A cool city for a holiday for any reason, Tel Aviv excels in its food offering. There is nothing like a market to show visitors what a place is about, and those looking to get fully immersed in Israeli culture should head to Carmel Market first. It is here that the incredible mix of ancient people who have influenced modern Israeli dishes can be felt. Bureka, pitta, falafel, hummus, everything is here – and all prepared in slightly different ways depending on the vendor’s heritage.
My group was lucky enough to be led on a tour with food expert David Kishka, who not only seemed to know everyone in the market, but also knew the hidden gems and plenty of history, leading to a truly informative experience that left me stuffed with both delicious food and knowledge.
After a busy morning in Carmel Market, David led us to the Yemenite Quarter, where we tasted Sambusa (boiled egg in doughy bread) from Victoria Bakery, which has an open window right on to the street so that the baking process can be seen up close.
While tradition is highly important, Tel Aviv in particular has gained a reputation for innovation – and what could be more innovative than a genuinely new take on the revered classic, hummus? David led our group to Shlomo & Doron Hummus, where the chickpea favourite is offered with a variety of toppings or classic depending on your preference. I tried as much as possible, including Greek style (topped with a Greek salad) and one that came with olives and pickles which was divine.
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I tasted so much hummus while in Israel – because if you can’t stuff yourself with the creamy dip here, then where can you? – and the best I ate was definitely at Shlomo & Doron’s. Prepare to queue, but know that the wait will be absolutely worth it.
While visitors could entirely eat in markets and more fast casual settings during a stay in Tel Aviv, there are plenty of restaurants worth booking too.
North Abraxass is a hotspot, filled with beautiful Tel Avivians enjoying modern sharing plates. The menu changes daily depending on what chef Eyal Shani has got in the kitchen, but expect fresh, interesting takes on vegetables, seafood and classic lamb.
Those looking for the best falafel in the city would do well to stop by Hakosem Restaurant – the falafel was the perfect mix of crisp outer shell with a soft centre, and I couldn’t get enough. If you want to try and replicate chef Ariel Rosenthal’s cooking at home, and take a culinary tour of Israel in print, pick up On The Hummus Route, co-written by Ariel, Orly Peli-Bronshtein and Dan Alexander.
Take the time to visit Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv and a historic port. While there, don’t miss Puaa, a much loved neighbourhood restaurant offering Mediterranean dishes. I loved the pumpkin dumplings, but nothing on the long menu disappointed.
Tel Aviv may be the young, cool sister, but that isn’t to say Jerusalem isn’t full of charm. While my holiday was focused on the food, no trip to this city is complete without a visit to the most sacred sites – the Western Wall and Via Dolorosa. Expect crowds and heavy security – and my advice would be to have a guide so that you can fully understand the rich history and importance of the area. My group was lucky enough to spend the week being shown around Isreal by Igal Zeevi who provided extensive knowledge and boundless enthusiasm – even for our sillier questions!
But back to the food, as that is what I was really there for. On the first night of our two day stay, we dined at Satya, a modern Mediterranean restaurant with a range of pasta, meat and seafood dishes – don’t skip the slow-cook Japanese barbeque ribs, which my meat-eating friends couldn’t get enough of.
However, it wasn’t in a restaurant that I had the best food during my time in Jerusalem, but in the home of local artist Shanina Touson, who cooked a traditional Shabbat meal for our group. Shanina was kind enough to make me a vegetarian option (yes, I’m aware there is nothing worse than a last minute veggie guest!) of lentil soup with delicious bread – but it was the hospitality that made this meal so special.
Shanina and her husband told us their story of moving to Israel in later life, meeting and getting married, and went some way to explaining the importance of the country to Jewish people around the world. It was a true lesson in how sharing a meal with someone is one of the simplest and yet most affective ways of getting to know them, and understanding their story – a lesson in the power of food.
Indeed, hospitality was a theme of the trip in many ways, with local restaurant owners and cooks keen to welcome us with hearty meals. Nowhere was this more true than away from the two main cities, in the North of the country.
Israel is famed around the world for its Kibbutz’s – collectives traditonally based on agriculture. Farming and food production are an important part of the food story of the country, and I was delighted to visit Hanoked Dairy Farm in Gilon. Their products are award winning, and the family took pride in showning us the methods they use to create the sheep’s milk cheese. The dairy is situated overlooking the hills of Gilon, and sitting tasting their cheeses while looking out on the gorgeous views is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
But we had plenty to see and do, and our most special experiences were to come. If there is one restaurant not to be missed in the whole of Israel, it is Chateau Du Roi. Situated in an ancient archaeological site, archeologists have built glass windows into the floor allowing guests to see the ruins underneath the restaurant. History buffs will be interested in the discovery of wine presses from the Crusader period, the only find from this era so far in the area.
The fine dining Mediterranean would have been outstanding in any setting, but there was something about eating in such a historic place that was truly once-in-a-lifetime. The owner, Salma Assaf, is rightly extremely proud of what she has created with Chateau Du Roi, and the incredible discovery of the winery.
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Historic settings added a touch of magic to our next stop too – Akko, an ancient Phoenician and Crusader seaport that feels like St Tropez before it went glam in the 50s.
Taking a tour of the area was like stepping back in time, and I imagined myself as a medieval city-dweller, bustling around the walled alleys which are perfectly preserved today.
With the sound of the sea lapping at the port, we made our way to El Marsa, an incredible seafood restaurant that looks out over the water.
Everything was fresh and light in the way that only the best Mediterranean food can be – order the lavrak, a local white fish as well as the classic calamari.
Israel is a land with a rich, complex history – but travelling around and tasting the sensational food goes some way to understanding this beautiful country. Our group comprised of world class chefs Martin Morales and Neil Rankin, and Martin summed up the experience best, sayng: “Israel is a world of flavours in one country. Its diversity of cultures, religions, peoples and incredible ingredients make it a melting pot for dishes, food ideas and innovation.
“I tasted some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted, I met some of the kindest and warmest people I’ve ever met, and I saw some of the most innovative food tech start ups anywhere in the world. I had so much fun visiting buzzing markets with exquisite food, super hot restaurants, world class historical sites and walking in beautiful mountains and surfing on some of the best waves. What an experience!”
British Airways operates direct flights to Tel Aviv daily from London Heathrow.
Check in to the Lighthouse Hotel in Tel Aviv, Hotel Colony in Haifa, and Hotel Orient in Jerusalem.
For more information on visits to Israel, visit the tourist board website here.
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