Israel is truly a melting pot of cultures with settlers who’ve come from around the world. While the ancient stone architecture and roads of Jerusalem have an extremely historic and religious feel, the mood couldn’t be more different than the bustling streets of young Tel Aviv. From the scenic Golan Heights, border of Syria to the dessert of Negev, the common ground of Israel is the cuisine. With Israel’s declaration of state in 1948, the food scene has always been a mix of Arabic, Jewish, Italian, Lebanese and many more. What chefs are doing now days is what’s being referred to as “New Israeli” cuisine, playing off of traditional dishes from different neighborhoods, from different people from different backgrounds.
A wonderful place to experience the true melting pot of food is at the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. Aside from the wonderful produce, buckets of tahini (ground sesame paste; PSA: EAT ON EVERYTHING), stalls lined with fresh baked goods and halva on every corner, this market is full of small restaurants, walk up counters and bars.
The last day of my 21-day Israeli trip was spent here, eating dishes from around the globe, from those who have spent their entire life making them. A 23-year-old local girl led my small group through the market showing us some of her favorite spots.
The first taste of the day was a Turkish delicacy, Knafeh. This was not the first time I tried this decadent dish. This traditional Palestinian dessert is made with melty cheese encased in crispy pastry soaked in sweet syrup, topped with crushed pistachios. You can add cinnamon and other toppings but I personally find it quite delectable on its own, fresh off the burner.
Next up was shakshuka; now this can be found pretty much in every restaurant in Israel. I learned, while cooking in the home of locals, that it’s the fresh homemade tomato base with the right amount of spices, chili, peppers, onions and lots of cumin that are key to making an excellent dish. Once the sauce is bubbling, add the eggs and top the pan with a lid until the eggs are baked white over. Truly so simple and exquisite. It’s typically served with chunky fresh bread for dunking.
Following the shakshuka and hummus, we opted for a Georgian (not Georgia the state, Georgia the country) specialty, Khachapuri from Hachapuria. This specialty is what humans essentially live for and contains all things our tastebuds desire. This cheese filled bread dish is topped with an egg and loads of butter, it looks like a pizza, but better. These are definitely worth the calories!
One of my favorite stops of the day was at Marzipan bakery, for the best rugelach I ate in Israel. Well known for being the best of the best, this 40-year-old bakery has been churning out a perfected recipe that leads to moist, sweet, elastic chocolatey rugelach. You can buy boxes of 12 that are hot and fresh. I ate 3 on the spot and saved the rest for the plane ride home. I dream of these regularly.
Our last stop of the day (and just about the last bit of food that we could stomach) was at Jachnun Bar – personally, I thought that this was another highlight of the day. Jachnun is a Jewish-Yemenite pastry, very dense and moist eaten with a spicy Yemeni sauce called zhug, made from cilantro and parsley served with a hard-boiled egg. It was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before, simple and authentic. We also opted for the malawach, which is Yemeni fried bread topped with all the goods including, zhug, tomatoes and boiled eggs, pizza style but not. YUM.
The best part about eating at the market is that all of the above is very affordable and you can taste the hardship that goes into everything. Food brings people together and it’s really such a beautiful thing.
Other noteworthy visits for food in Jerusalem:
Sataya: Go and get the tasting menu. The cauliflower dish is divine, kebab on point and the fresh house made bread will keep you satisfied in between courses.
Dwiny Pita Bar: Fast casual, doing pita like nobody else. Order one of everything.
TEL AVIV POST COMING SOON.