While some food historians and other academics question the existence of a proper “Israeli cuisine,” the fact is that Israel’s many home chefs have forged a national menu every bit as diverse as the European cuisines that many mistakenly regard as monolithic. France and Italy are big countries with hundreds of regional cuisines, but both French and Italian cuisines are treated as singular traditions. Israel is much the same; ever since its declaration of independence nearly 70 years ago, it has welcomed Jews from around the world, and the country’s cuisine reflects the diversity of its population.
Because it is a Jewish state, many of Israel’s most recognizable dishes are foods associated with specific Jewish holy days, including the latkes of Hanukah or the cholent of the Sabbath. However, Israel has also incorporated a great deal from the cultures of its neighbors, resulting in a perhaps surprising abundance of excellent Middle Eastern food, including uniquely Israeli hummus and falafel. Moreover, the food of its inhabitants’ previous homes, including Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, has substantially influenced Israeli cuisine.
Israel’s best meal is arguably breakfast, which is traditionally large. While eggs and coffee will be familiar to most diners, Israel offers its own delights. Visitors to the country will do well to try things like rugelach, a delicate pastry, or shakshuka, a tomato-and-pepper heavy egg dish.