishes are right up there with the best – all with Turkish / Mediterranean / middle-eastern flavors.
There is also a strong tradition of baked goods here. Streets are lined with bakeries serving cakes, pastries, breads and cookies with some very interesting flavors, owing to the middle-eastern influences. My personal favorite was the Sambusak – a soft bread stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, onions, meat etc – served hot out of the oven!
My trip was rather short – 5 days isn’t nearly enough to truly experience a new cuisine, but the glimpse that I got was nothing short of wonderful.