March 28th 2015
Every country has its own distinctive taste sensations, and Israel is no different. Here are six drinks you’ll want to try while you’re visiting.
Hard liquor that tastes like licorice? That’s arak, the clear, unsweetened, flavored spirit sold all over Israel. At 40 to 120 proof, it packs a punch. Reminiscent of Greek ouzo, Middle Eastern arak is generally mixed with water and ice (which turns arak a milky color) and served with appetizers. There are at least 10 Israeli brands of arak, including Arak Masada, Arak Ashkelon and Aluf Ha’arak.
Sometimes called “the hot chocolate of the Middle East,” sachlav is widely available during the winter. It gets its name from the orchid (called sahlab in Arabic) extract that is traditionally used to perfume the drink. There are regional variations, but in Israel, sachlav is a thick, milky drink served warm with coconut, cinnamon and/or crushed nut toppings.
If you like your coffee dark, you’ll love “botz” (literally “mud”), the local nickname for Turkish coffee. Also commonly referred to in Israel as “café shachor” (literally “black coffee”), botz generally starts with a few heaping teaspoons of fine-ground coffee and sugar, to which boiling water is added. The authentic, Bedouin-inspired version of botz is brewed while painstakingly heated in a hand-held kettle called a “finjan.”
You think you know what iced coffee is, until you come to Israel. Here, what we call “iced coffee” in the US goes by “café kar” (literally “cold coffee”), while the far more common “ice-café” refers to a coffee-flavored slushy. This frozen drink is extremely milky and sweet. Be careful – it’s addictive! One taste, and you’ll quickly be looking for ice-café machines everywhere you go.
Fresh-Squeezed Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranates, called “rimonim” in Hebrew, are one of the seven special fruits of the Land of Israel. (The others are figs, dates, grapes, wheat, barley and olives.) At kiosks all over pedestrian malls, bus stations, open-air markets, busy street corners and shopping malls, you can get yourself a cup of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and enjoy all its tart, antioxidant goodness.
Called “bira shechora” in Hebrew, black beer most commonly refers to the non-alcoholic version of Nesher Malt, although there are other brands available, such as Malt Star, which is distributed in Israel by the same bottlers as Heineken. Not as sweet as root beer but clearly from the same malty family, black beer is widely available in supermarkets, kiosks, restaurants and liquor stores.
As you travel around Israel, keep your eyes open for these six nearly ubiquitous Israeli beverages, and treat yourself to a sip of something you’ve likely never tasted before.