Tasting Tel Aviv

A guide to defeating hunger in Israel’s non-stop city.  
Tel Aviv
Eclectic Tel Aviv is best explored through its boureka, falafel, shawarma, sabich, shakshuka, malabi and buzzing coffee shops. Photo by Fotokon/Shutterstock.

Ashkenazi Fare – Keton

Ashkenazi Fare Tel aviv

Photo by Chameleonseye/Shutterstock.

Until recently, the phrase “Jewish food” meant one thing only: Eastern European fare brought back to the holy “land of milk and honey” by immigrants from much colder countries. The resulting cuisine is replete with hearty preparations that satiate and warm you up. One of the oldest bistros to do justice to vintage Ashkenazi recipes is Keton’s. For over seven decades, Israel’s poets, writers, artists, actors, musicians and activists have lined up here for their apricot soda, kneidel (matzah bread ball) soup, stuffed spleen topped with fried onions and chopped beef liver, chicken schnitzel and noodle kugel, a sweet egg noodle pie with apples, raisins and cinnamon—all served with Israeli wine.

Top Pick Go old-school with kreplach, fried meat dumplings in gravy; with tzimmes, carrots cooked with sugar and raisins; and mashed potatoes (145 Dizengoff Street).

 

Seafood – HaShaked

seafood tel aviv

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If you love nothing more than a table groaning under the weight of numerous dishes, then this erstwhile workers’ restaurant is the place for you. Since 1964, this eatery has been plating up delectable dishes with choice fish and seafood caught fresh daily. Of all the old-fashioned Jewish delicacies available, start with pickled or cured herring, followed by white mackerel carpaccio. Fresh bread comes from the bakery across the road, and 18 salads provide the frills; egg salad and chopped liver are the winners. If you have room for mains, end with either the sea bass or chef and owner Hayim Shelo’s divine halva mousse.

Top Pick Ask for the grouper schnitzel, a lightly batter-fried preparation served with a garlic sauce. If the fish isn’t fresh, they won’t make it (HaHashmonaim St. 99).

 

Shawarmas – Shawarma Bino

Shawarma Tel Aviv

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The smell of spices greets you first: cumin, paprika, pepper, clove, and a secret seasoning they won’t divulge. The stand packed with trimmings like chuma pepper; red eggplant salad; chopped onion; pickled lemons; and spicy pickled mango sauce or amba only came into view a few feet later. Finally, the tell-tale sizzle of fat hitting the hot plate. The city’s best meat shawarma can be found at Shawarma Bino. Located in the middle of Jaffa, it’s legendary for spice-infused lamb, turkey and beef shawarma rolled up in a fat pitas or a lafa.

Top Pick Ask for the veal, with touches of beef and drippings of lamb fat (29 David Raziel, Jaffa).

 

 

Kosher Comfort Food – Shmulik Cohen’s Restaurant

kosher comfort food tel aviv

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Even before Israel was a country, there was Shmulik Cohen’s. Tel Aviv’s oldest Jewish kitchen began life as a food stand for labourers in 1936. Its kitchen still dishes out soul food—home-style soups and slow-cooked dishes—the kind of comfort preparations that most Israelis grew up eating. Second-generation owner Tzipi Cohen and her son Tomer ensure that the kosher food made fresh daily remains faithful to their treasure trove of family recipes. Don’t leave without sampling a classic egg salad sprinkled with grivalach (dried fat); and cholent, a Sabbath stew of meat, potatoes, beans, barley and kishke or stuffed sausages.

Top Pick The one thing that everyone orders here is gefilte fish, a fish ball with eggs, onions, breadcrumbs and sugar (146 Herzl Street).

 

Sabich – Sabich Tchernichovsky

sabich in Tel Aviv

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Grab a few tissues because things are about to get messy. Little known outside Israel, sabich is the country’s “other” go-to plump pita sandwich, invented by Iraqi Jews in the 1940s as a pre-prepared dish for Sabbath. Instead of bullets of fried chickpea, it’s stuffed with crispy fried eggplant, hard-boiled brown eggs, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, onions, pickles, parsley, sunshine yellow amba, skhug (Yemeni hot sauce) and, occasionally, boiled potatoes. Of the two current contenders for top spot—Sabich Tchernichovsky and Frishman Sabich—our pick is the former, thanks to staff’s diligence in ensuring each pita-wich is a perfectly curated creation.

Top Pick Locals swear by the cheese sabich in which the hummus is replaced with feta. Wash that down with an old-fashioned, frizzy fruity soda called gazoz (Tchernichovsky 2).

 

Carmel Market

This al fresco bazaar is the epicentre of all things fresh: produce, fruit, meat, seafood—as well as clothes, curios and Judaica. In the 1920s, HaKerem, or “the vineyard of the Yemenites” was dotted with a few Yemeni stalls, but by the 70s the neighbourhood’s marketplace had grown into what is now Shuk HaCarmel.

Carmel Market tel Aviv

The city centre is a street shuk (marketplace) bustling with crowds and vendors loudly hawking bargain buys. Photo by Chameleonseye/Shutterstock.

Before entering the maze of food stalls, juice bars, kiosk kitchens, and handicrafts stands (at Nahalat Binyamin Market on Tuesday and Friday), fortify yourself with a curative, vitamin-packed etrog juice pressed from a local yellow citron at Uzi­Eli’s Etrog Man shop. Walk through the vibrant Yemeni Quarter towards Tel Aviv’s favourite hummus dive, Shlomo & Doron for breakfast (it closes at 3.30 p.m.). Buy in bulk the country’s best marzipan at Albert’s Confectionery, an old-school bakery and pastry shop. Fans of artisanal beer should visit Beer Bazaar to sample over 100 brews from microbreweries across Israel.

Stop for lunch at an Israeli street-food kiosk, HaShomer 1, to sample chef Naor Cohen’s mother’s recipes. Made with market-fresh produce, these include kebabs with roasted eggplant, served in a small challah, or hummus and spinach shakshuka. Meat lovers should grab a stool at Bar Ochel, and try to decide between pita packed with beef kebabs, an assortment of homemade sausages or the celebrated mixed Jerusalem grill—a skillet sautéed meal of spiced lamb or chicken and offal.

For a spot of entertainment, call on Shlomo Cohen at his 70-year-old Cafe Cohen. Sit back and sip a custom-blended coffee while the certified cantor flexes his lungs for a Hebrew song or Frank Sinatra hit. Before leaving, take home some plain or flavoured halva, a sweetmeat made from organic, sesame seed butter at Halva Kingdom.

Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m; Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closes earlier in winter).

 

Levinsky Market

Levinsky Market Tel Aviv

Get a glimpse of Tehran’s grand bazaar at Nuts by Moshe and Sons, the shuk’s favourite Irani dry fruits shop.
Photo by Jharna Thakkar.

Welcome to food forager’s paradise. Five blocks of spice stores, delicatessens, bakeries and fish shops, which opened for business in the 1930s. Shuk Levinsky originally catered to immigrant Jews from Greece, followed by Turkey, and most recently, Iran and Iraq. Today, chefs, gourmands and natives visit weekly to buy everything from local cheese at HaChalban to healing herbs at Café Atlas. To stock up on spices and condiments including zaatar, sumac, tahini, and medjool dates, drop in at Ezra Gabbay’s family-run shop. For nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and spice mixes, visit Nuts by Moshe and Sons on the main shop-lined street. Try peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese at a 59-year-old Greek deli, Chaim Raphael. Stop in at Pereg Spices for a jar of skhug, a spicy Yemeni sauce of coriander, green chillies and garlic.

For lunch, choose between chomping on calf’s-foot jelly or a simple sausage plate at a tiny, three-table eatery called Mati Hamekalel. Or dine at Sender, a Jewish restaurant that serves rustic Polish fare like chopped liver and stuffed miltz (spleen).

Pick up boxes of baklava from Nazareth’s most famous sweet shop, Mahroum; parcel salted, smoked and pickled fish from Victor’s, an 85-year-old Greek fish deli; procure a jar of Zeitun Yom Tov (green olives pickled with dill, garlic and lemon) from Yom Tov, a Turkish delicatessen established in 1967.

Cool off with iced coffees and artisanal sodas at Levinsky 41, and end the day with arak cocktails and bean soup at Caffe Kaymak, the most beloved vegan café in Florentin neighbourhood.

Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m; Friday, 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. (closes earlier in winter).

  • Jharna Thakkar is a hospitality, travel and lifestyle writer. A trained chef, she has written for publications like the Hindustan Times, Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out and Mumbai Mirror. Currently, she portions her time into freelance writing, cooking Goa sausages and pickling seasonal vegetables.

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