Israeli Street Food Guide

Food is reflective of a country’s traditional culture and the people’s way of life. All countries have their own version of street foods, each offering a unique gustatory experience for anyone who tries and enjoys them.

Like cuisines in other countries, Israeli cuisine is an amalgam of cuisines from different countries and cultures. Apart from Jewish cuisine, there are also Arabian, European, African, and American cuisines. Jews coming to Israel from the diaspora have brought the cooking styles of the countries they lived, contributing much to the now-dynamic Israeli cuisine.

Of course, Israel has its own distinctive street food to be proud of. If you’re traveling to Israel, one of the highlights is eating well, even if you’re only grabbing a simple snack from a street vendor.

There are street food kiosks in every corner, especially when you go to the big cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – the latter being famously referred to as the country’s food capital. They offer a wide variety of foods for local and foreign visitors alike.

1. Hummus

a plate of hummus with olive oil, topped with toasted sesame seeds and basil

Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world and are the chief ingredients of hummus (and falafel). Hummus is one of Israel’s national foods because it’s nutritious, filling, cheap, and of course, delicious. It is also convenient to eat. You don’t necessarily need any utensils to eat and enjoy hummus. You just need a piece of pita bread to scoop it up from the plate and enjoy. You can find hummus in cities and towns all over Israel, from restaurants to sidewalk vendors.

Israelis hold hummus in high regard that they rarely make it at home, although it is not much laborious to prepare, especially if someone has a food processor at home. Apart from chickpeas, the other important ingredients to make hummus include garlic, tahini, salt, cumin, and lemon juice. In Israel, hummus is usually drizzled with olive oil and served as a dip for pita bread.

2. Falafel

a plate of falafel balls
While the origins of falafel are still open to debate, it most likely originated from Egypt. Legend says that early Egyptian Christian Copts created falafel in the 4th century, serving it together with fava beans during Lent.

Falafel’s main ingredients include ground chickpeas or fava beans (or both), onion, garlic, salt and pepper, herbs and other spices, and baking powder. These ingredients are combined well and shaped into balls before being deep-fried.

Falafel is popular street food in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. It is usually served in pita (which serves as a “pocket”) or taboon (a Levantine flatbread). It can also be enjoyed by itself. Falafel is a hearty, tasty, and most of all, healthy snack (as far as fried snacks are concerned!).

3. Sabich or sabih

Sabich was invented by Iraqi Jews who brought it to Israel during the 1940s. You can say that sabich is authentic Jewish street food. It consists of pita bread or laffa bread (known as Iraqi pita) stuffed with deep-fried eggplants, boiled eggs, Israeli salad (called Salat Katzutz), parsley, tomatoes, and topped with tchina (tahini sauce) and amba (tangy mango pickle condiment).

4. Tahini (also called tchina or tahina)

Hummus is not complete without one of its essential ingredients: the tahini sauce. The word is originated from an Arabic word that means “to grind.” It’s because tahini consists of ground toasted sesame seeds. As a dip, tahini is combined with ice-cold water, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. It is eaten with pita and also used as an ingredient for other dishes.

5. Kebab (or shashlik)

Raw kebab and cooked kebab

Kebab is a very typical food in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. It is also eaten in Turkey and many parts of Asia and Africa.

While the terms “kebab” and “shashlik” are used interchangeably as they are both skewered meats, each is different in terms of preparation and cooking. In Israel, kebab consists of ground meat, while shashlik consists of pieces of meat.

6. Shawarma

people in front of a shawarma stand

The term “shawarma” is the Arabic rendering of the original Turkish word çevirme, which means “turning,” referring to the turning rotisserie. Shawarma consists of thin slices of meat, skewered and slowly grilled on a vertical rotisserie. Pieces of meat are then shaved off and usually served with pita or laffa that functions as a wrap, or with salad.

7. Bureka (or boureka)

Bureka is probably the most popular pastry in Israel. It is a turnover-type pastry made from thin filo dough or puff pastry spread on a cookie sheet. It is sprinkled with olive oil and stuffed with various fillings, the most popular being mashed potato and salty cheese. Other fillings may include ground meat, mushrooms, olives, chickpeas, spinach, mallows, eggplants, and swiss chard.

8. Mixed grill

Many regional cuisines feature a mixed grill. In Israeli cuisine, it has the Jerusalem mixed grill (Me’orav Yerushalmi), which typically consists of chicken liver, hearts, and spleen and some pieces of lamb cooked on a flat grill and seasoned with garlic, onion, and a variety of Middle Eastern spices.

9. Seeds and nuts

baskets of roasted seeds and nuts

Israelis love munching on their seeds and nuts. You can see sidewalk stands selling roasted sunflower seeds, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, almonds, pistachios, and many more. The aroma of these freshly roasted seeds and nuts is so irresistible, you’d surely want to order them!