Grocery Shopping in Israel
Grocery shopping in Israel may offer some of the most pronounced differences to daily life after Aliyah. Products and prevailing customs may sometimes seem very familiar, and at other times appear very strange. Prices of food products in Israel may be higher than anticipated, especially for packaged goods, breakfast cereals, and imported goods. The link at the end of this article will take you to a popular Israeli supermarket website where you can see prices for yourself.
Take this virtual walk through the aisles of an Israeli supermarket for some interesting differences in the shopping experience and product selection.
- The selection of fruits and vegetables in Israel features many familiar favorites, and some local delights, but produce in Israel has some basic differences:
- Fruit and vegetables do not need to be perfect to be sold. Irregular shape, minor scarring, and color variations are tolerated and to be expected.
- You get a little farm with every purchase. Some vegetables, such as leeks, come with enough earth to start your own garden. Cleaning vegetables in Israel does not mean a quick rinse. Vigorous cleaning and soap may be needed.
- Seasons count. While you can expect tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant year-round, some things appear only in warmer weather, and others abound during cooler periods. The typical cold-climate vegetables you use for soup (parsnip, turnip, rutabaga, etc.) may be very rare or not available at all, while strawberries that are plentiful in North American summers thrive in Israel’s cooler winter months. Limes appear for several weeks, and then go back where they hide until next year.
- Kashrut applies to produce of Israel, and those who observe Kosher dietary laws need to be careful to seek reliable Kashrut certification when shopping for fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen or canned.
Availability, labeling, and the selection of dairy products also have some notable differences. Many familiar dairy products are available, and some familiar brands appear regularly. Names and packaging of some things can be a bit confusing, such as the similar containers for cottage cheese and Gvina Levana (white cheese, a popular soft cheese product) usually found right next to the cottage cheese.
The percentage of fat in every type of cheese is mentioned on the label. Milk is available in cartons, but many people prefer the milk in plastic bags that are placed into a holder with handle and convenient blade for snipping the corner. Locally-produced ice cream may have a lot of ingredients that have nothing to do with cream. Butter, because of competing government-imposed price and import restrictions, can become scarce in shops while being exported in volume. Buy some and freeze it if you really care, as is the advice for limes and other foods that are prone to absence.
Meat, Poultry & Fish
Cuts of meat in Israel are identified by a numbering system. While unfamiliar to Olim from North America, guides exist and translation is possible. This list of beef cut numbers and translations can help. However, some cuts of meat are handled differently in Israel, and your favorite may need to be procured from an accommodating butcher if you can’t find it in the general shops. Beef is often sourced from Europe or South America, and may be less marbled and tender than you prefer. Grass-fed and organic options may be closer to the familiar quality.
Chicken is available and popular, while turkey may be more available than you expect. Those purchasing kosher poultry may find the requirement of at least some Kashrut service that the while chickens be split to accommodate koshering requirements a bit off-putting, but whole bird options do exist.
A different lineup of fish is available in Israel, with some familiar varieties known by different names. Talapia and other native species are now often imported from farms in China, so you may wish to pay attention to country of origin information on labels. Some, such as Denis (a local variety of sea bream) and Buri (grey mullet), are very popular. Here is one list of common fish names and translations.
Bread in Israel is often quite good, and available in great variety. Pita, of course, is a staple. Laffa (a soft wrap thicker than a tortilla) is also quite good. Cakes available commercially may tend to a bit more chocolate than necessary, but tempting delights from Europe and the Middle East abound.
Beer, wine and hard liquor are sold in most Israeli supermarkets. Familiar brands are very much available, and relatively lower takes may make them more affordable. The local wines are world-class and very much worth exploring.
Pasta, rice and beans are pretty much the same all over, with the addition of chickpeas and couscous. Familiar brands of peanut butter, sauces, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard are easy to find, but may differ somewhat from the same product purchased in the USA. Heinz ketchup, for example, seems a bit sweeter in Israel.
Israelis apparently love to snack, and the snack food aisles are usually well-stocked. The Hebrew term for such foods is related to the term for grabbing, and it seems people are really grabbing the chips and other snacks right off the shelf. Be sure to experience the original Israeli snack food, Bamba. Bamba is puffed corn with a peanut-based coating that is rumored to have originated to prevent malnutrition and its popularity is likely responsible for the negligible occurrence of peanut allergy in Israel.
Cleaning and Disposables
Cleaning products in Israel can include the familiar brands, but the import taxes often make local brands more affordable. Israeli products from baby wipes to floor cleaner and laundry detergent often come with a lot more perfume than you may prefer, so sniff before you buy.
Chad Paami (single-use) products such as plates, cups and cutlery are available, but these products are often lower in quality, higher in price, or both. Petroleum based products are costly in Israel, so the lowest-price plastic spoon may not really stand up to a hot drink anything as thick as yogurt. The lowest-price plastic cups contain so little material that even a light touch can squash them and splash you. Higher quality is available at higher prices, but many people use the cheaper stuff and even the youngest children in Israel learn very quickly how to manage a plastic cup to avoid disaster.
Paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper suffer from the same quality and price issues as plastic disposables, but higher quality is available, for a price. Brands such as Kleenex and Bounty can be found, and it may be wise to consider the actual cost and utility of paper products. Local paper towels are much lower in cost, but half a roll of the better stuff will definitely pick up more spills. Lower-quality tissue seems to be OK, but you may want the real deal if you have allergies or are suffering from a cold.
Holidays – Supermarkets in Israel are very much geared to the holiday schedule, so you can expect to find every little thing for Chanukah at the entrance to the store the day after Sukkot. That will likely be followed by all the Purim costume and Mishloach Manot requirements, rapidly replaced by Matzot and everything for Pesach. Stay tuned for all the dairy need of Shavuot, and followed by the apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah. Next week even the tables, chairs, Sukkah,, decorations, lighting, etc. for Sukkot appear. It is common for small appliances and gadgets to be sold in these cycles.
Mivtzaim (specials) – If the sign says three for NIS 10, you are well advised to buy multiples of three. Every checkout clerk, regardless of age or gender, is a Yiddishe Mama who absolutely cannot allow you to lose out on this deal. Buy the special quantity or face the hassle and trip back to get the third package. This will happen even in the smallest Makolet (convenience store or local grocer), so pay attention and get the special deal.
One more thing – Cashiers are often expected to tout a special item or items that are displayed near at the checkout counter. You will be offered the almonds, soap, wine, or other item at the amazing low price, but are free to reject it without the hazards mentioned above.
Bring bags – You can buy bags at the store, and many people do, but you will need to keep count of how many you use and tell the cashier at the endo of the order. Then you get to take them home and think of ways to get rid of them, so maybe keep a set of reusable or decent-quality disposable bags on hand for shopping.
Guard your spot in line – Israelis are not known for their organized ability to que patiently, and occasionally people may attempt to edge in front of you. They may look very surprised when you pint this out, but if you are firm and can manage to convey the message without blinking, they generally back down without any fuss. Be assertive, but not aggressive, and you will usually avoid conflict.
You may want to familiarize yourself with the products available by experimenting on the website for a popular supermarket. Take a spin around Shufersal’s website and get a feel for the products and prices.
More Articles and Information
Employment in IsraelEmployment in Israel is a primary concern for most people considering Aliyah. There are several general types of employment situations that apply most to Olim from English-speaking countries. Local Employment in Hebrew - Some Olim have, or acquire,...
Healthcare in IsraelHealthcare in Israel is based on the National Health Insurance Law of 1995, which requires all citizens to become members of one of four competing nonprofit health insurance organizations, known as a Kupat Cholim. The system is funded by taxes,...
Security in IsraelSecurity in Israel is a concern mentioned by most people who are considering a visit to Israel, and those considering Aliyah are even more interested in security. There has undoubtedly been a history of security concerns in Israel, both from...