Are you sick of all the standard, cliché Israel souvenirs: olive wood plaques, “SuperJew” magnets, cheap metal kiddush cups? Do you feel like a sucker every time you walk into a souvenir shop and pay too much money?
I know I do, and I’m not a tourist – I actually live here. (Maybe you live here, too, and you wish there was something different you could bring back with you the next time you travel back to visit family and friends?)
I bet you wish there was something original you could bring them instead without spending a fortune.
Why not gift your friends and family where their stomachs are - with the gift of special foods from Israel?
Here are twelve tantalizing suggestions to tickle their tummies:
These are Israel's most beloved snacks. If you live in a major Jewish centre, then forget this one, because you can probably buy them closer to home. If not, share the crazy novelty of Israel's beloved "peanut-flavoured cheesies," now also available with a variety of fillings. There's also Bissli and other crunchy snack aisle faves to round out the gift basket.
2. Olive oil
They're all local and delicious, so just pick the most beautiful or unusual bottle. If you know someone who's in the know about olive oil, get them to introduce you to a truly special "vintage" or artisanal producer, or to an organization like Galilee Green, which is working to revitalize a regional economy.
3. Fancy salts
Even the "plain" table salt we buy says it's from the Red Sea,which could be quite exotic for someone who's never been there. You can also get gourmet salts in specialty stores, with and without herbs added to fancy things up a bit.
4. Spices or seasoning blends
Give them the taste of Zaatar (sumac), hawaj, a Yemenite spice, or shawarma seasoning you can buy at any grocery store. If it comes in a plain bag, consider buying a nice jar at a 5-shekel or “stock” shop.
5. Boxed shakshuka tomato sauce
If they’ve never been to Israel, they’ve never had shakshuka, the iconic tomato-egg breakfast dish that’s great any time. And some would say they haven’t lived. Israelis pack tomato sauces into sturdy plastic boxes instead of cans. But they should travel just fine.
6. Lotus biscuits & spread
I love these cookies. They're not Israeli in the least, having originated in Holland. But Israelis love them (I haven’t had them anywhere else), they're sweet and happy, and they're guaranteed to travel better than Krembo (which will not travel well at all).
You can buy this finger-licking Israeli sweet fresh from the shuk (market) or packaged from any grocery store. For something new, try the “frizzled” (mesulselet) variety that looks like fluffy hairs. It’s an awesome topping for any dessert (ice cream!). Or, for the savoury end of the sesame spectrum, bring back concentrated Techina (aka Tehini). Just add water, lemon juice and some garlic and paprika to turn it into authentic, dippable, pourable techina/tahini.
8. Tastes of Asia
This isn’t Israeli food per se, but I recently found delicious, authentic Chinese black bean garlic sauce in a jar with a good hechsher (kosher symbol). I never saw anything like it in North America, or many of the great Chinese, Japanese and Indian ingredients we can get here. Anyone who keeps kosher might appreciate receiving ingredients they can’t get at home. And technically, we ARE in Asia...
9. Honey or silan
Silan is a sticky date honey that is probably the authentic honey referred to in the Torah when it calls Israel a "land of milk and honey." The bee honey here is also locally made and delicious, so you can help support Israeli kibbutzim and beekeepers.
10. Israeli couscous
Called "petitim" here, you can sometimes buy this in North America in kosher or gourmet shops... but if you buy it here, it's real AUTHENTIC Israeli couscous. There are even fun varieties like tricolour and onion.
Not the real deal, since there may be restrictions on importing fruit. Instead, buy pomegranate syrup or pomegranate concentrate to add an Israeli accent to salads, drinks, marinades and more once you're back at home.
12. Make it a DATE
Dates are one of the seven special species Israel is known for in the Torah. Lovely jars of date spread are available in every grocery store, and actual dates are just plain tastier (jucier) here. Grab a bunch of both and toss them in your luggage to greet everyone back at home.
When bringing gifts home from Israel, the Hebrew packaging is half the fun (think about all those t-shirts with the Coca-Cola logo written in Hebrew). Hang onto any particularly Israeli shopping bags you get and use them to hand over the delicious souvenirs you've brought back with you.
By the way, they don’t have to be foodies to appreciate the gift of something delicious.
Almost everybody loves edible gifts since a) they won't clutter up the house (at least, not for long), and b) they'll share a delicious "taste" of your journey to Israel. Most importantly, c) they prove you were thinking of them while you were here in Israel.
Bringing home presents doesn't have to be a tedious chore. It also doesn't have to be wildly expensive if you plan ahead and make a quick trip to a grocery store or two along the way. Make it part of your exploration of all that Israel has to offer and you'll be feeling like a native Sabra in no time.
Happy (Israeli) eating!