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A food-lover's guide to Middle Eastern cuisine

The best falafel, sabich, shawarma, kebab, jachnun, shakshuka, and of course, hummus in all of the Holy Land

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Foreigners may think they know Middle Eastern cuisine, but NEWS FLASH: we're not just all Israeli salads and falafel. While Israelis are serving up some pretty heavenly hummus, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, and beyond are both honoring tradition and redefining the classic staples with fresh, innovative takes. Some have mastered the Israeli art of the pita pocket, others spice things up with shakshuka that packs a punch, and some hold true to their Yemenite roots with Saturday morning Jachnun in HaKerem. Time Out is honoring it all with our food lover's guide to Middle Eastern cuisine.

Jew don't say!

The best kosher restaurants in Israel
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The best kosher restaurants in Israel

Israeli kosher food goes way beyond your deli classics or your bubbe’s Shabbat signatures. From Asian to Italian, street food to fine dining, there’s nowhere aside from Israel where you’ll find the level of diversity and quality when it comes to kosher food (and wine!). To help you cover all of your kosher cravings, we’ve rounded up the best Rabbi-approved kosher restaurants in Israel. 

The best Jewish food in Tel Aviv
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The best Jewish food in Tel Aviv

Cuisine, from the street to haute, is not something for which the Jews are renowned. We're good at math, science and money and bad at drinking and avoiding national trauma. We gave the world matzo and we have been punished accordingly. Jewish food refers to what we nicked from the Eastern Europeans. This means chopped liver, gefilte fish, ikra, brisket, stuffed spleen, kneidlach, kreplach, kishke and that all-glorious sabbath meal, cholent. So if you are up for the challenge, here are the best places to chow down on some funny named dishes.

Hummus heaven

The 8 best hummus shops in Haifa – from authentic to inventive
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The 8 best hummus shops in Haifa – from authentic to inventive

The smooth and creamy concoction, in both its hot and cold forms can be found on many a street corner in Haifa. Spun into wells on a plate topped with olive oil and parsley, and drowned in the savory topping of your choice, you’ll be in heaven from the very first bite. Here in Haifa, it is not a party dip, but a hearty lunch. Not just a food, but a sub-culture, and the hummus shop that serves it is the meeting point for your next Friday brunch – Israeli style. There are “ways” to eat it, and everyone claims to be an expert, but as long as you indulge in the creamy goodness, every little thing will be just fine. Here are our top picks for the highly debated prize of the best hummus restaurants in Haifa.

The most authentic hummus restaurants in Tel Aviv
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The most authentic hummus restaurants in Tel Aviv

While you can wander down just about any Jaffa or central Tel Aviv street and find at least one – if not more – falafel stands and hummus shops, we’re all about quality over quantity. The warm, creamy combination thrives on the perfect balance of stewed chickpeas, lemon, garlic, tehina, oil and other herbs & spices. From decadent flavors to ideal textures and adventurous toppings (including vegan-friendly options like sautéed mushrooms or the iconic meat-lover’s ground beef), these hummus hotspots set themselves apart from their tourist trap neighbors. Check out the best hummus restaurants in Tel Aviv for a little taste of heaven that will keep you coming back again and again and again...  

Israeli breakfast

Jachnun at noon: the dos and don'ts of the flaky Shabbat breakfast staple
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Jachnun at noon: the dos and don'ts of the flaky Shabbat breakfast staple

There's no better way to start Shabbat morning than with a plate of jachnun, the decadent and filling Yemenite pastry that takes ten hours to prepare and ten seconds to devour. While those outside the loop have no idea what they're missing, those in the know scoff at their bloodshot eyed friends guzzling back futile energy drink-espresso-Tylenol cocktails the morning after a wild Friday night. One bite of flaky, caramelized goodness topped with the perfect Bloody Mary alternative (a spicy tomato and cilantro-based hot sauce called skhug) and you'll be kissing that hangover goodbye...and kissing that hard-boiled egg hello.   While more grueling to make than challah, finding the perfect place to acquire jachnun can be a lifelong endeavor. After much soul searching, I have found the place I can call home (for an hour at least until I'm kicked out for the next customer). And so, to help you on this difficult journey, I've assembled my infinite wisdom to give you a guide to the dos and don'ts of 'jachnnuning' in the Holy Land:         DO: go to the source. Wander through the enchanting narrow backstreets of the Yemenite Quarter (Kerem HaTeimanim). Tucked behind Shuk HaCarmel is Jachnun Buba. This tiny hole-in-the-wall is most distinguishable by the crowds of jachnun-lovers in on the secret. Grab a seat, order fast while supplies last and smile at your small accomplishment. (23 Beit Yosef St)   DON'T: pay attention to the stray cats enjoying the leftovers of the naive

The best Israeli breakfast in Tel Aviv
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The best Israeli breakfast in Tel Aviv

Israeli breakfast is a rite of passage for those visiting Tel Aviv and whether you head to a place that sticks to the classics (eggs, chopped cucumber and tomato salad with a range of house-made spreads) or veers away from the norm with options like shakshuka, bourekas or jachnun, we guarantee you'll be tied over for the rest of the day. So, If you’re looking for some serious a.m. fuel to charge up before a day of activities and shopping in the White City, turn to these Tel Aviv restaurants and you will not be disappointed.

Haifa’s best boutique Israeli breakfasts
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Haifa’s best boutique Israeli breakfasts

Israeli breakfast is Israel’s answer to the relaxing weekend brunch. It is a time to sit in your favorite spot – whether it be a Jerusalem café, a bustling Tel Aviv bakery or a Haifa restaurant – and enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. At the heart of every Israeli breakfast is: eggs cooked to your liking, a basket of fresh bread, a variety of spreads, dips, fresh salads and cheeses. And at the heart of Haifa are five of the best boutique Israeli breakfasts in the city. These are the local neighborhood cafés that are handcrafting their breakfasts with care from only the freshest ingredients - a delicious and inspirational change from the ordinary, and a must try any day of the week on your next trip to Israel’s North.

The best shakshuka in Tel Aviv
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The best shakshuka in Tel Aviv

Israel has some of the finest tomatoes in the world, so it’s no wonder they are a daily dietary staple. From raw to slow cooked, Israelis have mastered making the most of their abundance of this fresh produce, which explains the ease with which they've accepted the vegan trends. Enjoy the art of the tomato in its full glory as it is put on display like an exhibition, while also getting your fill of protein and energy revving spices by treating your taste buds to a warm pan of shakshuka. This dish promises a true traditional Israeli breakfast experience. If it’s your first time, be ready to come back - no one eats shakshuka just once. If you want to try it at home, head up to the closest market, or for different budget meals, take a look at our list of best street food in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Bet you can't eat just one.

Street eats

Authentic Jaffa street food
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Authentic Jaffa street food

Some of the best things to eat on a budget – and eat period – can be found on the streets, Jaffa's streets to be exact. Though the food truck trend has yet to hit Israel, Jaffa is a goldmine for top notch, authentic street food. Most authentic Jaffa street food is not only quick to cook up, but very filling, making it the perfect fuel for a long day of exploring the city, including areas nearby like Neve Tzedek with its incredible jewelry shops and designer boutiques and the ever-so-hipster Florentine. Here’s to joyfully chowing down on the best hummus your taste buds have ever met!

10 history-rich Haifa street food establishments
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10 history-rich Haifa street food establishments

While the Tel Aviv street food and Jaffa street food scenes are on the steep rise, Haifa street food carries a particularly rich history, with classic establishments that have been holding their own for decades. Now, with an influx of trendy eateries that have popped up in recent years and even months, the definition of good street food is broadening, which leaves Haifa swimming in an abundance of possibilities for a delicious and cheap quick bite out. Here are just ten Haifa restaurant selections, four of which represent the city’s old school charm, while the other six tap into the new Haifa food scene – continuing to grow and evolve with each passing day. Any of these options are perfect for a delightful meal in the city, and are sure to make your day on your next visit.

The best Tel Aviv street food
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The best Tel Aviv street food

Tel Aviv's best street food is not only delicious for its sheer flavors and innovative twists on classic grab-and-go recipes, but there is also something to be said about sitting outside in a casual spot with satisfied customers sharing tables and inhaling their food. Tel Aviv street food is also a mix of Tel Aviv moments - where friends run into one another and catch up, the menu of the day is handwritten on kraft paper and your name is yelled out into the chaos for pick up. It's especially tasty after a night out, whether clubbing at the Port, hunting for hidden speakeasies or keeping classy at the opera. For even more cheap eats and finger-lickin' goodness, head south for authentic street food in Jaffa or try every kind of shakshuka imaginable at the best shakshuka spots in Tel Aviv.

The most authentic Jerusalem restaurants
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The most authentic Jerusalem restaurants

While street food in Israel isn’t hard to come by, it’s hard to weed out the authentic eats from the tourist traps. Jerusalem’s food scene is one where like its classical musicians, Jewish authenticity takes center stage. Even the hottest spots thrive on Jerusalem’s genuine vibe, as hip night spots lead by chefs bring out the beauty of the market, delighting locals and visitors alike. In all this hustle and bustle, no matter how hip, there’s always a touch of vintage, history and Jerusalem-chic. From traditional sabich and falafel to new school pita pocket fillings like fried red mullet and "chraime" (a spicy North African fish dish), Jerusalem restaurants are serving up the goods. Join Keren Brown in her foodie adventures as she explores the Holy City to hone down on Jerusalem’s most authentic spots from little nooks serving piping-hot bourekas to cozy no-frills restaurants serving homemade dumplings.

Pita pocket perfection

Get your falafel and sabich fix with our Pita Pocket Picks
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Get your falafel and sabich fix with our Pita Pocket Picks

After just one flavourful bite of vegan-friendly greasy grub from these falafel and sabich establishments, you’ll be singing, “I got a pocket, got a pocket full of sunshine” from the rooftops. Walk down the busy streets of Tel Aviv any time of day and you’re bound to pass at least ten shops serving up Israeli street food squeezed between chic designer boutiques and vibrant juice stands. With so many options, how do you weed out the authentic street eats from the tourist traps? By following our helpful guide to pita pocket paradise. We’ve scavenged the city far and wide in search of the juiciest chickpeas, crispiest eggplant, and perfectly hard boiled eggs in Tel Aviv. The lines may be long at famous Tel Aviv restaurants like Frishman Sabich and Falafel Gabay, but with good reason. Grab some free pickled vegetables and some patience because we promise you, these spots are well worth the wait.

Not your average falafel stand: check out the newest pita-packed creations
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Not your average falafel stand: check out the newest pita-packed creations

We get it, falafel is delicious. Yes, sabich is so sensual it can make you feel things you’ve never felt before. But, imagine a world outside these staples...a pita-centric world packed with new flavors, vegan cauliflower creations that will melt-in-your mouth, and meats so juicy they might even give you an orgasm. The Tel Aviv and Jaffa street food vendors have been on their game this year as they come up with new ways to elevate the fluffy pita, following in the footsteps of Eyal Shani, while Jerusalem is holding strong to their authentic roots, but also upping their game. Check out what these popular pita spots have to offer.

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