February 20th 2015
Israel is a country of immigrants, with each formerly exiled local community having brought its distinct dishes to the national menu. So to get the most out of your upcoming tour of Israel, make sure your palate is ready for adventure. Below are three staple foods of Israel that you might have never heard of before and would benefit from trying while you’re here.
Eggs for Dinner?
You may think of eggs as breakfast food, but in Israel, shakshuka is available on many menus throughout the day. In Arabic, the word shakshuka means a mixture, and that’s what you’ll be served when you order this zesty dish. In its most basic form, shakshuka is poached eggs served in a tomato sauce that’s been kicked up a notch or two by green cumin, plenty of fresh herbs, chili peppers, onions and other vegetables. Variations can involve the addition of cheeses, spinach and/or eggplant cubes. Thought to have originated in Tunisia, this dish is generally served in a hot pan with bread on the side so you can soak up the flavorful sauce. Today considered to be both café fodder and street food, try it at the famous Dr. Shakshuka in Tel Aviv.
Not Your Grandmother’s Matzah Ball Soup
At first glance, you might think those off-white dumplings are matzah balls, but once you try a spoonful of Kurdish kubeh soup, you’ll know you’re dealing with an entirely different dish. Kubeh are actually made from seasoned ground beef with a bulgur coating. Think of them as Middle Eastern wontons. The soup itself can range from yellow to red to green, depending on the base, although the red variety is the most common. A staple at Middle Eastern restaurants throughout Israel, the Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem serves a mean vegetarian kubeh soup, with ground mushrooms as filling.
The Hassidim of Eastern Europe’s shtetls are credited with having brought Jerusalem kugel (called “kugel Yerushalmi” in Hebrew) to Jerusalem. Made from fine egg noodles, eggs, black pepper and sugar, it’s often served at the synagogue on Shabbat morning or eaten with Shabbat lunch. At shuk Machne Yehuda, where it’s baked in large wheels and sold by the pie-shaped slice, you can buy Jerusalem kugel on Fridays. You’ll also find the dark, burnished brown wedges in nearly every bakery in Me’ah She’arim, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem. Although you can certainly enjoy the sweet and savory blend that is Jerusalem Kugel at room temperature or colder, it’s most often served warm with pickles.
Be open to trying new dishes, and your trip to Israel will be enhanced by taking advantage of local cuisine traditions imported from around the world.