Street Food In Israel

Fast, faster, fastest! If you're hungry right now, the streets of the Holy Land await your eating pleasure. Israel has a refined culture of noshing on the run, because everyone is always in a hurry and apparently hungry most of the time. Put food and drink in hand and join the locals.

To find the goods from falafel to papayas, look for the food stalls and kiosks that line Israel's main streets and shopping areas. Fruit and vegetable markets, notably Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Machaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem, offer snack opportunities. In Tel Aviv, Rothschild Boulevard and Ben-Gurion Boulevard have popular food kiosks offering made-to-order sandwiches and fresh-squeezed juices. In Jerusalem, try the Old City's hummus spots or home-style restaurants. Most fast-food stalls serve lunch only. The outdoor markets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem close in late afternoon and on Shabbat. In Jerusalem, no food stalls open on Shabbat, but in the Old City (except the Jewish Quarter) hummus and falafel joints do business.

Grab It and Go

Some street fare is substantial, whether it's falafel or the sandwiches on five-nut artisanal breads that are edging out traditional favorites in Tel Aviv. Other choices are lighter. Sold in markets, in bakeries, and on street stands are sweet pastries called rugelach: these two-bite-size twists are rolled up with cinnamon or oozing with chocolate. Just-roasted nuts or sunflower seeds are a quick pick-me-up; or sip fresh-squeezed juices such as pomegranate or carrot. Frosty frozen yogurt is perfect on hot days. In winter, try a cup of hot custardlike sahlab, perhaps sprinkled with cinnamon.

Falafel

The region's ultimate fast-food snack consists of deep-fried chickpea balls—the best are crispy outside with soft centers. "Falafel" also refers to the whole production of the balls served in pita pockets with an array of chopped vegetable salads plus hummus, tahini, and pickles that you add yourself and then eat (watch for drips!) with a waxed paper napkin for further refinement. Vendors compete with extra touches such as free salads. It's filling, nutritious, and cheap.

Hummus

Ubiquitous in the Middle East, hummus is a creamy paste made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, and tahini, a sesame sauce. You eat it in a pita or scoop it up from a plate with the same. In Hebrew, there's a verb for this action specifically related to hummus: lenagev, which means "to wipe." Heartfelt arguments prevail among Israelis over where to find the best hummus, but you should try it at a Middle Eastern specialty place; some of the best are on market alleys and side streets—even at gas stations.

Shawarma

For this fast-food favorite, marinated lamb or turkey slices are stacked and grilled on a vertical spit, then sliced off and stuffed into a pita. Accompaniments are usually the same as for falafel, though onion rings and french fries are other extras. Jerusalem mixed grill (me'orav Yerushalmi) is unique to the holy city; look for it on Agrippas Street, alongside the outdoor fruit and vegetable market. It's a well-seasoned meal of grilled chicken hearts and other organ meats eaten in a pita with grilled onions.

Tahini

Silky in texture, this sauce with a nutty, slightly sweet taste is made from ground sesame seeds, fresh lemon juice, and sometimes garlic. The tasty green variety has parsley chopped in. Tahini is used as a sauce and is the main ingredient in halvah, the famous Middle Eastern sweet. A popular dessert—among those not watching their calories—is a dish of vanilla ice cream topped with tahini and crumbled halvah and flooded with date syrup.

Bourekas

From the Balkans comes Israel's favorite snack: flaky, crispy, golden-brown bourekas. Best eaten warm, these pastry triangles, squares, or crescents are deliciously filled with tangy cheese or mashed potato or creamy spinach and sometimes mushrooms. Small (two bites) or large (four bites), they can be made of several kinds of dough: puff pastry, phyllo, and short pastry.

—By Judy Stacey Goldman

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