If you are heading to Israel for the first time, here’s what you need to know about fast food, in my completely personal opinion –
You can find restaurants that seem familiar, such as McDonalds, but the food won’t be the same there as you are used to in North America. I’m basing this on the menu and reports of my children, since there was always more appealing food around and I’ve never actually tried it. But by mere fact that most of them are kosher, you aren’t going to find a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder there. Kashrut (kosher laws) requires that milk and meat be separated, so cheeseburgers are out. So if you are going there for familiar food, you won’t find it.
I’d highly recommend just avoiding this sort of fast food entirely and go for the Israeli version of food-on-the-go: falafel or shawarma. Stop at a roadside food stand and these are the options you will be presented with, instead of the North American hot dog/hamburger standard.
You can get either of them in a pita or just on a plate, with accompanying hummus (Israelis eat hummus with everything which, in my opinion, is high civilized) and a wide variety of veggie and pickle options. The only nod to Western foods is that some places will actually offer french fries as a option – althought often an option only to put in your pita with all the other ingredients. While my 13-year-old son thought this was the greatest thing since sliced pita, I thought it was kind of revolting, and asked if I could have those fries on the side. “No!” barked the guy behind the counter, as he thrust my pita at me. People in Israel can be very … blunt. Don’t take it personally.
Half-finished shawarma plate:
I love the bread in Israel. Every hotel we were in had breakfast included for guests, and they have a wide variety of breads, fruit and veggies. They have olives at breakfast! Awesome. Anyway, there were always fresh-baked rolls and bread, and we’d always take some away to carry in our backpacks as snacks. The best way to eat them, in my opinion, is with za’atar.
The first time I went to Israel, I was walking in the Old City in Jerusalem with my husband, and said I was hungry. He brought me to a little street vendor who was selling bagels. They weren’t like I was used to, but long and oval, very big. When you buy them, the vendor will then give you some spice in a twist of paper. It is green, with sesame seeds and salt in it. And really really good. Do not be put off by the weird greeness of it.
I found a site with a good photo of the bagels, about half way down the page. It also has some other good info on food in Israel.
Once you become completely hooked on the za’atar, you can venture into the Arab shuk in the Old City or Machane Yehuda shuk and buy some of your own, because you are going to want to. And then, good luck resisting all the amazing fresh fruit and veggies and pastries.