Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gluten Free in Israel

UPDATE (December 2014): 

Good news gluten-free foodies! If you're looking for gluten-free, ha'motzi challah in Israel, check out Challaluya in Jerusalem. Also, a new bakery has opened on Emek Refaim called Coney Island Bakery that has gluten-free pizza, cupcakes, cookies, and more! Although I haven't tried either location/product, I have to say the prospect alone is amazing.

On a similar note, while in Israel, I was really dismayed at visits to Cafe Cafe and Cafe Greg, two places that, previously, were amazing when it came to gluten-free eating. Now, it appears, that fear has grasped the chefs and they don't recommend anything from their kitchens, despite having gluten-free bread. In truth, they're just being paranoid, but please proceed at your own risk.

UPDATE (January 2014): 

Morgen's has closed and an amazing new restaurant has opened in Efrat, just 20 minutes south of Jerusalem, that offers not only Mexican cuisine, but gluten-free Mexican cuisine! See below.

Living in Israel as a gluten-free foodie, things have been going pretty smoothly. I've found a variety of local chains and some single-location haunts that offer up lots of delicious gluten-free-friendly options. These are some of my picks! I apologize that they're very Jerusalem-centric, but that's where I hang my hat.

I'm slowly discovering that more and more people are starting to offer gluten-free buns and bread, which is a huge bonus, because the truth is that you can eat just about anywhere these days! The places to avoid? Those classic, Israeli-style restaurants with meat patties (bread crumbs) and the heavy use of MSG- and gluten-packed soup mixes. Steakhouses and places that serve fish are always good bets, because the grill is a safe place and the fryer should be avoided. When in doubt, always tell the server that you can't eat gluten, and they will tell the chef and make sure you're set! (It's a very welcoming country!)

Yes, I know, not the most exciting place in the world to eat, but they sell gluten-free cakes and bread, so you can get a delicious breakfast with a hot gluten-free roll to go with it. In a pinch, if you want bread, it's a decent option that isn't too expensive.

Ben Ami
With locations around Israel, this restaurant is known for their gluten-free friendly menu, chock full of sandwiches, toasts, breakfast, and even some pretty amazing desserts. This is always my go-to when friends come to town and want to eat out. I highly recommend the polenta!

Black Bar and Burger
This meaty restaurant offers up gluten-free buns and even gluten-free beer for their patrons. I ate here for the first time several years back when I visited as a non-vegetarian, but on days when I am jonesing for meat, I prefer BB&B because it's nice to feel like everyone else in the restaurant.

This amazing little restaurant in Efrat sings to my heart by serving fajitas, burritos, nachos, and other delicious Mexican-inspired dishes. They've also recently added a bit of Mexican-Sushi fusion to their menu. Just mention to your server that you're gluten-free or celiac, and they'll make sure your meal is prepared accordingly.

Cafe Cafe
I don't know if this is normal at all Cafe Cafe locations, but I recently learned that they offer up gluten-free rolls with their meals if you ask! Although most of the options on the menu are not gluten-free friendly, there are plenty of salads, shakshuka, and even a gluten-free chocolate cake for your dining enjoyment.

It's next to impossible to find gluten-free falafel in Israel, unfortunately. There is one location that I've found outside the shuk (Mahane Yehudah) where they stay true to the original recipe and use chickpea flour instead of wheat flour like everybody else. I want to say it's called Number 1 Falafel, but I can't remember the name exactly. It's a small cart, outside the shuk, next to the guys who sell the nuts and gummies. Get a falafel plate and avoid the pita!

Although I haven't eaten here yet, the owners of this restaurant off Emek Refaim used to own the Village Green location. Now, they offer up gluten-free pasta, bread, wraps, and more on their cafe-style menu. I'm eager to give them a try!

Pera e Mela
Say hello to your best Italian friend. This restaurant is owned by two authentic Italians with a sensitivity to the gluten-free community. They offer gluten-free pasta, lasagna, pizza, and more. I ate here recently and the pizza crust was a little soft, but the ability to be able to go out to eat Italian style in Jerusalem? It's priceless, seriously. Try the garlic broccoli starter!

Pizza Hut
If you're jonesing for that classic Pizza Hut taste, the location in Jerusalem on Ben Hillel has gluten-free family-sized pies! I haven't, unfortunately, partaken, but it's on my to-do list.

Sushi Rechavia
The great thing about Sushi Rechavia is that they have lots of gluten-free liquor (try the plum wine) options and they will happily bring out a bottle of gluten-free Tamari soy sauce with your sushi. By and large, most sushi restaurants in Israel seem to be very gluten-free friendly, stocking Tamari!

The Village Green
With locations on Yafo and Emek Refaim (new) in Jerusalem, this vegan/vegetarian-friendly restaurant offers countless gluten-free options every day, from soup to quiche to their amazingly broad variety of options on their hot and cold bars. They also have gluten-free cookies! I always feel so full, but light after eating here.

If you're looking for snacks, sandwich bread, flour, crackers, cookies, and just about anything else under the sun, most health food stores have a healthy stock of gluten-free products. The best out there in the Jerusalem area is a store called L'Lo Gluten on Agrippas near the shuk. The store is full of gluten-free and sugar-free stuff. Oh, they have beer, too! It can be tough to find gluten-free beer in bars in Israel, but most stock plenty of naturally gluten-free ciders, so never fear.

If you want more suggestions from people who have tried out restaurants around Israel, please feel free to join the Gluten Free in Israel Facebook Group!