Israelis have a fairly healthy diet. With access to plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, their Mediterranean diet is full of colorful produce. In fact, a few years ago, they ranked third in the world in terms of vegetable consumption. The flip side? They also rank number three in the world for sweets consumption! And it’s easy to see why! The variety of sweets in this country is indicative of the many cultures that call this land home. As I traveled through the Holy City, I wholly indulged in the greatest desserts in Jerusalem so I can share them with you.
Delicious desserts in Jerusalem to satisfy your sweet tooth
If you ask anyone in Jerusalem where you can find the best knafeh, Jaffar Sweets is the guaranteed answer. Sure, you can find knafeh other places, but I overheard a tour guide tell his group that the large, round trays of knafeh sell out every seven minutes at Jaffar Sweets, where the same sized tray in the Shuk is emptied every two hours.
Knafeh is made with layers of melted goat cheese, shredded filo dough, pistachios, rose water and a bright orange topping. A large square of the best knafeh in town will set you back 14 shekels, and you can sit in the shop to eat. During Ramadan, the employees package the knafeh for you to take away.
Zalatimo Sweets is tough to find, but just like any buried treasure, the reward is even sweeter for the effort.
Upon entering this hole-in-the-wall shop, you’ll notice a distinct lack of menus. That’s because they only serve one thing: mutabak (Arabic for ‘folded’). Since 1860, the Zalatimo family has been serving this special dessert to generations of locals and tourists alike.
Mutabak is made with filo dough, flipped and shaken (a little like you might flick a sheet to get it onto your bed) until the dough is paper thin. That dough is filled with either cheese or nuts, baked and served as you sit at tables next to Herodian-era walls. I didn’t want to miss out on anything, so I ordered both flavors of mutabak. Both were delicious, but I think the cheese mutabak, made using sheep’s curds was my favorite, paired with a Turkish coffee.
Zalatimo Sweets has a bit of a monopoly on the mutabak, and it’s quite pricey. Be sure to ask the price before you order to ensure you’ll be happy to pay for the experience.
3. Hummus candy
At Al-Amad for Halva in the Old City, you’ll find hummus like you’ve never seen it before! Ok, technically, it’s not hummus at all, but I got your attention, didn’t I? Check out the dried chickpea candy, encased in pink and white sugar. Once you pop one of these candies (that look a little bit like tiny brains), you’re sure to be addicted. If you’ve tried Boston Baked Beans, this is a Middle Eastern twist on the classic, sugar-coated peanuts.
As the name suggests, this little shop also sells a large variety of halva and other sweet treats. When I visited, I gave them my budget (10 shekels) and asked what that would get me. I walked away with a baggie of hummus candy and a chunk of halva that lasted me the rest of the week.
4. An interactive dessert sampler
Ever fantasized about a group of Israeli men dancing and creating an artistic platter of local and delicious desserts in front of your face to the sounds of Middle Eastern music? Come on… I can’t be the only one!
Your dreams become a reality at the Chef’s Bar at Machneyuda. The entire bespoke evening is so special, it earned the #1 spot on Forbes’ “The 10 Coolest Places to Eat in 2017” list.
If you’re planning a trip to Israel, book your spot at the Chef’s Bar now… I lucked out with an invite to this restaurant with friends who made the reservation ONE YEAR in advance! PS. Thanks Mike Fanning, and thanks to Dubi for getting sick and letting me take your spot at the table!
5. Crack Pie
There are no illegal drugs in Chakra’s famous dessert…. but the name accurately describes the addictive nature of their crack pie. It’s a sweet, ooey gooey pie, encased in an oatmeal crust. I guarantee your first slice won’t be your last.
If you’re still craving something sweet after the pie is gone (and it’ll be gone in seconds), I recommend the homemade pistachio ice cream. The creaminess of this soft serve is next level!
The bakery is called Marzipan Bakery… but you won’t find the German almond paste here! Instead, you should grab a tray (or three) of their rugelach. These chocolate-filled pastries originated in the Jewish community in Poland, and look a little bit like mini croissants.
In addition to rugelach, you can grab a bag or a plastic box and fill to your heart’s content with the sweet and savory pastries on the table. I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like yet! After the rugelach, my favorites are the cinnamon rolls, chocolate rolls, and chocolate-filled ‘cigars’.
I’m a frequent shopper at Marzipan and have never saved any rugelach long enough to need to freeze it, but apparently it travels and freezes well.
7. Wasabi, saffron or black sesame ice cream
Mousseline ranks in my top three best ice creams in the world. (And that’s saying something from the girl who dressed as an ice cream cone for Purim!) All of their unique flavors are worth a taste, but I want to go swimming in their Masala Chai ice cream. And I have it on good authority from my favorite tour guide at Delicious Israel that their Arabic coffee ice cream is even better than Häagen-Dazs! The founder of the shop, Orit Vardi, was educated at the ECOLE LENÔTRE High School of Gastronomy in Paris, and their ice cream is a balance of creativity and perfectionism that’s not often mastered.
Their sorbets come in really unique flavors like sour cherry and grapefruit basil, so the dairy-free among us can indulge, too! Local farmers supply raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, mango, prickly pear and cherries, so you can be sure that the fruit is real, fresh and delicious.
Food tastes better when it’s prepared with love. And their website says it all: we come from love: the love of the pastry shop, the love of manual labor and the love of the coffee salons.
8. Belgian Waffle
As with many of the famous foods “from” Israel, Belgian waffles originated elsewhere. And just like the other Israeli desserts we love, the waffle has been adapted to become a Jerusalem institution. Babeitcafe serves an airy, crunchy waffle, loaded with toppings and served warm. Choose a spread, like cashew cream or cinnamon cream cheese, made in house. Or go international with dulce de leche from Argentina or Canadian maple syrup. Then choose a fruit, nut or cookie topping to complete the perfect waffle.
Babeitcafe is a tiny holy in the wall, but don’t let its size fool you! These waffles are famous in Jerusalem and you’re likely to see lines out the door until it closes at 1am. Want to taste this treat? Join the BiteMojo Insanely Sweet in Jerusalem tour!
9. Deep fried Mars Bar
Deep fried Mars Bars are synonymous with the Texas State Fair and Scotland. But in Jerusalem’s Downtown Triangle, Bata is serving up deep fried candy bars for those with a major sweet tooth and little concern for their arteries. I would have completely missed this little shop if it wasn’t for the great recommendation from Bitemojo! When you enter this little shop, you’ll be greeted by owner, Yotam, whose hospitality is just as sweet as the desserts he creates!
In addition to deep fried Mars Bars, Snickers and Oreos, be sure to try their namesake, the Bata. (This is actually the name Yotam’s children have gifted their grandmother!) Similar to Munchkins in the US and loukoumades in Greece, these doughnut holes are fluffy and best when served straight out of the fryer and drizzled with your choice of Nutella, salted caramel, chocolate or dulce de leche.
10. Magnum ice cream bar
OMG is both the name of this dessert bar and the letters that will come out of your mouth once you try their bespoke Magnum ice cream bars. Start with a vanilla ice cream on a stick, then choose your shell. From peanut butter to bubblegum and Ferrero Rocher to pistachio, if you can dream it, it’s probably there for the dipping. I chose strawberry, because pink, obviously. Then, choose candy toppings. There are plenty of delicious options, but I went for the “a unicorn threw up on my ice cream” look and chose everything rainbow. Then, choose between tahini, strawberry jam, and rose water amongst other sauces to drizzle on top of your ice cream bar.
If you’re planning to photograph this masterpiece, I suggest giving it all a few seconds to harden so you don’t lose half your toppings on the street. I discovered OMG on the BiteMojo Insanely Sweet in Jerusalem tour.
11. Cookie and ice cream sandwich
One of my favorite dessert spots in Dallas is Pokey-O’s, where you sandwich delicious Bluebell ice cream between two fresh cookies. Cookie Cream brought the same concept to Israel, using Italian-style gelato with an Israeli twist. Try the tahini ice cream or visit during evening hours for alcohol-infused flavors.
Thanks again to BiteMojo for introducing me to this one!
12. Aral’e Crepe Brûlée
In a country that mixes and matches cuisines, flavors and cultures, it’s no surprise that Aral’e crepe brûlées are taking the city by storm. Their candy-pink shop exterior lures in the Instagrammers, and the pastry cones, filled with sweet surprises keep them coming back. I’m a fan of any dessert that requires a blow torch, so I had to try the classic crepe brûlée that gives the shop its name.
My favorite, though, was the lemon meringue crepe cone that was the perfect dessert to combat the heat in Jerusalem.
At the Halva Kingdom in Machane Yehuda Market, this sweet, sesame treat is royalty. Shopkeeper, Eli Maman, who has Moroccan family roots, uses a secret recipe handed down from father to son to create more than 100 different flavors of halva. Watch for the shopkeepers in black t-shirts with a crown on them as they hand out free samples in the Shuk. One bite and you’re sure to leave with a tasty souvenir!
I bet you thought the Middle East was freakshake-less. I thought so, too, but was pleasantly surprised when I found a freakshake at the Waffle Factory! You can choose from their recommended list of combinations or mix and match to create your very own decadent dessert.
15. Chocolate malawach
I have made the quick walk from Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem to Jachnun Bar in the Machane Yehuda Market for dinner more times than I can count. Their savory malawach is the food I’ll miss most from Jerusalem. But imagine my surprise when I learned I’ve been missing out on their dessert malawach!
Bring a friend (this dessert is decadent) and dig in to their chocolate-filled malawach. The flaky exterior encases just the right amount of chocolate (tons).
16. Beef tallow cookie
You’d expect most of your desserts to be vegetarian, right? At Hatch, even the dessert is a carnivore’s carnival! Because the brewery is kosher to the core, dairy and meat can’t mix. And after enjoying an amazing barbecue feast, an equally amazing (dairy-free) dessert is a requirement. Instead of butter, Hatch uses beef tallow, resulting in an insanely indulgent chocolate chip cookie, topped with potato chips! If that’s not enough to have you running to the Shuk, Hatch substitutes bourbon for vanilla in their cookies. Pure decadence.
The sweets in Jerusalem are some of my favorites in the world, and I had a blast taste-testing them all for you! I’d love to know which one you’re most excited to try first!
Want to join me on a trip to Israel? Be the first to know about a 2020 or 2021 group “Eat, Pray and Fall in Love with Israel” trip by signing up here.