I didn’t think it was possible to fall so deeply in love with a country until I came back from Israel. From the moment I shared the news of my upcoming trip with friends that had been to Israel, or had family there, all I heard was that I would love it. That I would be in awe of the colourful markets, the incredible food, the beaches and the people. Turns out, they were right. Going to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was simply life changing. Most noteworthy, where to eat in Israel.
I, along 4 other food bloggers from the US and Australia, spent a week in Israel with Vibe Israel. Vibe Israel is a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen Israel’s brand in the world, showcasing all the wonderful things the country has to offer. If you followed my trip on Instagram, by now you know that food is one of the things that Israelis are so proud of. I am still dreaming about every single dish we tried. From the burekas that we had in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, the lemony Ceviche in Haifa, to the buttery pastries from Lehamim bakery. The food scene in both cities is nothing short of amazing.
The dishes are very Mediterranean. Fresh, bold and vibrant, a reflection of the many cultures that have made Israel their home. Some staples are their fragrant olive oil, chickpeas, grains and fresh produce. It’s a cuisine that can’t be compared to any other, and one that has won my heart. I left Tel Aviv, not only in love with its unparalleled food scene and market life, but with the people I met on the trip. Everyone was so genuine, kind and warm!
In this guide you will find what we ate each day, the places we visited and a bit of the story behind it.
Where to eat in Jerusalem
Our first dinner in Israel took place at Menza, a restaurant you don’t want to miss. Remember those bold flavours I was telling you about? There were three dishes that were mind blowing. We had the most delicious tabule with tuna sashimi and pomegranate seeds, a Challah filled with juicy and buttery seafood, and a fish Kebab served over a labneh salad. It was heaven.
Our second day started by exploring the old part of the city and its four quarters. Anna, from Tourist Israel, took us to Bint Al Ballad, a bakery that specializes in Palestinian baked goods. We had freshly made thyme and cheese buns and Manish with Za’atar. Pillowy morning buns that can be found just steps from the Jaffa Gate.
After visiting the Holy Sepulchre, we walked over to the Muslim quarter and had freshly pressed pomegranate juice. I can’t put into words how delicious it was (nothing like the bottled versions we get in Canada) and I hope that if you visit, you get the chance to try it. While you are at the Muslim quarter, pick up some cardamom coffee to bring home. You’ll thank me later 🙂
Before heading to the Western Wall, we had lunch at the lively and iconic Abu Shukri restaurant where the falafels are utterly crispy outside and tender inside. We had them with labneh, the creamiest hummus topped with chickpeas and olive oil, fuul (stewed fava beans) babaganoush and freshly baked pita bread. It’s a busy place and has been around for ages. A classic spot to try what it’s said to be one of the best hummus in the city.
Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda is probably one of the most spectacular markets I’ve been too. With over 250 vendors, it’s the largest in Jerusalem. The market is a bustling maze of sights, sounds and enticing smells. You can find things like spices, halva, pastries and tahini. We spent a few hours strolling around the market with with our guide Yossef Hillel, who took us to his favourite spots.
First on the list, burekas. This savoury pastry came to Israel via Turkey and it’s one of the country’s most popular snacks. You’ll find them as street food, served in coffee shops, sold at bakeries and made at home according to generations-old recipes. The ones we had at the entrance of the market were filled with mushrooms, cheese and beet greens. I had never tried beet greens before, and they are so incredibly flavourful!
Then we stopped by Mizrahi, a family owned store that has been in operation since 1961. They specialize in nuts, organic dried fruit, spices, chocolate and olive olive oil. They also happen to make the most wonderful Maple granola and I couldn’t resist bringing a jar back home.
Our tour continued with 2 other stops, and if you visit the market, believe me you don’t want to miss these. Go to Basher and be ready to try some of the best cheeses in the world. Basher is THE go-to place for cheese lovers looking for the best local and imported cheeses. Another family owned store in the middle of the Shuk. My favourites were their truffle pecorino and their basil gouda.
The last stop of our Mahane Yehuda Market experience was at Halva Kingdom. The place is a paradise for all things halva and also for the silkiest Tahini, which they make on site. The nougat one is to die for, and I would suggest not to leave without picking up some to bring back home. I’ve been using it in oatmeal, muffins and drizzled over chia pudding.
Cooking workshop with Tali Friedman
Tali is not only a renowned chef and culinary teacher in Israel, but also knows The Mahane Yehuda Market better than anyone. She teaches courses in her cooking studio just above the market. So after our market tour, we ended up cooking with Tali at her beautiful Atelier. On the menu, mango and tuba (a fish similar to sea bass) ceviche, focaccia, green salad with pears and saffron, and probably one of the best dishes I had while on the trip, smoked eggplant with tahini, garlic, tomato pulp and a balsamic reduction. A dish with so many layers of flavour, that til this day is still on my mind. To me, this dish embodies Israeli food.
The drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is a bit over an hour. I was excited to arrive in a city I had heard so many wonderful things about, and let’s just say that Tel Aviv went above and beyond all my expectations. From the moment we arrived, the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. As soon as we arrived in the city, we visited the lively Hatikva Market with Moni from Bhuka Tours, who welcomed us with a trolley full of wine (now that’s a way to start a proper tour!)
It is in Hatikva where you notice the real diversity of Tel Aviv, and taste it through its dishes. The market changes with the different cultures that have made its neighbourhood their home. Yemens, Iraquis, Persians, Sudanese and Nigerians showcase the wonderful flavours of their cuisines. Making Hatikva a place to marvel with every step you take.
What to eat in Hatikva
Our food feast started at the iconic Dilek’s with Turkish burekas, and Kazandibi, a caramelized milk pudding topped with nutty and fragrant pistachios. Then we stoped by Saluf, where we tried Kubane, a traditional Yemenite pull-apart bread, that’s similar to brioche. It’s usually eaten for breakfast or brunch and served wirth Zhug and boiled eggs.
We continued walking through the market, in awe of how warm and friendly all the vendors and the people we met were. When I thought that our day in Hatikva couldn’t get better, it did. From seeing bread and pastries come fresh out of the oven, to trying Jibne (an Iraqui cheese) and vegetable fritters drizzled with Amba. I felt I could have stayed walking around the market for days. We ended our visit by having spoonfuls of creamy and fragrant Malabi, a creamy milk pudding perfumed with rose water and topped with coconut.
I have always said that you can find the soul of a city in its markets. That afternoon in Hatikva, I was blown away by the beauty, the flavours and aromas of a market rich with history and the kindness of the people working its stalls.
Where to go for brunch in Tel Aviv
Rest assured. The brunch game in Tel Aviv is incredible. So much so, that we spent half a day eating at some of the city’s best brunch spots. If you feel like having brunch all day long, then Benedict is the place for you. On their menu, a whole selection of eggs Benedict, house made granola and fruity cocktails to start brunch off right. If you are craving babka (and who wouldn’t?), find the best one in Tel Aviv at Lehamim Bakery, along with flavour packed sabich and burekas. If you want to try a seafood feast by the sea, then Mantaray is your spot. Located right on the beach, Mantaray is where you could easily spend hours eating a Mezze of Israeli vibrant salads and incredibly fresh seafood. It’s been a Tel Aviv favourite for years, and owned by Ofra Ganor, one of the most inspiring women I’ve met.
To end brunch on a sweet note, head to Buza to have a scoop or two of the best ice cream in the city. Buza is a joint venture between a Jewish and Arab Israeli. They strive to bring people together, regardless of their faith, to enjoy ice cream made with all natural ingredients. Above all, the flavours are so very creative, like pineapple ginger, mascarpone with caramelized fig and cashew and sage. Additionally, they make their own sugar cones with cinnamon and cardamom.
Where to go for the most unique Tel Aviv experience
One of the things that I loved the most about Tel Aviv, is how warm and kind people are. How you are made to feel like a dear friend right away. There’s a feeling of community and togetherness that’s very unique to Israel. For an unique experience while in the city, nothing tops Betzavta. An initiative by Niv Saar and Ori Pearl, to bring locals and travellers together over dinner at a local family’s home.
On a Friday night, we had dinner with the Shtaif family, who welcomed us into their home with a feast and heartfelt chats. Not only was our dinner delicious (hello homemade challah!), but we felt at home, and that’s truly priceless. It was a such memorable evening, that I can’t wait to go back to Tel Aviv to experience it again.
Day trips in Israel
Farm to Table at Rutenberg
The drive from from Tel Aviv to Gesher takes three hours but is totally worth it. The reason? Rutenberg Restaurant. Located in the Beit- Sha’an Valley near the Jordan border, Ruthenberg is the labour of love of Hila and Izhar. This couple moved from Tel Aviv to build a restaurant whose mission is to offer farm to table dining at its best. From foraging nearby, to maintaining a close relationship with local producers, Rutenberg is committed to food in a way that’s truly admirable, and showcases the culinary history of the region.
Some of the vegetables are carefully fermented, the bread is made in house and some of the wines are from local vineyards. What I loved the most about the food at Rutenberg was its simplicity and the fact that vegetables are present throughout their menu. In fact, most of the dishes we tried that day, had the vegetables as mains. Slow roasted cabbage, grilled asparagus dusted with a local cheese, creamy polenta with cherry tomatoes and poached egg, beets and cashew cream. Simply put, the food at Rutenberg was sublime. The atmosphere was so relaxed, that it made for one of the best dinning experiences I had in Israel.
When I thought that no experience could top the one that we just had, we took a drive to Haifa. Set on the slopes of Mount Carmel facing the striking Mediterranean sea, Haifa is Israel’s third largest city. And home to the melting pot that is the Vadi Nisnas Market. This colourful market, became one of my favourites for a few reasons. First of all, the market is a symbol of coexistence between Arab and Jewish residents. You can taste centuries of history through the tapestry of food you’ll find all around the market.
To guide our way through the Vadi Nisnas, we met with Nataly and Erez, who run Erez Kitchen. They took us on a tour of the market and showed us their go-to spots. From Ceviche made on the spot, to freshly made vegetarian dolmas, eating our way through the Vadi Nisnas felt like a dream. We chatted with local vendors who have been working at the market for decades. I couldn’t resist buying freshly ground cardamon, while Nataly and Erez gifted us with Za’atar and Sumac. Two spices that have since then, become indispensable in my kitchen.
After visiting the market, we headed to Nataly and Erez’s home to cook a feast of incredibly delicious food. Specifically, a spread of small plates that were gone seconds after being prepared. On the menu, Fig carpaccio, tatziki with garlic confit, ceviche with mango (without a doubt the best ceviche I’ve had in my life). When the day ended, I couldn’t help but think that the best part about visiting Israel was being able to discover their wonderful cuisine through the kindest people.
Where to eat Sabich
On our last day in Israel, we needed up having what since then has become one of my favourite Israeli dishes ever. Whatever you do, don’t leave Tel Aviv without trying it at least once. Simply put, Sabich is an Israeli sandwich filled with tender slices of fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, creamy hummus and Israeli salad. With a drizzle of tahini and Amba, Sabich becomes everything you could want in a sandwich and more. You can find Sabich everywhere in the city, but don’t miss the ones at Lehamim Bakery!
It’s also a perfect example of the food in Israel. It’s anchored in bold and vibrant flavours, it’s filled with centuries of tradition but has happily welcomed flavours from around the world. Yes, it’s primarily Mediterranean, but done in a way that no other country has done before. The carefully picked spices brimming with flavour, the markets full of life, colour and laughter. I fell in love with every bite of Israeli food I tried, and I can’t wait to go back.
*Photos from the Betzavta dinner, Sabich, and cocktails at brunch were taken by Tel Aviv Based photographer Amir Menahem. This Post was made in collaboration with the non-profit organization Vibe Israel, however all views and opinions are my own.