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The surprising food in Israel

by Michael on July 26, 2012

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When we arrived in Israel we expected to stuff ourselves with Middle Eastern treats such as falafel and hummus, what we didn’t expect was some of the tastiest fruit and sweetest pastries of our journey. Israel has managed to create vast produce farms out of desert land, making street corner fresh squeezed fruit juice stands as ever-present as, well, street corners. They don’t ignore the good stuff though, the Eastern European heritage of many immigrants is reflected in the sweet cakes and pastries sold at every bakery.

Food in Israel fruit at juice stand

Israel had the best-looking produce  we’ve seen. Basically if it’s something that grows out of the ground, you can make juice out of it. Our favorite was fresh squeezed oranges and pomegranates with a touch of ginger and mint. Unlike the fruit smoothies we’ve seen in America, the Israelis don’t add any sugar or sugar syrup. With fruit this ripe and sweet, who needs it?

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem

We were lucky to be staying only a block from the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. On Fridays, it was elbow-room only as the jostling crowds set a festive atmosphere as they prepared for the Sabbath. The picture of the challah vendor at the top of this post was taken at Mahane Yehuda.

Food of Israel Mahane Yehuda market

Part of the market is covered while the rest spills out onto the surrounding streets.

Food market Mahane Yehuda Jerusalem spice blends

Tempting bowls of dried fruits, nuts and spices.

Israel food artichokes

What’s a market in Jerusalem without some of the namesake artichokes?

Food in Israel Mahane Yehuda market cookies

There is no shortage of cookies and sweets at the market.

Israeli food crispy cheesy bread

Can you tell us what this is called? It’s a crispy phyllo-type dough wrapped around cheese, spinach and potatoes with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It was served hot right out of the oven and was incredibly delicious.

Machane Yehuda market Jerusalem man dancing

We’re not sure why this man was dancing on the top of a van at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, but we did feel like we had just walked onto the set of Fiddler on the Roof.

Carmel Market Tel Aviv

The most popular market in Tel Aviv is the Carmel Market where shoppers can buy anything from food to clothing to electronics.

Food in Israel Carmel Market candy

Despite all the healthy Mediterranean food in Israel, those with a sweet tooth can still be satisfied.

Israel food Carmel Market

A lot of kibbitzing goes on at the market.

And what’s a good meal without some dessert at the end?

Food in Israel kosher gelato

This kosher gelato is non-dairy so it would also be good for those who are lactose intolerant.

Israel food pastry

We couldn’t understand the Hebrew writing on these pastries but a slice of each worked out just fine.

Israel food waffle dessert

When we ordered our waffles à la mode (with chocolate hazelnut) at this restaurant in Jerusalem, we didn’t realize it already came with heaping mounds of ice cream and whipped cream on the side.

Overall we really enjoyed the food in Israel. At one point we were getting a little hummused out after being in the Middle East for a few months, but a stop at our neighborhood juicer would invigorate us just enough to start diving back into the delicious local treats.

Click the link to read other stories about food.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

donna July 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Juice without sugar, oh my, what a concept! Sure wouldn’t make it in the American diet! But, I did want to comment on those ARTICHOKES! Beautiful, but I’d have to stuff them, the Italian way! What lovely picutres you are sending……..Thank you.

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Michael July 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm

My sainted Sicilian grandmother loved making artichokes for her chubby little grandson. Thanks for the comments.

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Kitty July 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Those artichokes are gorgeous, but they aren’t what we here in the States call ‘Jerusalem artichokes’. I would love to try some of those gorgeous breads and pastries!

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Michael July 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

You’re right about the artichokes but how could I resist that caption? The pastries were as good as they looked. Thanks for checking in.

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Mar July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I wish I had known about that market in Jerusalem. I was on a tour and that rather limits exploring on your own. We did have delicious meals in our hotels. The managers would be horrified at the tomatoes we get in a salad in a local diner. Don’t the diner cooks see that pink tomatoes are not edible?

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Michael July 28, 2012 at 5:46 am

That’s why we promote independent travel. You get to see and experience so much more.

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Janice Telstar July 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

Those delicious looking savory things you enjoyed are called knishes. They usually come stuffed with spinach, potato or chopped liver and you can get them in any Jewish deli here in the states–altho I am sure they will not be as delish as the ones pictured in your post.

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Michael July 30, 2012 at 10:59 am

HI Janice,

Thanks for the information. I grew up on Long Island and they looked so different from the knishes I was familiar with. They were delicious. One thing we didn’t find was New York style bagels.

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Beth September 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

@Janice. No, they are not knishes. That is a bourekas, a ubiquitous Israeli pastry originally from Turkey. Most Israeli foods, like those in America, are imports which arrived with the various waves of immigration. Ironically, the foods most associated with Jews in America (the bagel, the knish, the ginormous deli sandwich) are essentially unknown here., though Tal Bagels, who first established themselves on NY’s Upper East Side, have a flagship store in central Tel Aviv. The man dancing on top of that van is a follower of Rabbi Nahman of Breslev – their slogan is “Smile – it’s all good!” Their joie-de-vivre and positive energy are truly inspiring, but not necessarily when they ride by at 3:00 a.m. (happiness knows no time constraints!). I’m a Long-Islander, too, though I’ve been here 15 years. And you are absolutely right – nothing beats the produce here! Beautiful shots and great write-up! Actually got to your blog while looking for trains …

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Michael September 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Beth,

Thank you so much for clarifying things. It also explains why we couldn’t find NY style bagels. And we did notice someone pushing a cart down the sidewalk with a speaker on it playing loud music. Now we know what it was for.

Take care,

Michael

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Kathryn November 24, 2012 at 5:00 am

These pics are mouth watering. I wonder what the non-dairy gelato is made out of instead of dairy? soy?

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