Israel is an amazing country — and that includes the food. It's rich in flavor and usually made with fresh ingredients right on the spot.  If you're looking for unique and delicious food on your next adventure, Israel should definitely be on your list.

When I visited Israel in the summer of 2018, I was amazed by the people I met and the meals I ate. I asked four of my Israeli friends to share some of their thoughts on Middle Eastern food with me. Here's what they said.

1. Israeli Food Isn't Just Falafels

falafel, meat, bread, beef, vegetable, parsley, salad, tomato, lettuce
Emma Noyes

"There's a common assumption that Israelis eat falafels and hummus every day" Yael Coro said. "However, this is definitely not the case."

Israeli food is much more diverse than just falafels and hummus. From shawarma and pita to eggs, fresh fruit and pasta, Israel has a large and diverse food scene.

"There is so much diversity with Middle Eastern food. It is possible for me to eat something different all three meals for an entire week and never eat the same thing twice," Coro said.

2. Shakshuka Is a Favorite

Elle Brandt

Out of all four Israelis I spoke with, every single one of them raved about shakshuka — a dish made with tomato sauce, onions, mushroom, peppers, garlic, basil and eggs.

My friend Misha Belov said shakshuka is often eaten with challah and cream cheese. Belov usually makes this dish on weekends with friends. If you want to taste this Middle Eastern favorite, get some friends together and follow this traditional recipe.

3. Spices, Spices, Spices!

condiment, pepper, chili, curry, turmeric, cumin, herb, cilantro, cinnamon
Amanda Fung

Spices are a must when preparing Middle Eastern food. Some common spices used in Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes include paprika, cumin, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary, coriander and turmeric.

Many of these spices provide not only flavor but health benefits, such as turmeric which can reduce inflammation or cinnamon which can help regulate blood sugar. 

"Many friends of mine take curcuma (turmeric) pills because it is very healthy for you," Lea Benero said. Benero moved from France to Israel at 12 and is an Israeli soldier.

4. Israel is a Melting Pot, Which Means the Food is, Too

Elle Brandt

Jerusalem is known as one of the holiest sites in the world. The old city is divided into four quarters: The Jewish Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, The Christian Quarter and The Muslim Quarter. People from across the globe move to Israel to live near this holy place. In the 1950s, many immigrants who were seeking religious freedom came from Europe, Arab countries, Asia and Africa. This mass influx of people brought many different traditional foods and ingredients with them. 

If you travel anywhere in the Middle East, you will probably notice some similarities in food: similar tastes, spices used, preparation of dishes and even main courses. You can thank the unique and amazing melting pot of Israel for that.

5. Freshness is Key, Always

Elle Brandt

When cooking Israeli or Middle Eastern dishes in general, my Israeli friends all mentioned the importance of fresh ingredients.

"Always use fresh ingredients and as little processed food as possible. The more fresh vegetables and fish, the better," Assaf Tadmore said. Tadmore is a close family friend who was born and raised in Israel. 

Yes, Trader Joe's hummus is pretty good, but there is nothing like fresh hummus made with your own two hands or those of a friend. Not only do you know the work put into its creation, but you also know exactly what's in it.

My Experience in Israel 

I traveled to Israel for 10 days in the summer of 2018 with UCLA's Hillel group. My time spent in Israel was short, but well worth the trip. Our group spent a couple days in Haifa, Tzfat, Elat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I encourage anyone considering traveling to Israel to go — the people (and, yes, food!) are amazing.