The Person Behind The Posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Food Shopping in Israel - new! with pictures

Whenever I have questions about how to translate it, where to buy it or how to prepare it, I find the people in my circle of olim incredibly helpful. 

When I asked fellow olim to share their tips for food shopping in Israel, I was overwhelmed with hundreds of Facebook messages and emails. I went to work, culling the duplications, deleting the personal opinions (unless they were mine) and dividing the responses into information about specific food items and miscellaneous tips about food shopping in general.

This took many, many hours more than I intended, but there's some really quality (and money-saving) information here.There is nothing about this post that pretends to be scientific or comprehensive. It's information that a very giving group of olim thought to share. I did my best to organize it. In some cases, Hebrew names are transliterated and in some case they are spelled in Hebrew letters. It depends on how I received the information.

My deep thanks to the members of the anglo olim community who responded so generously.

And now, here are some things we have learned along the way that might make things easier for you, whether you've yet to make aliyah or have already been living here for some time. Naturally, I take full responsibility for any errors.


Apple sauce: Canned resek tapuchim is not actually apple sauce.  It has pits and skin. It can be used 
for baking.

Baking powder: Avkat afiya (אבקת אפיה) is baking powder, but it often says it in English as well.
Some advise importing baking powder.
Sold in little packets, usually 10 per cellophane wrapper. One packet is about one scant Tbs.

Baking soda: Soda leshtiya (drinking soda) is baking soda.  It comes in little blue boxes next to the vanilla sugar. You can also find baking soda in decent-sized plastic containers (clear plastic, like the spice jars). It is sometimes labeled as Sodium Bicarbonate in English.

Bananas: It took me awhile to get used to Israeli bananas. They are slightly different. Although bananas are generally available year round, summer bananas often go from green to overripe without an edible stage in between. Winter bananas are much better. Also, Israeli bananas may look more brown and bruised than you're used to on the outside and still be perfect inside.

·        There is great bread in Israel, but it's not always possible to find an exact duplicate for what you are used to.
·        There are a couple of brands of packaged, lower calorie breads that are widely available.
·        There is no such thing as white bread in Israel. The closest is called לחם אחיד,  a government subsidized light rye.
·        There is also a government subsidized challah. It's very plain and very inexpensive.
·        Real Jewish rye bread is almost impossible to find unless you go to a special boutique like bakery such as Teller in Machane Yehudah (the shuk) in Jerusalem.

Bread crumbs: Come in cellophane bags, not cardboard canisters.

Broccoli: I had to forget all about the 10 oz boxes of chopped broccoli that were a staple in my American kitchen. I buy the 800 gram bags from the freezer case and I learned to slice the florets into smaller pieces for quiches and soups. I tried kitchen shears but a sharp knife on mostly defrosted florets works best. I've seen the price range by brand from 13 NIS to 40 NIS for the same amount of frozen broccoli. Bodek brand is available here but it's the highest priced.

Brussel sprouts: Frozen only. Imported. Not widely available.

Buttermilk: Rivion is the closest substitute, but you can often substitute with gil or leben. Or use milk and a bit of lemon juice.

·         It's often cheaper fresh than frozen.
·         If you buy frozen, check the date it was frozen.
·         Whole chickens cut in quarters or eighths are not sold here.
·         Buy a decent pair of chicken shears and learn to cut up whole chickens.
·         White meat is often cheaper than dark.
·         There is a difference between chicken wings for cholent and normal ones.

Cooking cream:
·         Called shemenet l'vishul.
·         Comes in 250 ml and 500 ml cardboard boxes like juice boxes.
·         Comes in 23%, 15%, and 10%. 
·         There is also a pareve version, though that's harder to find.
·         Half and half doesn't exist here. If you want coffee cream buy 10% cooking cream.

Cornmeal/Cornflour/Cornstarch - "Cornflor" can be either cornmeal (sometimes called kemach tiras and sold in the same section of the store as beans) or cornstarch (sold in the baking aisle).

·         Lots of people mentioned that it was scary to use to cheese counter but so worth it.
·         Sliced and grated cheese are significantly cheaper when purchased from the cheese counters.
·         The cheese counter is also likely to have types of cheese that you won't find in packages - like cheddar and feta.
·         If it's not crowded at the cheese counter or the cheese stand in Machane Yehudah (the shuk), you can ask to taste different cheeses.
·         You can ask at the cheese counter to slice your cheese thin.
·         Tnuva makes cheddar but it's very very mild. Ask for something "charif yoter" (sharper).
·         Many supermarket deli counters have pre-sliced packages of popular cheeses, such as Gilboa and Emek. This obviates the need to wait in line and is the same cheese that you have sliced to order at the counter. There are also pre-packaged grated cheeses, such as mozzarella and parmesan.
·         If you go to the cheese counter and ask for a mix you get shredded scraps of whatever's left over at the time.
·         Gvina levana (white cheese) is like soft cream cheese, with a little less tang.
·         Hermon is like a salty farmers cheese or a way less salty feta.
·         Baby belle cheeses in the red wrappers are not kosher in the US but are kosher here.
·         The cheese market in Machane Yehudah (the shuk) in Jerusalem has amazing white cheddar cheese from England that is OU.
·         Israel has lots of other cheeses that you can't get kosher in the US.
·         Tiv Tam cheese can most closely be described as pressed cottage cheese, but it's actually strained gvina levana. It is also used as a substitute for Philadelphia cream cheese in cheesecake. It comes in a block wrapped in plastic see through wrap. It spoils quickly so buy it close to use.

Cream Cheese:
·         Philadelphia is occasionally found here, but it's expensive.
·         Gvinat shamenet which is the cream cheese sold in the rectangular containers has a softer consistency. There is one in a black and white speckled tub that looks like a cow pattern and spreads like light cream cheese from the US.
·         The one most like whipped cream cheese here is Napoleon brand (gold & white container)  gvina shamenet b'signon Tzarfati and comes in cups in a few varieties. The one with the yellow daisy is plain.
·         Some people make their own cream cheese.  Take a cheese cloth and hang Israeli 5% cream cheese over night and in the morning you will get the cream cheese you are used to.
·         Another way to make your own cream cheese: add 1/8 teaspoon salt to shamenet and let it strain. You are left with whipped cream cheese.
·         Some use Israeli gvina levana instead of American-style cream cheese for cheesecake

Crembo: A marshmallow, cookie and chocolate confection that's ubiquitous in the winter and nowhere to be found in the summer. Comes in mocha and vanilla, in 8 and 40-packs.

Dairy products: Like milk in the US, many dairy products in Israel come in different fat percentages. This is true for sour cream, hard cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and, of course, milk.

·         Pastrama is not pastrami. It's turkey breast in different incarnations.
·         Try כתף בקר as an affordable beef cold cut.
·         Pastrama cafrit is close to American turkey bologna.

·         There are two dates stamped on eggs. The earlier one is the freshness date if the eggs are unrefrigerated.  The second is the freshness date when they are kept cold.
·         Egg shells are not, ahem... pristine here. Washing them introduces bacteria into the egg. They are, however, generally much fresher. You'll get used to it.

Egg noodles: Called itriot beitzim

Fish: A great chart by fellow oleh Marc Gottlieb on the different kinds of fish available in Israel.

·         White, whole wheat and 70% whole wheat are widely available.
·         Flour is sold by the kilo to avoid infestation.
·         Pre sifted is very expensive. Consider buying an electric sifter.
·         I have found the texture of the flour somewhat different, requiring that I add a bit more flour to some recipes.

Grains: Grains should not be bought in a corner store, but rather in one with a large turnover. When buying grains in cellophane, lift up one corner and check for webs, an indication of infestation.

Hawaij:  a Yemenite spice blend to give soups soup/cholent/stew a rich flavor.

Herbs:  Some herbs, including parsley (petrozilia), dill (shamir) and celantro or coriander (cuzbara) are highly perishable.  Cut them up and put them in small plastic bags and freeze. Use as needed.

Hot dogs:  Israeli hot dogs are generally chicken. Beef hot dogs are harder to find. Chofetz Chaim (a Jerusalem butcher that might be worth getting to know) sells beef hot dogs that are the closest to tasting like an American hot dog and they cost the same as the Israeli beef hot dogs. Also try the Tirat Zvi brand beef naknik americai which come in a package of six.

Ketchup: Israeli ketchup is sweeter. Heinz is widely available. We buy cheap Israeli ketchup for cooking and Heinz for french fries and burgers.

Lasagna: Comes in boxes about half the height of a 1-pound box. Dry lasagna is completely flat (no ruffled edges) and is both wider and thinner than lasagna in the US.

Leben: The pink and orange Yotvata brand leben tastes just like yogurt, is one-third the price and has natural colors  from carrots and beets.

Lemon syrup: Try Prigat brand lemon syrup to make lemonade and sweetened iced tea.

Margarine: One stick of American margarine/butter is 100 grams (half an Israeli stick).
Blue Bond stick margarines are widely available and come in yellow wrapper (unsalted), blue (salted), red (butter flavored). Yellow is best for baking.

·         Meat cuts in Israel take awhile to master. Here's Marc Gottlieb's great chart of the meatcuts you'll find in Israel.
·         You can get basar chamim (chulent meat) already cut into chunks.
·         Check that meat is kashered--sometimes it's sold without soaking/salting.
·         Ground meat is often mixed with soy.
·         Osher Ad and Rami Levy Mehadrin, both in Givat Shaul, have great selections of the OU Kashrut Israel line called "It's Fleisch" frozen meats with the names we are familiar with, such as brisket, corn beef, etc.

·         Skim milk is hard to find.
·         Generally, you can find 1% (red) and 3% (blue). Whole milk is basically 3%. These are the opposite colors from the US.
·         Sometimes 1.5% is available.
·         Milk comes in liter cartons and plastic bags. The bags are 1 liter, which is basically 4 cups.
·         Milk in plastic bags is price-controlled and should cost the same anywhere. It is also cheaper in bags than in cartons.
·         There are clear produce bags near the tubs of milk bags. I have found that the produce bags begin to tear if you put more than 2-3 bags of milk in them.
·         Milk doesn't have vitamin D added unless you buy Yotvata or Tnuva brand 3% milks.

Milk drinks: are milk with water and other flavors added

Oats:  Plain oats are found next to the sugar free stuff, or granola bars, health food, but never with flours, cereals, or grains. Instant oats can be found in almost any supermarket, but the price is around twice that of in the Machane Yehuda shuk, where you can also buy coarse oats. This is called Qvaker (from Quaker Oats.) There is Qvaker Dak-instant oats and Qvaker Ave-the coarse oats. You can also find these at a health food store.

Onions: Yellow (though they are called batzal lavan) and sometimes red onions are available. Raw onions are very strong here and peeling them is a challenge. I have never seen Vadalia onions in Israel.

Paprika: Paprika is sold with and without oil and hot and sweet. Hot paprika is not a bad substitute for cayenne pepper.

Parsnip:  Occasionally available in winter in limited markets.

·         Sufganiyot in Israel are not the same as American style donuts.
·         Herby Dan, Mr. Donut and Brooklyn Bake Shop have American style donuts.
·         Brooklyn Bake Shop has awesome black & white cookies (and a black & white cake) as well.

Pastry Dough/Pie Crust
It is possible to find prepared graham cracker crusts in Israel. If you use them, stock up when you see them because they are hit or miss. Some stores that cater to American olim sell pareve Oronoque prepared pie crusts, but they are very expensive. A great alternative is the widely available puff pastry dough . Comes in a sweet variety (called batzaik sh'marim - metukim in the green wrapper below) and a plain (batzaik alim). There are several brands. I have never been able to distinguish a flavor difference, so I just buy whichever is cheapest. They go on sale often.

Pickles: come in brine or in vinegar. Brine is most familiar to Americans.

·         Thin-skinned red and white potatoes are widely available. I hardly ever peel potatoes anymore.
·         If a grocery store sells potatoes in a mesh bag, it's perfectly acceptable to open the mesh and take only the size and quantity of potatoes you need.
·         I have seen fresh new potatoes (small) in the gourmet produce section. They are expensive.
·         Since canned potatoes are hard to find here, I just use sliced fresh potatoes in my brisket.
·         No russet/Idaho potatoes here.

Poultry: Marc Gottlieb's poultry chart.

Pizza sauce: יחין makes great lasagna and pizza sauce and they are very affordable. They come in tubs like the tomato paste.

Rubbing alcohol: comes in a tiny bottle and looks exactly like nail polish remover (acetone).

Salsa Rosa - a combination of sour cream and tomato sauce. Very common pasta sauce in restaurants.

Shamenet: Generally refers to sour cream (shamenet chamutza). But the word also refers to cooking cream (shamenet l'vishul), cream cheese (gvinat shamenet) and whipping cream (shamenet lhaktzafa which is 38%).

Silan:  Date syrup that makes a great substitute for honey or molasses.

Soup mix: Available in 1 Kg bags as well as the more familiar plastic tubs. Chicken soup mixes are available pareve and meat. Osem makes both without MSG. 

Sour cream:
·         Called shamenet.
·         Comes in 4-pack of small plastic tubs (200 ml each) or in 1/2 liter containers.
·         Sour cream is a perfect substitute for ricotta in baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.

·         Spices are often located close to the meat counter and not the baking aisle
·         Here's Marc Gottlieb's chart of the names of spices in English, Hebrew and transliterated Hebrew:
·         Here's Jacob Richman's spice chart.

Strawberries: Strawberry season in Israel is winter.

·         Sugar (white and brown) is a bit coarser than Americans are used to.
·         White sugar comes in paper or 1 Kg clear plastic tubs. A kilo in a paper bag is much cheaper so I buy in paper and refill the plastic tubs.
·         I reuse the tubs to store bread crumbs, rice and other grains.
·         Brown sugar comes in the same 1 Kg clear plastic tubs.
·         Both dark and light brown sugar are available.
·         Dark and light brown sugar can sometimes be found in large plastic bags.
·         Light brown sugar is called demerara sugar.
·         Confectioner's (icing) sugar (אבקת סוכר) comes in small packets. One packet is 3/4 c.

Sweet red pepper: Gamba

Swiss chard: the mehadrin packages of what is called alei selek is actually swiss chard.

Techina: buy plain techina paste, add water, lemon, olive oil, garlic and spices for techina. Add water and honey for halava spread.

Tomato paste:
·         Comes in cans and small red plastic tubs, generally two or four together.
·         There are codes on tomato paste that refer to the thickness of the paste.
·         Tomato paste concentration is measured in BX (pronounced 'bricks'). The higher numbers are more concentrated (less water).
·         Tomato paste is typically sold in 22⁰BX or 28⁰BX. 22⁰BX is less concentrated than 28⁰BX.
·         Some say 22⁰BX is tomato sauce.

Vanilla: Imitation vanilla is widely available. Real vanilla is very expensive. If you're a baker, you might want to import real vanilla or learn to make from vanilla bean and vodka.

Vanilla sugar: This is sugar made with vanilla beans or mixed with vanilla extract. Comes in small packets. One packet is a scant Tbs.

Vinegar: White vinegar here is synthetic. Natural vinegar here is light brown but tastes exactly like natural white vinegar from the states.

Yeast: Yeast comes in many different forms. Fresh yeast comes in 4 ounce cubes or in granulated form in packaged from the company Shmirit. Dry yeast is sold in the baking department, generally in 500 gram vacuum sealed foil packages.


American products: Some stores in neighborhoods that cater to American immigrants carry a lot of imports that are not otherwise generally available.

Cartis Moadon: This is a store loyalty card. It's usually the first thing a cashier will ask you in any grocery store. "Cartis moadon?"

Cleaning the kumkum: If you use your kumkum (electric kettle) for a long time you will get calcium deposits inside.  Put in a few tablespoons of lemon salt (melah limon), boil the water and leave over night. In the morning, rinse it out and it will be all clean with no scrubbing.

Cooking from scratch: You will likely do much more cooking from scratch since many prepared/convenience foods are not available in Israel. It's often healthier, and definitely cheaper.

Grocery stores:
·         All grocery stores offer delivery service in Israel, but stores in charedi areas in cities will often automatically offer delivery, without you needing to ask.
·         Supersol (Shufersol) is a very good store brand and their products are worth trying.
·         It's a different culture. In Israel, people will leave a half-empty cart on line, holding their place, while they finish their shopping. This annoys some people.
·         You have to visit a fair number of stores to understand the lay of the land in terms of what is available. Many interesting items can be found in health food stores such as Eden Teva Market in Ramot.
·         Prices are not the same in every branch of a store chain.

Kitniyot at Pesach: Oy! This is a whole separate discussion. Suffice it to say if you don't eat kitniyot on Pesach, you're going to need to take a knowledgeable friend to the store with you when you shop for Pesach. And you're going to need to learn the words, lo chashash kitniyot which means there is no suspicion of kitniyot and you can buy it and l'ochlei kitniyot, which means it's kosher for Passover for those who eat kitniyot.
Stores in certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in Modi'in Illit and other cities that specifically cater to American and/or Ashkenazim will have more options than in most of Israel where the majority are kitniyot-eating Sefardim.

Learn metrics.

Make friends with your grocer. He can teach you tips about how things are used in Israel with which you are unfamiliar -- and you can get a Hebrew lesson in the bargain.

Packaging: Many more things are packaged in cellophane than in cardboard (e.g. bread crumbs, pasta, etc.)

·         Eating seasonal is a new concept. You can't always get what you want when you want it. On the other hand, it's always a joy when new fruits come into season.
·         On Sunday evenings, the fruits and vegetables at the Jerusalem shuk are cheaper than usual.
·         The internet is a great resource for learning how to use ingredients with which you are not familiar (e.g. kohlrabi, dragon fruit, etc.).

·         Packages are generally much smaller in Israel. Perhaps that's due to the fact that people have less room to store things and there are no warehouse clubs here.
·         The one consistent exception is toilet paper which seems to come only in large quantities.
·         Certain common spices come in very large containers.
·         If you are buying something that sells in packages of 1 liter or 2 - check the price. People assume that per liter, the 1 liter will be more expensive. Amazingly enough - a lot of times, it is cheaper to buy two or three ONE liter bottles than to buy the two or three liter bottle.

Receipts: Look at your receipts after finishing grocery shopping. Sometimes you are entitled to free gifts that you can claim from the kupa rashit (service desk).

·        Sale price signs on grocery store shelves generally list the last four numbers of the UPC code for the products that are actually included in the sale price. CHECK THE CODE. Do not assume the merchandise above/below the sign is actually connected to the sale.
·         Look at the sign. See if it says mogbal l' - restricted to x number of items- that means, you can buy only that number for the sale price; after that, it will be priced at full price.
·        When something is on sale "2 for..." or "3 for..." etc., you only get the discount if you buy that number of units.
·         1+2: This means, buy two, get one free, NOT, buy one, get two free as I once thought when buying pasta. Remember, Hebrew reads right to left :-)
Stores in Israel periodically run brand sales where everything from a particular brand is on sale - typically 20-25% off.

Translations: A GREAT tool in the grocery store is a smart phone and a translator app so you can translate words on packaging.

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted now. Comments, corrections, clarifications are most welcome.

NOTE: If you have more questions about what's available in Israel, I highly recommend that you join the Facebook group called Israeli Foodies. The people in that group are super helpful about everything food-related in Israel.