Lunch Things that Philly Could Learn From Israel

I recently snuck away from the sweaty Philly streets to the equally sweaty streets of Israel. In between taking in the amazing ancient sites, I did some eating. And there were more than a few lunches that Philly should take note of.

1. Street Food

First off, the street food scene is as real as it gets. At the base of the Druze town of Daliat Harmel is a market for locals with clothing, random household appliances, dvds, and lots of olives. Sharing the tarped outdoor space  is a group of friendly women making fresh laffa bread stuffed with different vegetables.

How could I resist? My fresh from the oven laffa bread was stuffed with spinach and labneh- a kind of sour cream.

And right by the laughing laffa ladies was a frank faced fava man, dishing out servings of fresh fava beans from his vat and dusting each batch with cumin and salt. Philly should take note, and get ourselves a fava cart as an alternative snack to say, pork roll. (kidding… mostly)

2. Sandwiches

Philly knows some things about sandwiches. Whenever out of town friends ask about the can’t miss food spots, I can’t help but direct them to our fabulous sandwich spots. But Israel has a few sandwich tricks up their sleeves that we can only dream about.

While walking through the town of Svat, some young ladies accosted us and put falafel samples in our face that made me realize that everything I knew about falafel was just wrong. The place is called The Balcony and here, they cut pita with box cutters. And they top the sandwich off with french fries. Bad ass.

The falafel were fried to a crisp and crazy moist inside. If Maoz’s falafel ever got introduced to these, they would feel really really bad about themselves.

You can’t talk about Israel’s food without talking about shawarma, right? At Hakosem in Tel Aviv my luscious pieces of shawarma meat came, in typical Israel fashion, topped with greatness- eggplant and a falafel. And, also common to Israeli restaurants, there was a bar of pickled things to add to your plate.

I didn’t realize that schnitzel was a common Israeli dish, but  many casual eateries churn these breaded chicken cutlet sandwiches out like its no big deal.

3. Kubbe

While I have enjoyed fried kibbe at Hamifgash and Alyan’s I had never even imagined it unfried and in soup form. An Israeli solider introduced me to kubbe soup, which can be made with beets (picture at top from a small restaurant in the Jerusalem market called Rahmo) or lemony (picture at bottom), both are kind of sweet and sour and both feature vegetables plus the semolina-meat dumplings. The contrasts of flavors and textures makes this soup  so satisfying that I lapped it up despite the high temperatures.

And while we are on the topic of awesome things that Israel has but we don’t,  can’t Wawa get some chocolate bars with pop rocks in them and peanut butter flavored cheetos?



  • Jamie, I too was just in Israel. Had such incredible Shawarma while I was there, drooling just thinking about it.

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    A couple of clarifications. First, kub’ba isn’t unfried kibbe, they’re two entirely different things. Kub’ba are essentially dumplings. Kibbe, whose exterior shell is made of an entirely different substance than kub’ba, also should be stuffed with pine nuts and/or raisin, which you don’t put in kub’ba.
    Second, there’s nothing Israeli about them, as they’re both Arab dishes, with the Kub’ba in beet sauce (also known as kub’ba shwandar) brought over by Iraqi Jews. If the sauce is soupy, they overcooked it. Made properly, it’s a wonderful, sweet and sour dish.
    Third, what, no Sabich (another Iraqi Jew specialty)?
    Lastly, the schnitzel is more an Eastern European thing that Ashkenazi Jews brought with them. No real ethnically middle easterner eats anything breaded.

  • @seth, thanks for your input. At the restaurant that I was taken to by a native Jerusalemite both the fried and soup form of the meat dumplings were spelled “kubbe” on the menu. I know they aren’t the same exact thing, but both are delicious balls made of meat wrapped in dough. I love both versions.

    As for the non-Israeliness of it all, I was simply reporting on things that were (1) common to eat in Israel (as directed by my Israeli friends) regardless of their origin (2) delicious, and (3) not really available or not available as deliciously here in Philly. Don’t all the pictures look tasty? That’s what really matters.

    And Sabich is available here in Philly, I know Mama’s Vegetarian serves up that sandwich and people love it.

  • FG, I’ve got nothing to say on the kibbe question, except that you should try and seek out some Kibbe Nayyah at a Lebanese restaurant sometime. It’s kibbe with the training wheels off. Had some at a place in Dearborn, MI a few months ago and found it pretty tasty.

    Isreal is such a great food spot. I had some awesome Ethiopian food there. I’m gonna have to tell you about some of the food I got up into while in Bhutan and India recently, but for now I’m stuck in St Louis. I’ve eaten toasted ravioli everyday I think.

    • Oh, and I had peanut butter Cheetos in Poland years ago (actual Cheeto brand). Gross. It ain’t easy being cheesy, but it beats being peanut buttery for sure.

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