For those of you lucky enough to have no dietary restrictions, the ability of a country to cater to your needs (literally!) is not a high-priority criterion when deciding on a honeymoon destination. Unfortunately, I can’t count myself among you. I am (sigh) the gluten-free girl. That means wherever I travel, I need to spend a bit of time researching which local cuisine options won’t kill me, and how to ask about them in the native tongue. You might be surprised to learn that Israel is excellent at accommodating the needs of travellers in this way. That’s why this edition of the Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel will highlight what’s available for the intolerant and observant among us. There are restaurant listings available everywhere (Best vegetarian restaurants in Tel Aviv! Best kosher meals in Jerusalem! etc.), so this guide will focus on more general information about what’s available, wherever you go.
You can’t swing a cat in Tel Aviv without hitting a vegetarian/vegan menu. Veggie options are available everywhere – moreso than kosher, even (see below). This is partially because a lot of traditional Israeli foods fall into this category without modification (e.g., hummus, falafel), but also because Tel Aviv prides itself on being a cosmopolitan hub of progressives and bohemians and those communities more inclined to chose a plant-based life.
Even further out from the city, vegetarian options abound: virtually every restaurant and street-food vendor will have something to offer you, even in the regional and remote areas. In addition to hummus and falafel, you can try baba ghanoush, sambusak, pita breads, stuffed vine leaves, shakshuka and traditional savoury pastries (note: those last two may contain cheese, so be sure to specify vegan if necessary). That’s not even to mention the salads: they come with everything, and they are the freshest I’ve ever tasted!
I covered off a beginner’s guide to kosher in the last installment of this Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel. If you’re in the advanced class and keeping kosher as a matter of course, then Israel is definitely the place to do it! Being Judaism’s heartland, most restaurants and supermarkets are completely kosher, and will proudly declare themselves so with the appropriate certification displayed.
One word of caution, however: in Tel Aviv, we found that kosher options weren’t necessarily the default, which is understandable given that they’re catering to a high volume of non-kosher tourists from around the globe. What’s more, in the Palestinian (Arabic) communities, food outlets are predominantly halal, and asking about kosher options might be a political no-no. Ultimately, not all Jewish food in Israel is kosher, and not all restaurants are certified – don’t get too complacent if it’s deeply important to you.
This is my territory: a mild encounter with gluten is enough to put me out of action for days, so staying gluten-free on my honeymoon was a top priority. Luckily, I managed it no problem (save for the drama of plane meals and closed restaurants in Hong Kong airport on the outbound journey).
Gluten-free menus aren’t often marked, the way that vegetarian and kosher menus are, but you do stumble across them now and then. In the absence of a menu, I used a gluten-free restaurant card in Hebrew, but I didn’t even need to do that often. Usually, it was sufficient to order a meal and ask for “no bread” (e.g., omelets, chicken livers, salads, Mediterranean platters). They’ll look a little confused by the request, but if you’re polite and insistent enough, they’ll go with it.
Shakshuka is a great gluten-free option (again, just ask for no bread, or gluten-free bread if it’s available), and falafel made traditionally contains no gluten (double check that it’s not fried with other foods containing gluten). Vine leaves are a long-time favourite of mine, and I also got to eat stacks of delicious condiments (hummus, tahini, tuna-mayonnaise…). For a more comprehensive guide to what a gluten-free girl can eat in Israel, check out Part I of the Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel.
Given that vegan options are so plentiful, it should go without saying that the lactose intolerant will get along just fine in Israel… but I’m mindful of the fact that these are two distinct groups, so I’m addressing them separately here. Kosher food rules dictate that meat and dairy cannot be prepared or consumed together, so restaurants will either have a split kitchen (two sets of appliances and utensils, one for dairy and one for meat), or they will only serve one or the other. If you find yourself in a meat-only restaurant, you’re home and hosed!
As such, traditional dishes typically don’t combine dairy with meat, and – as mentioned above – the common condiments are all dairy-free as well (tahini, hummus, etc.). What’s more, given that kosher also requires people to wait a period of six hours between consuming meat and dairy, most restaurants will understand and accommodate “no dairy” requests without raising any eyebrows.
Is your dietary requirement not covered here?
I’m by no means a nutritionist or an expert, but if this guide doesn’t cover your requirement, please do feel free to get in touch. I’m happy to answer any questions as best I can, based on our experiences in Israel, and perhaps I can point you in the direction of additional resources. At the very least, you’ll have a fellow traveller to empathise with you over tricky requests in foreign tongues 😉 For more, don’t forget to subscribe below!