Tel Aviv and Jaffa: Israeli Cuisine at its Finest

By Sarah Mann | Published on 5/29/2024
Israel might be a small country but it packs a huge punch, boasting an array of historical sites, beaches, nature, deserts and an extraordinarily eclectic culinary scene, which often leaves foodies feeling like they’ve died and gone to heaven.

From street fare bursting with flavour to refined and gourmet Israeli cuisine served up by world-famous chefs, the epicentre of Israel’s food scene is in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, where you’ll experience Israeli cuisine at its very finest.  Fluffy pita and crispy falafel…tender shawarma and sizzling fish…crumbly halva and sweet Knafeh…you’ll never go hungry in Tel Aviv and Jaffa!

Israeli Cuisine - Rich Flavourful and Diverse

Israel’s a true melting pot, with Jews from around the world settling here from the early 19th century onwards.  This means that the dishes you’ll be able to try range from typical Eastern European food (chicken schnitzel, goulash, matzah ball soup) to North African delights (Moroccan baked cod, Tunisian shakshuka, Yemenite breads), and everything served up is a reflection of the diverse population and the recipes they brought with them from lands across the globe.

Shakshouka - Middle Eastern traditional dish with poached eggs in tomato sauce with feta cheese

Culinary Treats at the Carmel Market

In many senses, there’s nothing more satisfying than Israeli street food - it won’t break the bank and will leave you wonderfully satisfied.  And whilst there are tiny places on every street, there’s no better place to head than Tel Aviv’s liveliest and most famous street market for a quick bite.

This bustling, lively market is a must-visit on any visit to Tel Aviv - head to Shlomo and Doron, open since 1937 for a plate of their legendary hummus, or grab a tasty pita filled with pita chicken, sheep fat and spicy tomato sauce at ‘Carmel’.  The tender lamb shawarma at Gertis is fantastic, and vegans can pick up a Sabich (an Iraqi sandwich, filled with egg, potato, salad and a spicy mango sauce drizzled over it named amba).

To finish, pick up with a classic Hungarian pastry at Kortush - these caramelised, nut-filled confections (sometimes filled with whipped cream) are decadent and delightful and go perfectly with a cup of traditional thick Arabic coffee.  Alternatively, the raspberry cookies, plum cake and chocolate babka at the renowned Lehamim Bakery are all hard to beat!

A baklava stand in the Carmel Market

Gourmet Cuisine for the Discerning Tourist

Tel Aviv’s fine dining and gourmet chef restaurant scene (offering plenty of special Israeli touches) has really been making a name for itself in the last ten years, with a number of simply unmissable restaurants, offering stunning creations, bursting with flavour and attention to detail.  With too many to write about, we’ve narrowed it down to three you have to try!

Yaffo-Tel Aviv, headed by superstar chef Haim Cohen, draws on childhood memories in Jerusalem combined with classic French techniques he learned abroad - your bread will be baked in a tabun (clay oven) and the sea bass in a tomato butter and white wine sauce is extraordinary.  

Popina is another fine-dining must - nestled in the picturesque Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, it’s overseen by Orei Kimchi, who is considered to be one of the country’s most creative chefs.  Serving both signature and seasonal dishes in an open kitchen, don’t miss the gin and tonic tartar and the foie gras buns, with one of their marvellous cocktails.  For dessert, it has to be the chocolate praline mousse!

Finally, you can’t miss Taizu, serving up exceptional South East Asian cuisine with a twist, inspired by chef Yuval Ben Neriiuh’s own journey to the Far East.  Inspired by the colours, textures and flavours of the street food there, he returned to Tel Aviv and opened this place.  The Shanghai dumplings (filled with veal cheeks and a pistachio masala, and butterflied sea bream with coconut, ginger and macadamia are phenomenal and their dessert ‘Charcoal corn’ (polenta cake, dark truffles and potato ice cream) really has to be tasted to be believed!

Tel Aviv's gourmet chef restaurants are experiencing a culinary renaissance, making the city a hotspot for food enthusiasts

A Taste of History in Old Jaffa

Old Jaffa is a magical place, home to an ancient harbour, a charming Artist’s Quarter and a vibrant flea market, not to all kinds of yummy delights.  Don’t miss breakfast at Dr Shakshuka - this traditional Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce is the perfect way to start your day.  In the flea market, stop for a craft beer at the Beer Bazaar or a jug of fresh lemonade with mint at Pua, one of the area’s oldest and most quirky cafes 

Anyone with a sweet tooth should head to Yaffe Knafeh, which serves up traditional Arab pastries, made with spun pastry, soaked in sweet syrup and layered with cheese and pistachios (if you’re feeling decadent, order a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it!)  

And dinner plans? Carnivores could do worse than booking a table at Onza, which serves up traditional Ottoman and Turkish cuisine with a twist - try the tender lamb shawarma, the beef pide and their unusual dessert ‘chocolate nemesis’.  

For fish lovers, you have to head to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ which is a legendary Jaffa restaurant, overlooking the Mediterranean.  Before you’ve even ordered your mixed seafood or grilled St, Peter fish you’ll be presented by twenty little meze plates with a variety of traditional Middle Eastern salads, and with free lemonade and coffee and an extraordinary view over the sea, you’ll be in your element.

Dr Shakshuka, one of the most populat restaurants of the city

Finally, if you've been bitten by the food bug, why not take a food-tasting tour in Tel Aviv where you can take a deep dive into the flavours and spices of Israeli food and learn more about the backstory of this country’s incredible culinary heritage.