I lived in Israel for about 3 years.
Before I moved there, I visited 3 times. I wouldn’t call myself an Israel expert, but I would say for an American chick with fatal food allergies, I’m pretty freaking close.
When I moved to Israel I spoke very little Hebrew. Having visited a few times before, I did have some very, very basic knowledge of the language. But not enough to get by. And not enough to explain my allergies.
So with that being said, before I moved there I had a friend translate the severity of my allergies into Hebrew so I could hand that off to waiters. Ha! Joke’s on me. All waiters in Tel Aviv speak English.
And not only do they speak English, but they are very understanding of food allergies and intolerances. I’d say 8/10 times I ate at a restaurant, the waiter would say something along the lines of, “Eh… it is good that you said something. You know…this is ehh… very serious. It can kill people. I will tell the …ehh… chef. Make sure you tell everyone about this allergy.” (Please tell me you said that with a thick accent in your head? If not, I quit.)
And my response was always something along the lines of, “Haha thanks. Ya I know – I’m one of the ones it can kill. Good job being so in tune with it!”
And just like that, a dialogue starts, free peanut and nut free appetizers and desserts are given, and of course one or two shots of alcohol is had with the waiter.
Cheers to life, you know?
Additionally, Israel is the vegan capital of the universe (don’t quote me because it’s not true… but it is legitimately so easy to find vegan and therefore dairy and egg free food).
And while we’re on the topic of restaurants, thanks for steering me here, I thought I’d add a few of my Tel Aviv favorites.
Tel Aviv Food:
Port Said – A trendy restaurant/ bar. They have this tomato, creme fraiche, bread dish that I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
Beit Romano- An even trendier version of Port Said. Owned by the same chef, the food and drinks here are nearly identical. Go here if you want more of a hipster vibe.
Abu Hasan – Amazing hummus.
We Like You Too – Next to Habima in the heart of the city. This little coffee kiosk is an incredible way to start your day. Not great for us allergy folks – food wise – but the coffee is by far the best in town.
Room Service – Incredible cocktails and food. I always opt for the chicken schnitzel there. It’s huge and incredibly delicious.
Rothschild 12 – Awesome food, drinks, and vibe.
Allora – Easily one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
Miznon – Simply amazing. There isn’t a single thing there that isn’t delicious.
Tel Aviv Food to Avoid:
If you are allergic to sesame (pronounced SoomSoom) – avoid tahini, halva, and hummus
If you are allergic to chickpeas (called Hummus beans there) – avoid hummus
If you are allergic to dairy – your safest bet is to eat at kosher meat restaurants. No dairy will be on the premises.
If you are allergic to eggs (pronounced bay-tz-eem) – do not eat shakshuka or sabich
If you are allergic to tree nuts (pronounced egozeem) – pay special attention to pine nuts (snowbareem), as they are common in salads and hummus
If you are allergic to peanuts (pronounced botneem) – do not eat bamba, a peanut snack
If you are allergic to shellfish – you won’t have too much of an issue in Israel. Shellfish isn’t super common
If you are allergic to soy (pronounced soya) – always ask, but not many Israeli foods contain soy
If you are allergic to wheat – avoid bakeries
And while eating out is an awesome part of the Tel Aviv experience, so is going to the market. Israel has your classic grocery stores – and your not so classic bazaar. And a bazaar in Israel is called a shuk.
The shuk is an outdoor market with vendors selling everything from socks to bananas. It is also lined with amazing restaurants and bars.
When walking through the shuk, allergic or not, I highly recommend wearing closed-toe shoes. That’s simply because of how dirty the ground gets. Not fun for bare feet.
You should also be being extremely cautious. At the shuk vendors sell nuts alongside the spices and dried fruits. So if you are airborne to tree nuts, I suggest avoiding certain areas of the shuk altogether. If you are touch sensitive, purchase your produce from vendors that don’t sell nuts.
The shuk is an experience in and of itself. It’s a people-watching, produce- wielding place that is incredible to witness.
Staying in Israel
Over the course of my first month, I was able to sufficiently explain the severity of my food allergies and have a conversation about them in Hebrew. While everyone in Tel Aviv speaks English, that isn’t the case for the entire country. So if you’re unable to relay the severity of your allergy in the native language, I suggest bringing allergy cards with you. That way you’re never in a bind.