Israel is a great place for vegetarians and food lovers who want to enjoy local vegetarian and vegan delicacies. In fact, its capital Tel Aviv has recently become one of the top destinations for vegan food in the world. Israeli cuisine is heavily influenced by middle eastern cuisine because of it’s geographical proximity to The Levant. So, you are sure to find a few mid-eastern staples which have been vegetarian for centuries. Modern trends have led to some innovative vegan food restaurants in Israel and the whole vegetarian food culture in the country is driven by innovative cooking methods and also by the increasing awareness around animal-free eating for sustainability. Additionally, Kosher laws prohibit the mixture of meat and dairy products, so that makes being vegetarian a little bit easier as well. Whatever the motivation, vegetarian food is abundant and with some helpful information as listed below, you can truly enjoy your trip to Israel from the food point of view.
1) Learn to say I’m vegetarian in Hebrew
To say “I am a vegetarian” in Hebrew, you have to say “a-nee tseem khoh nee” or write down in Hebrew characters אני צמחוני
If you are vegan then you can say “a-nee teev oh nee” or write down in Hebrew characters אני טבעוני
You can then say:
“I do not eat any kind of meat, poultry, fish or seafood” which in Hebrew is – אני לא אוכל שום סוג של בשר, עופות, דגים או פירות ים
2) Print the following images and show them to your server while ordering
* if you have trouble printing the images below directly, then you can copy paste these images below onto a word document and then print*
Following are phrases that can be used to explain dietary restrictions, and what you can and cannot eat. Tick whatever is applicable. They are written in English and Hebrew characters. You can show this to your server while you order or ask the restaurant staff before you get seated. For menu in various languages (question 2), choose your language and strike out the others.
3) Try these Israeli vegetarian dishes
Hummus ( חוּמוּס ) and Pita ( פיתה ) – This is an all-time middle eastern classic. Made out of chickpeas and Tahina (sesame seed sauce), and then topped with pine nuts along with a drizzling of olive oil, this dipping paste is perfect to eat with the Pita bread. Unlike other parts of the world, hummus and pita are actually considered a full meal dish in Israel. If you like hummus, then you can eat it as if it is your only dish for a meal. As a vegetarian, you cannot go wrong with this one and it is available everywhere.
(Hummus with Falafel)
Falafel ( פָלָאפֶל ) – Another classic, the Falafel is basically deep fried balls made of chickpeas. Sometimes, fava beans are also added to the chickpea batter. They are served with hummus, in a pita sandwich, or placed over a layer of salads and pickled vegetables. Olive oil is drizzled over the dish in some places. These are one of the best vegetarian dishes that you can find not just in Israel, but across the middle east.
Baba Ganoush ( באבא גנוש ) – Baba Ganoush is made of cooked eggplant which is mashed and then mixed with tahina sauce and other spices. It is served as a dip, in a sandwich, or simply with pita bread, and looks very similar to hummus. It is often drizzled with olive oil as a garnish on top. Baba Ganoush has a smoky taste as compared to hummus because of the way the eggplant is cooked. Another great vegetarian option in Israel.
Sabich ( סביח ) – Sabich or Sabih is a very famous pita sandwich. It is a pita bread “pocket” normally filled with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, salad, and hummus. Nowadays, there are many other variants of Sabich both vegetarian and meat ones. If you don’t consume eggs, just ask the server to leave out hard boiled eggs from your sabich. Iraqi jews used to eat Sabich in the mornings and that is where the dish is believed to have originated. Tel Aviv has some well-known Sabich joints and you can definitely get a vegetarian one with hummus, falafel, and other sauces. One of the tastiest things you can eat in Israel.
(Sabich sandwich with eggplant, veggies, and sauces)
Dolma (Stuffed Vine/Grape Leaves) ( דולמה ) – Dolma is a dish of grape leaves stuffed with rice or vegetables and served with a yogurt sauce. Dolma can be vegetarian and non-vegetarian. There are meat stuffed dolmas as well. If you ask for a vegetarian one, then it is one more option when you go out to eat in Israel. Dolmas are popular in the middle east and even Greece.
Salad ( סָלָט ) or Fruit Salad ( סלט פירות ) – Salads are simply vegetables. The fruit salad will have fruits and will be sweet, almost like a dessert dish. If nothing works out, you can always eat salads. Israeli salads are tasty, as they may have feta cheese and olive oil along with various veggies. Plus, you can monitor what gets put into your salad and can customize it for dietary preferences.
Sambusak ( סאמבוסאק ) – Similar to the Indian samosa, this is a great snack item. Try the one filled with cheese or olives. Both are great. Sambusaks are supposed to be very good in Jerusalem. Marzipan Bakery and Pastry, 44 Agripas Street, Jerusalem.
Boureka ( בורקס ) – Boureka is a flaky pastry stuffed with different fillings like mushroom, cheese, eggplant, mashed potatoes, spinach, etc. It is consumed during festivals in Israel and can prove to be a great snacking item or even a meal. While the dough used to make the bourekas mostly contains egg, if you are ok with eating eggs or if you eat cakes that have eggs in them, then Bourekas should be vegetarian-enough for you. If you do not consume eggs, then you probably may want to skip the boureka unless the server can clarify that their bourekas are baked without eggs.
(fresh potato Bourekas)
4) Try these desserts
Halva ( חלווה ) – Israeli Halva is quite unique. It is very different from the famous Indian Halva. It is made of sesame tahini, sugar, root extracts, vanilla, and glucose. It is normally served as part of a breakfast spread. However, you can also find it being served almost like an ice-cream dessert. There is a sugar-free version of Halva as well. It is a great dish to try if you have a sweet tooth.
Kunafeh ( כנאפה ) – This is a classic cream pastry soaked in sugar syrup. It is made up of semolina dough, clotted cream, and nuts. Sometimes cheese is also used. It is a very well-known snack in the Arab world and Israel also has a version of it. Kunafeh is a great way to end any meal.
5) Iconic Food Joints of Tel Aviv
- Abu Hassan – The most famous and best place to get Falafel in Israel. Abu Hassan is located in the old city of Jaffa on 1, and is normally crowded and packed at all times. You may be seated with other families too as space is very limited. You cannot go to Israel and not go here for the classic hummus. Besides hummus, you should try the musabaha (hummus variation with whole chickpeas) and the ful (made of fava beans). If you want to be adventurous, then order the single bowl of all three (hummus, ful, and musabaha) mixed together. Scoop the musabaha with a piece of onion, that is how the locals eat it.
- Sabich Tchernichovsky – Sabich is an Iraqi Jewish sandwich that is very much loved in Israel. There are plenty of Sabich shops in all of Israel, but this one on 2, Tchernikhovski St is rumoured to be the best. The pita bread pocket is cut open and then loaded with eggplant, boiled eggs, sauces, tahini, and veggies. There are plenty of colourful vegetables like tomato, greens, cucumber, red cabbage, onions, etc. Finally, the sandwich is sprinkled with condiments and some spice mix. If you do not eat eggs, then ask the server not to put them in your sabich. But, do not ask them to remove the eggplant. There is a sign on the wall which literally says “No sabich without eggplant”.
- Johnny Benin Falafel – Located right next to Sabich Tchernichovsky on Tchernikhovski St is Johnny Benin Falafel. It is a small joint but known for one of the best falafels in Israel. Another must-try in Tel Aviv. The falafel is gluten-free too.
- Carmel Market – Carmel Market is a very well-known flea market in Tel Aviv. There are small eating outlets and plenty of interesting stuff in the food section of the market. Experience the buzz and energy of Tel Aviv here.
(different types of tea at the market)
- Bocca Bocca – Located in the food epicenter of Carmel Market at , Bocca Bocca serves Italian style street sandwiches. A few veggie options too. This one is top-rated with lots of 5-star reviews.
- Nanuchka – Georgian/Russian food but all vegan. Normally this type of cuisine tends to be meat heavy, but this must be one of the few places to feast on Georgian food without having the awkward conversation of “Please do not put meat, seafood, etc. in my food”. The restaurant had a change of ownership in June 2018, so call before you go and check if the restaurant is open.
6) Iconic Food Joints of Jerusalem
- Hummus Acramawi (Ikermawi) – Located at near the northern edge of the Old City is a hummus joint called Acramawi. Order the hummus with some falafel, it is known to be the best in Jerusalem. The dish is served with a side of onion, green pepper, and pickled cucumbers. The hummus is topped with chickpeas and olive oil and the taste has lots of flavors in it. You can even put some sour chili sauce to spice the hummus up. A must try in Jerusalem.
- Al-Arz refreshments – A short walk from Ikermawi hummus joint is a beverage joint called Al-Arz. It is on Sultan Suleiman 15 Jerusalem, Israel. You basically walk down Ha-Neviim St up until the roundabout, and then take left and walk a bit on Sultan Suleiman road. Try the refreshing almond juice here.
- Zalatimo Sweets – In the old city, a great place to get the sweet Mutabak is Zalatimo Sweets. This place is not easy to find, and you may have to ask the local shop owners for directions. The outside of the shop says number 4 and a piece of paper with the name Zalatimo Sweets is stuck on the glass door. Zalatimo Sweets is almost 200 years old and the ambience of the shop is like being transported to an ancient time. They make only one thing, and that is the Mutabak. It is filled either with cheese or nuts and topped with a syrup and powdered sugar. Another gem in the old city.
(streets of the Old City in Jerusalem)
- Modern – A highly rated restaurant on Modern,11 Rupin Rd. A decent number of vegetarian items are on the menu. Even desserts have vegetarian options. Check out the Jerusalem Tapas here.
- Nagila – All vegan restaurant with a creative menu. It is located close to the famous Mahane Yehuda market, on . The breakfast menu has a vegan omelet and a vegan shakshuka. The main course has interesting items like the vegan Moussaka and the Yamburger. The lasagne here is made up of a cashew cheese sauce. Decent place to go to if you fancy classic mid-eastern dishes that happen to be vegan because of the creative use of ingredients that substitute meat and dairy with plant-based options.
- Ha’Agas – If you are looking for vegetarian food in the famous Mahane Yehuda Market, then Ha’Agas is an excellent option. You can try the traditional Lebanese Kube that is made not with meat but with soybean and bulgar wheat. If you are thinking burgers, then there is one made with pine nuts. Quinoa balls with green tahini also gets good reviews.
- Machneyuda Restaurant – If you really want to splurge and try a high-end restaurant, then Machneyuda is a great option. They have vegetarian items on their menu, though most of it is meat and seafood based. But, this restaurant is very popular and highly rated. You might need to make a reservation in advance.
7) Iconic Food Joints of Ramla
Ramla has one of the best food markets in Israel. It is a great place to eat local food and food that has influences from nearby countries.
- Halil Restaurant – This restaurant, located on 6 Kehilat Detroit, is known of Hummus and Musabaha. While you may have had Hummus in many other parts of Israel, try the Musabaha here. It is slightly different from Hummus because the chickpeas are whole and not grounded with the sesame (tahini). The tahini is also raw. The paste is topped with chilies and olive oil.
- Turkish burekas – Burekas are Turkish savoury pastries that have a Balkan influence. They are filled with cheese, spinach, or other items. Normally, they are served with hard-boiled eggs on the side (or sometimes in the bureka). If you do not eat eggs, then simply ask the server to leave out the egg (either on the side or in the bureka if that is how they make them). Head to 3, Jabotinsky St and there is a joint called Ramla Boureka, run by Baba Haim’s grandchildren.
- Carmel Shevo – Down the same Jabotinsky St. from the bureka stall is Carmel Shevo. Try the cheese platter here. You get Bulgarian, Georgian, and Tzfat cheeses with olives.
8) Plan for a few options beforehand
While you cannot always expect to know exactly where and when you will eat, try to keep a list of few vegetarian restaurants in the area that you are going to visit. To create a list, use the following websites:
- https://vegan-friendly.co.il/ – This website gives a list of vegan-friendly restaurants all over Israel
- Here are some websites listing vegetarian restaurants in Jerusalem:
- A list of vegan friendly restaurants in Jerusalem
- Here are some websites listing vegetarian friendly restaurants in Tel Aviv:
- A list of vegan friendly restaurants in Tel Aviv
- A list on tripadvisor for Tel Aviv based veg friendly restaurants
- Here are some websites listing vegetarian friendly restaurants in the Sharon area:
- A list of vegan friendly restaurants in Sharon
- A list on tripadvisor for Netanya based veg friendly restaurants
- A list on tripadvisor for Herzliya based veg friendly restaurants
- Here are some websites listing vegetarian friendly restaurants in Haifa:
- A list of vegan friendly restaurants in Haifa/northern area
- A list on tripadvisor for Haifa based veg friendly restaurants
9 ) If nothing works out, then eat at these types of restaurants
Indian Restaurants – Indian cuisine has lots of vegetarian options. You can never go wrong with this option, and the food can be delicious too.
Coffee Shops/Cafes – A sandwich, a cake, or muffins can often be found in cafes of small shops in Israel. You might even be tempted to try out local tea and coffee flavours.
Italian Restaurants/Pizza Places – A simple pasta, a spaghetti, or a cheese/veggie pizza is a safe bet anywhere in the world, and Israel is no different. Just make sure the pasta sauce has no meat and the white sauce has no eggs (if you do not eat eggs).
Supermarkets – Do a shopping run at outlets of Shufersal/Rami Levy/other neighbourhood supermarkets, as they would stock local produce and western/imported/packaged foods. Look for items that can be identified easily as vegetarian (e.g. fruits, veggies, bread, pasta, snacks, etc)