Haifa Street Food Favorites
Before my travels began I mentioned to a friend my plans to visit Israel. Of everywhere he could have recommended, he told me I had to go taste some Haifa street food. He said it was some of the best food he’d ever eaten. He also said the general attitude and tolerance was different from just about anywhere else in Israel. People of many religions and political beliefs live side by side here, unlike a majority of the rest of the country.
Months later, I met a new travel friend at a free food tour in Sofia, Bulgaria. She told me she would be moving to Haifa and I had to CouchSurf with her. How could I say no?
Ha Sandwichem shel Bracha (Bracha’s Sandwiches) –
Shabtai Levi 12, Haifa
As my friend and I approach this small space she says it’s the most famous sandwich shop in Haifa. I’m not allowed to make any special requests, the owner will simply look at me and make a sandwich that should be one of the best I’ve had. Bold words.
“It’s not just a sandwich, it’s an experience.” – Bracha
As we step inside, the interior is a classic Israeli style with red and white tiles adorning the walls. A number of newspaper clippings and awards, new and old, are behind the counters and cover nearly two walls. There is a woman behind the counter who has clearly been doing this for a while. She’s making three large bags of sandwiches for a few teenagers. They continue ordering more, the line is getting longer and she gives them a hard time. About what, I don’t know as it’s in Hebrew. I soon learn she likes to give everyone a hard time.
My friend tells me of her plans to order a vegan sandwich and that the owner isn’t going to like it. She’s right.
It’s later translated to me that upon her request “You’re vegan, you don’t eat eggs? You don’t eat cheese or meat?” the owner exclaims, exasperated. “Go home!” she exclaims. Then she stares at her for a few moments longer and with a hint of a smile, tells her assistant to see if they have any hummus.
As for my request, I don’t have any input. I shrug and say everything, hoping to truly enjoy one of the best sandwiches I’ve had. She puts some roast beef and turkey on the grill with some cheese. She layers mustard, mayo and special sauce on a large, fresh baked bun. She adds in a few large pieces of fresh lettuce that peak out the sides, tomatoes and pickles. She takes her time with the whole process, with a certain rhythm that need not (and seemingly cannot) be rushed.
We are handed our sandwiches and they’re great! Simple, fresh ingredients come together beautifully. Soft bread on the outside that’s toasted underneath and crunchy lettuce and veggies with warm meat and cheese in the middle. Spicy mustard, mayo and special sauce add an extra pop of flavor. We eat every bite of our sandwiches and I tell her thank you, it was great. Bracha looks at me and (translated) replies, “It’s not just a sandwich, it’s an experience.”
Wow. She is right. What a fun and sassy character!
“I’m like Madonna. Everyone wants a picture.” – Bracha
My friend tells her I’m writing about my favorite Haifa street food to see how it compares to other foods from around the world. My friend asks her if I can take a picture with her. She replies, “I’m like Madonna. Everyone wants a picture.” and agrees. She motions for me to come behind the counter, smiles, hugs me, and takes a picture with me. This was one of my favorite experiences so far.
I then learned Bracha’s been making these famous sandwiches since 1970. That’s right, 45 years of sandwiches, an entertaining attitude and beaming smiles. What a gal.
Falafel Hwadi Micheal – Wadi Nisnas 21, Haifa 47654
A line of about 10 people extends from Falafel Micheal and into the street. Cars and motorcycles fly by and honk loudly at anyone who even thinks about stepping in their way. As the line moves forward I can see that one man stands packing the falafel wraps while another behind him is frying the little balls about 10-15 at a time. As I get closer to the front, I am handed one that’s been freshly fried and dipped in tahini to try. It’s almost completely green inside and I can taste all of the fresh herbs that pack this wonderful extra flavor. Unlike the often dry falafel I’m accustomed to in other parts of the world, this is crispy on the outside and luscious in the middle. I’m ready for some serious Haifa street food.
I order mine with everything when it’s my turn. Fortunately everyone speaks English. My pita is sliced at the end and opened up. About 7-8 falafel are rolled inside and the man then presses down on them, spreading them out inside the pita. A preparation style I have only come across here and makes for easier eating. Cabbage, a tomato and cucumber mix, pickled beetroot and pickles are all half dropped, half pushed inside. A generous amount of tahini is poured into the pita and one more ball of falafel is placed on top.
One of my favorite parts about eating these Haifa street food sandwiches is that they have a self-service bar with all of the hot sauces, peppers and other toppings you can add. I pour on a generous amount of chili oil.
The flavor combination of the freshly fried falafel, veggies, tahini and hot sauce is incredible. So simple and so healthy! I also love the combination of the soft pita bread with the crispiness of the fried falafel and crunchy cabbage. I continue adding chili oil as I go and try some of the other sauces that look like they have tomatoes and onion. Another sauce is green. There are some small green pickled peppers that are good as well.
As I prepare to leave I thank the guys in the kitchen. They’re excited to hear I enjoyed their food they offer me a free Arabic coffee to go. I agree and sip the sharp brew that tastes of cardamon as I walk home.
Everything costs around $4.50
Humus Fadi – 4 Ha’Bankim, Haifa
I had the unique opportunity to enjoy hummus here with my friend and local travel blogger Fadi Nwessir of FolanExperience. The owners were very friendly and recommended that our first round of hummus be a local dish called mshawashe. It’s made with a greater amount of tahini which gives it an almost soupy texture. It also has some extra herbs and whole garbanzo beans mixed in. I really enjoyed it.
For our second round, at the owner’s recommendation we ordered hummus with a sauteed beef and lamb combination. I didn’t have much meat while I was in Tel Aviv so this was a nice change of pace. Even more delicious than the mshawashe, this was some of the best hummus I’ve ever tried.
The pita bread was fresh, light and fluffy. The owners were very friendly, attentive and full of information to share with us about what we should order and the specifics of each dish. They took the time to make sure we enjoyed everything and really took care of us while we were there. It was nice to see such attention to service. We really felt like family.
You can read about my conversation with Fadi in my latest Street Food With a Local post, Haifa’s Hummus & Culture of Coexistence. As we dined on this delicious hummus, he explained to me the culture of this traditional dish and the local Haifa peoples’ reputation of coexistence and tolerance for one another, regardless of religious and political beliefs. It was one of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had in a while. Please take a look and let me know what you think.
Haifa Street Food Recap
Haifa’s people were some of the most welcoming and thoughtful I’ve met on this journey. From my incredible host to the restauranteurs I’ve mentioned above, everyone was smiling and eager to chat. I highly recommend spending time in this wonderful city. See a few of the sites, such as the Bahai Gardens, enjoy some impressive Haifa street food, but stay to talk to the locals and hear what they have to say. They’re eager to meet new people and you’ll learn a lot. I sure did. When in doubt, strike up a conversation with someone passing by and ask them where they find their favorite Haifa street food.
L’Chaim! (Cheers in Hebrew)
A huge thank you to J.J. and Adi for recommending I head to Haifa! Also, thank you to Fadi for taking the time to have some hummus and explain the local culture. I had such a great time!
What’s your favorite Haifa street food? Please comment below!
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