Israeli street food is thinking outside the pita
The quintessentially Israeli fried-balls-in-a-bread-pocket have been joined by an array of yummy street-food options.
After your first taste of Israel, are you now hungry for more? Looking to sink your teeth into Israeli culture, but not sure what to take a bite out of first? Start where Israeli life is at its brightest: with the food on its bustling, vibrant streets.
For many years, street food in Israel was pretty limited: falafel or shwarma - take your pick. If you couldn’t stuff it into a pita, the thinking went, you couldn’t eat it on the go.
But like the country itself, street food has grown much more sophisticated. In every city in Israel and throughout much of its periphery, easily carried eats offer variety, flavor and — most importantly — a slice of Israeli life.
Here is just a small sampling of the most delicious portable provisions this country has to offer.
Ibn Gvirol 23
Located on uber-busy Ibn Gvirol Boulevard, Miznon is hard to miss. Just look for the huge crowd of hungry hipsters spilling out onto the sidewalk, all of them chattering, chewing and grabbing for seconds from the all-you-can-eat pickled vegetable bar.
Miznon is the brainchild of Israeli superchef Eyal Shani, whose more swanky sit-down spot, Abraxas North, made Newsweek’s “101 Best Places to Eat around the World” list in 2012. The rebellious stepchild of that pricy upscale eatery, Miznon takes the best of Abraxas − its grilled meats, rustic sauces and unbeatable golden-roasted cauliflower − and shoves it all into a pita for your on-the-go enjoyment. You’ll have to fight for a spot at the counter and shout to make your order heard, but that’s just part of the fun.
Ben Tziyon 31
Tel Aviv’s charming midrahovs (pedestrian walkways) are idyllic urban spaces for biking, strolling, and of course, sipping coffee. There are dozens of kiosks dotting the tree-lined paths running down the center of some of the city’s major streets, but none of them brew up a cup of joe quite like Cafe Habima. Located at the top of Ben Tziyon Boulevard, just a stone’s throw from the gorgeous and historic Habima theater, the Italian-influenced Cafe Habima serves up drip coffee, freshly toasted panini, and plenty of cheeky charm.
On sunny days, the picnic tables surrounding this sweet little stand are packed with baby-toting families and dog-toting young couples reading newspapers and digging into Cafe Habima’s oozy-gooey pastries. If you don’t have time to stop and sit, however, grab one of their lunch boxes: a pre-packaged mini-feast featuring a gourmet sandwich and a drink, ready to be enjoyed on the run.
The bold and beautiful juice stand
Israel, the land of the Jews − and the juice. Few countries love their fruit juice the way Israel does, and with the sheer variety and number of juice stands around the country, it’s hard to know which to choose from.
While you really can’t go wrong with a tapugezer (orange-carrot juice) from any stand in the summer, or a tapuz rimon (orange-pomegranate juice) in the winter, one of the best places to get your squeeze on is at Hayafim V’hamitzim, an adorable name that means “The Juice and the Beautiful” while punning on the Hebrew for "The Bold and the Beautiful."
Located on Sheinkin Street, the very epicenter of Tel Aviv cool and surrounded by cafes, boutiques, and even a few juicy competitors, HaYafim V’HaMitzim is one of the freshest and friendliest stands in town. Select a concoction from their chalkboard menu, or live dangerously and mix up your own vitamin-packed cocktail. Either way, for less than NIS 25 you’ll end up with a delicious, thirst-quenching drink that will cool you down while fueling you up.
234 Jaffa Street
Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. There is perhaps no better testament to this adage than Massov, a humble, unassuming falafel and shwarma stand wedged between dollar stores and flashier eateries on Jaffa Street, just outside the Central Bus Station. If you find yourself commuting in or out of the Holy City with a hankering for grilled meat and heavenly soft bread, let your tongue − and not your eyes − guide you.
The worse-for-wear menu behind the counter offers every variety of traditional Israeli street food, from falafel to hot dogs to Jerusalem mix (a blend of organ meats that is a delicious, but acquired, taste), but if you’re in a hurry, don’t mess around. Order the shwarma, wrapped up in laffa bread so doughy and chewy it would make the best burrito blush. Add your choice of toppings - for the brave at heart, the spicy tomato salad with jalapeno is recommended − and dig in. Your meal is all taste, with nary an extra bell or whistle. The way street food should be.
Emek Refaim 37
Two brothers, both alike in dignity, in fair Jerusalem, where they bake away.
Any Israeli pastry-lover worth her muffin knows about the Neeman bakery chain. It’s one of the carbohydrate kings of the country, with branches in nearly every city and a cult-like following come doughnut season in the winter. But on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street, there is another Cafe Neeman, with the same name but different products and a separate logo. What’s the deal?
The story of the Neemans, so it goes, is the tale of two feuding brothers who started a flour-based enterprise and then split off from each other. One went on to corporate glory, with Neeman bakeries taking over the nation, while the other, more humble Neeman has just this single shop in Jerusalem.
But there is not always strength in numbers. If you love bourekas, the folded pastry made of paper-thin stuffed dough and then baked or fried, don’t miss this place. The mushroom bourekas are particularly mouthwatering. When it comes to the feud between the Neeman brothers, revenge isn’t sweet. It’s savory.
Hatut 8, Mahaneh Yehuda market
Mahaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem’s massive central market, is the mothership of street food. There are dried fruit stalls. There are mountains of nuts. There are grilled meats of every variety and there are enough pastries, cookies and cakes to turn your sweet tooth into a toothache.
But beyond the market stalls, Mahaneh Yehuda is also a gourmand’s goldmine, with dozens of restaurants and cafes serving up quick and tasty fare amid the market’s twisting, lively alleys.
Basta Pasta is one of these gems. Homemade pasta, made on the spot with ingredients sourced straight from the market, is served up to the crowds who gather at its small cluster of tables, swilling cheap house wine while they wait. For shoppers without time to stop, Basta Pasta offers their made-from-scratch fare in a to-go container. Choose the shape and sauce of your pasta, select toppings, and then grab a plastic fork. You and your meal are good to go.