Sure, you know about pita bread—though it’s fluffier in Israel—and you’ve heard of challah. But those are just the baby steps into the world of Israeli breads. Israeli food comes from all over the world, an amalgam of dishes from both the various cultural traditions that have long resided here and from the wide-ranging backgrounds of the immigrants arriving since the founding of Israel as a nation in 1948. Bread—the stuff of life—shows off that diversity better than anything. If you’re heading to Israel, these five breads will give you a crash course in all things made of dough.
Spotted with holes from fermentation bubbles, this spongy Yemenite flatbread has a touch of tang. If you’ve had Ethiopian injera bread, this might be familiar—it’s similar, though made with wheat flour, rather than teff. The wide bubbles from the fermentation leave the flatbread dotted with nooks and crannies—not unlike a crumpet. It often comes served with Yemenite accoutrements: baked eggs and a hot sauce called zhug, though it can be used to dip in stews or made with an egg on top.
Another Yemenite bread, this brioche-like loaf comes out of the limitations of religious duty: baking begins on Friday, leaving the bread overnight, so that come Sabbath morning, fresh bread comes out—with no work on the day of rest. The yeasted dough gets rolled in margarine or butter, then baked together in a special pan. The result is not unlike a monkey bread, but in a tall, mushroom shape. An accompanying dip of grated tomatoes cuts the grease a bit.
Bukharan Jews come from Central Asia, migrating to Israel from Uzbekistan. Like everyone else, they brought their local breads with them. Non, their main bread, is a big, round loaf—said to be modeled after the desert sun. At HaTikvah Market in Tel Aviv, you can see them baked in the walk-in Bukharan oven—slapped whole onto the wall of the sauna-like room. The bread itself is shiny, chewy, and thick, an essential part of the Bukharan meal, but it also makes a great snack with a little bit of honey.
The name means “life of the oven,” but not because this flatbread parties harder than the rest of the breads: it’s because the unyeasted, sugarless sourdough bread bakes in an oven said to be shaped like the womb. The baker drapes the round bread over a pillow, then slaps it up against the oven walls, where it bubbles up. Somewhere between a pita and a pizza crust, the sourdough air pockets trap warmth and flavor inside. The best version is the one topped with olive oil and za’atar, a local spice mix.
The Druze are a small ethnic minority in Israel, but their breads—and reputation for making them—are big. Known as Druze pita, the dough is stretched through a process of spinning it between the hands, then place on a pillow and flipped onto the dome shaped oven on which it cooks. The pita, which is large and thin, browns and bubbles lightly, but mostly stays flat and pliable. It’s folded up and served with labneh and za’atar.
Naomi Tomky is The Gastrognome, a Seattle-based food and travel writer and the world’s most enthusiastic eater of everything.