The Israeli Food Scene: Meat and Veggies


Part of a two-part series on Gabe Gerry’s experiences with Israeli food. Read Gerry’s piece about fruit, meat, and cheeses here.

Shawarma – that’s it, shawarma – the classic street food perfected in Israel. Shawarma is the huge cone, round slab of meat that is shaved off from the outside and into your warm pita.

In Israel, some of the best food was not at the established upscale restaurants but at the street vendors or places similar to Subway. When you approach one of these places, you can already tell that the food is going to be incredible, but first, you need to deal with the stress of ordering. In my group, there were only two people who spoke both English and Hebrew and ten others, so ordering food from somebody who spoke no English became quite an ordeal. The vendors are similar to Subway in the way they work: you choose if you want pita or a wrap, then what kind of meat you want, and finally you get to choose three different veggie salads for it. I tried both the wrap and the pita along with both the chicken and the lamb options. The lamb was incredible – super tender with great flavor – but I have to give the edge to the chicken. The chicken was perfect: moist, tender, and bursting with a whole palette of flavors new to me. I preferred the pita over the wrap as it added a lot more to the rest of the dish. One of the surprising standout stars for me were the salads. The classic, widespread Israeli salad that consists of diced cucumber and tomato turned out to be one of my favorite eats.

Shawarma is not for everyone. It is quite hefty and, of course, meat heavy. If this is the case for a hungry diner in Isreal, the solution and equal counterpart is the falafel. Wherever there is a shawarma place there is either a falafel place next door or within a minute walk. Before this trip I was weary of falafel, thinking that it would taste just like chickpeas, but I was wrong. Who knew that a ball of chickpeas could have so much flavor? The texture was spot on – the fried crunchy outside and the warm delectable inside made it a must get. When you order the falafel, you see them being dumped into the fryer, so when they’re ready for you they’re incredibly fresh.

As I have already noted, the highlight for both of these meals and among all of the veggies in general was the Israeli Salad, which contains diced-up tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and sweet pepper with a drizzling of olive oil and lemon juice. I put this on everything. I even ate it plain sometimes. This included for breakfast, in which I would put it on toast with some labneh – it was perfect.