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Last updated : Nov 2009
Israel Social Profile
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Food & Drink

Restaurants in Israel offer a combination of Western and Oriental cuisine, in addition to the local dishes. Some restaurants are expensive, nevertheless a high price does not necessarily mean a high standard. Table service is standard, there are also several snack bars.

Restaurants, bars and cafes catering to tourists usually have menus in 2 languages (Hebrew plus French or English). Israeli cuisine is basically a combination of Oriental and Western cuisine, plus an additional distinct flavour brought by the many and diverse nationalities which make up the Israelis.

Dishes such as Russian bortsch, Hungarian goulash, Viennese schnitzel or German braten are found next to Middle Eastern items such as falafel, humus, shishlik, tahini, kebabs and Turkish coffee, as well as traditional Jewish dishes such as gefilte fish, chopped liver and chicken soup.

The wines of Israel vary from light white to dry red and sweet rosé. Israeli beers are Maccabee and Gold Star. There is also a good choice of local liqueurs and brandies. Liqueurs include Sabra (chocolate and orange), Arak (an anise drink) and Hard Nut (a walnut concoction of Eliaz winery). A centre for liqueurs is the monastery at Latrun on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Kosher food

The Hebrew word kosher means food meeting the requirements of Jewish religious dietary laws. Milk, cream or cheese can not be served together with meat in the same meal. Pork and shellfish are officially forbidden, but it is possible to find them on many menus in non kosher restaurants.


There are discos and nightclubs in most cities. Tel Aviv has an abundance of entertainment to divert the visitor and there are rock, jazz, folk and pop music clubs in all the major cities and resorts. Israeli folklore and dance shows can be seen everywhere, particularly in the kibbutzim.

The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra can be heard in Jerusalem at the ICC Binaynei Ha’uma Hall during the winter. A summer charm is the Israel Festival of International Music.

Cinema is popular in Israel and many cinemas screen 3 daily shows of international and local films (all Hebrew films are subtitled in English and French). Tickets for all events and even films can be bought in advance from ticket agencies and occasionally from hotels and tourist offices.


There is a wide variety for shoppers in Israel, and in certain shops, especially in Arab markets, visitors can and should bargain. Tourists who buy leather goods at shops listed by the Ministry of Tourism and pay for them in foreign currency are exempt from VAT and can receive a 25 % discount on leather goods if these are delivered to them at the port of departure.

Special purchases include jewelry, diamonds and other precious stones, wines, ceramics, glassware, embroidery, religious articles and holy books. Cash back on purchased items can be obtained from the Customs Office at the airport.

General shopping hours are Sunday to Friday from 8.00 am to 7.00 pm, some shops close from 1.00 to 4.00 pm and some early on Friday.

Please remember that the shopping facilities are both Israeli and Arabic, and are therefore governed by 2 different sets of opening hours and methods of business.

Jewish stores observe closing time near sunset Friday evenings before Shabbat (Saturday) and Arabic stores close on Fridays. It takes a while to get used to the fact that Sunday is a normal working day unlike in Western countries.

For shoppers, the Jewish stores are therefore open Friday, Arab markets Saturday and both are open Sundays when Christian stores close. Shops in the hotels are often open until 12.00 am.

Social Conventions

Israelis are generally very informal but in keeping with the European style of hospitality. Visitors should observe customary courtesies when visiting someone’s home and should not be shy to ask questions about the country as most Israelis are happy to talk about their homeland, religion and politics.

Often the expression shalom (which means peace) is used for hello and goodbye. Dress is casual, but in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places, modest attire is worn. For places such as the Wailing Wall, male visitors are given a smart cardboard yarmulke (scull cap) to respect the religious significance of the site.

Businesspeople are expected to dress smartly, and luxurious restaurants, nightclubs and hotel dining rooms may require guests to dress for dinner. Formal evening wear is usually specific on invitations.


It is considered a disobedience of the Shabbat (Saturday) to smoke in certain restaurants and many hotels. There is generally a sign to remind the visitor, and to disregard this warning would be regarded as discourteous to Orthodox Jews.


The practice of tipping is less obvious than in other countries. A 15 % service charge is added to cafe, restaurant and hotel bills by law.