Here for the Falafel

In Israel, dining is a way to experience many different cultures

By: Riana Lagarde

The safest airport in the world is in Tel Aviv. Well-trained security officials check and re-check, barraging travelers with questions. In the manner of a psychological profiler, the woman at passport control asked my reason for visiting Israel.

“I’m here for the falafel,” I said.

Israel is the chosen Holy Land for 80 scattered nations on a strip of land about the size of New Jersey, where settlers schlepped their precious belongings including prized recipes.

People from all over the world contribute to Israel’s kitchen. There is not one typical plate, but a variety of different cuisines. Russians brought borscht, a delicious beet soup; Ethiopians packed injera, a sourdough crepe; and Yemenites and their Arabic neighbors brought to the table a bounty of foods ful, hummus, shwarma and (my favorite) falafel, a spicy deep-fried vegetarian treat.

My holiday started in Tel Aviv at a typical Balkan restaurant, dining on ciorba (a sour meat and vegetable soup). Olga’s is a simple eatery with hearty goulash soups, and my jetlag wore off as I crunched on homemade pickles and planned my food quest.

That night, I found a falafel stand (there’s one on every corner) where the falafel balls (made with garbanzo beans) were perfectly browned; the tahini sauce was heavenly; and the pitas were soft. I had my choice of cabbage, onions, tomatoes and condiments which I lingered over thoughtfully, and then decided to have them all.

Galilee, in the north, is one of the most beautiful parts of Israel with archaeological ruins, grottos and the secretive sect of Druze. They are known for their generous hospitality, belief in reincarnation and fabulous pita bread.

Hungry travelers should seek out Misedit Hakeves a wonderful restaurant just north of Haifa. There, I feasted on a traditional Arabic Druze meal with gusto: stuffed vine leaves, tabbouleh, hummus, labnye (a yogurt cheese), a savory mutton stew and baklava for dessert.

To my delight at Shegar Restaurant in Jerusalem, I was brought an injera topped with chicken and dips like the trademark shuru and kik sauces. Here, eating with your hands is a must.

At the end of my trip back in Tel Aviv, I celebrated the Sabbath at Shmulik Cohen’s restaurant, the par excellence stop for Yiddish cuisine, including roasted goose, cholent with kishke and baked beef.

After sampling many meals in several cities, I found that the flavors and traditions of Israel’s cuisine are inseparable from the country’s distinct culture. And as for where to find the best falafel? Point your clients toward Haifa.


Falafel Hazkenim
18 Havadi St.
Wadi Nisnas Haifa

Misedit Hakeves (Druze)
On the highway between Daliat El Carmel and Usfiya

Olga’s (Balkan)
110 Jabotinsky St.
Tel Aviv

Shegar Restaurant (Ethiopian)
10 Agrippas St.

Shmulik Cohen (Yiddish)
146 Herzl St.
Tel Aviv