Tel Aviv and Jaffa used to be quite distinct cities but now it’s hard to figure where one ends and the other starts. I am staying in an area of Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek – which is great for getting to Jaffa Port either by walking along the sea front or cutting through the slightly more inland alleys. It is buzzing and life only really starts here around 11pm so if you are a light sleeper or not a fan of city noise – avoid this area. I like city noise – as I grew up with it and too much quiet freaks me out!
One of the reasons I was keen to visit this city is its reputation for food which seems to be growing by the day and of course as an Ottolenghi fan I have seen a lot of his TV shows plugging Israeli food. So the first thing we did was a five hour walking and food tour with our lovely guide Avi.
There are many local markets but we liked our local one Ha-Carmel – and you can see why. Even I might be tempted to cook more if fresh food always looked this good.
Avi wrote his thesis on the Hummus Wars and believes that while societal values in Israel are often proscribed top down that the impact food has is bottom up and that the local food scene was formed originally from poverty and necessity – you made the best of what you could get.
The hummus wars relate to Israel and Lebanon’s competitions as to who made the largest bowl and whose is best. At one point Lebanon sued Israel in the EU courts for cultural appropriation of their dish and while there is some commentary on the outcome – it is all a bit irrelevant since neither are EU members! I thing they decided it was a category of food rather than an actual dish – the word hummus does mean chick pea and the dish should just be chick pea, tahini, lemon juice and salt – and in Jerusalem they sometimes add garlic.
It used to be the equivalent of breakfast porridge for the farmers and is generally made by Arabs for consumption by Jews – for the Arabs this was something the could eat for free at home so why would they eat it in a restaurant? Also it is kosher, halal, vegan – so everyone can eat and share it.
In more recent times the Jews moved to making hummus a lunch dish and added things in the centre – meat in the middle or mushrooms. We visited Abu Hassan which has been around for years and generally wins the best hummus in the world competitions. As is typical in this part of the world – the father left his shop to his eldest son. The next two sons both opened rival shops opposite each other – the recipe is the same in all three – the sons are all suing each other – Go figure.
One the tour we also ate shawarma and cheese borek and falafel not to mention poppyseed cake, babka, Yemenite pancakes (from a hole in wall place near the market that Jamie Oliver visited recently – watch the show in September if you are in the UK) and Malabi – a kind of panacotta with rose water.
My favorite vegetable is aubergine or eggplant so I was delighted to try one of Tel Aviv’s favorite dishes – Sabich – again from a renowned place. Line outside the door for wholewheat pita with thinly fried eggplant, tahini, hard boiled eggs, potato and loads of spices and salads and pickles. Delicious. I also tasted a very delish eggplant melanzuna (on a bed of fresh tomatoes and tahini) for breakfast one morning. Swoon
We also got to eat at some of the new restaurants in Tel Aviv and particularly liked Kitchen Market at Tel Aviv Port – not cheap but super delicious, well designed food and great view to boot. The pretty appetizer are tiny rolls of raw tuna, carrot, beet root etc with the most fabulous picante sauce on top. The meat is pressed lamb. The dessert is upside down cheesecake.
In Jaffa – where our food tour started we also got to see a lot of the old city and walked a lot which is just as well given how much we ate. The views back to modern Tel Aviv show how close Jaffa Port is to the modern city but it also has plenty of history and a mish mash of Islamic and Jewish architecture – plus a bit of Roman.
It was just after Eurovision too so it was fun to see the posters about the event and a very cool of last year’s winner from Israel made out of beer bottle tops. She is a bit of an icon here and grew up around Jaffa I’m told.
And look – in my neighborhood near the nice boutiques on Sahzabi Street – I found another Banksy. He does get around.
Finally it was great fun to meet up with some relatives by marriage who live in Tel Aviv – that’s Ran bottom right (sorry the waitress chopped off half his face!) and his wife Aliza, his daughter and two grandchildren plus one boyfriend. I definitely had a “blonde moment”:). Lovely to meet this group for the first time.Thanks for dinner Ran and for following the blog.