Two weeks ago I was in Tel Aviv as a guest of the Israeli Government Tourist Office and Open Restaurants 2016 to see first-hand why Tel Aviv is considered one of the world’s best culinary destinations. I attended cooking masterclasses, interviewed chefs, ate at some of the city’s best restaurants and visited vibrant food markets. Today I want to tell you about Tel Aviv’s markets, or shuks, hoping to give you a sense of these wonderful places rich of history and culture.
Carmel Market, or Shuk HaCarmel, is by all means the largest and most famous marketplace in Tel Aviv. Unlike London where markets are mostly a weekend destination to buy farmer’s produce and exotic street food, the markets in Tel Aviv are where people go every day for their shopping: from fruit and vegetables to meat and fish; from spices to cheeses; bread and cakes; juices and coffee; but also clothes, fabrics and flowers.
The market was started in 1920’s by Yemenite Jews living in the neighborhood of Kerem HaTeimanim, but it rose to prominence in the 1950s. The main, covered market is on Carmel Street, but all around it you will find stalls, delis and busy restaurants.
Along Yom Tov Street you’ll find fish and meat vendors. Their location is clearly marked by pavements painted in red.
I visited Carmel Market on a Friday morning, the busiest trading time of the week, before the market shuts down for Shabbat, the day of rest. Luckily I was not alone, or else I would not have known where to start and where to stop. My guide was the amazing Inbal Baum, founder of food tour company Delicious Israel. We kicked off the tour at one of Israel’s best hummus spots: Shlomo & Doron. I am still dreaming about their Humshuka, a mix of hummus, shakshuka, tahini, parsley and olive oil, served with warm pitta bread!
Shlomo & Doron is a tiny eatery which was established in the 1930’s in the Yemenite Quarter, just off of the Carmel Market. Their hummus – drizzled in olive oil and topped with paprika, cumin, parsley, and lemon – is fantastic! It is made fresh everyday and sells out quickly, so make sure to get there in the morning (we arrived around 9/9:30). I wish I could have bought some to take home with me, but our tour guide (Avihai of Via Sabra) was adamant that hummus is only good on the day it is made and should not be kept for longer.
From there we walked to Cafe Cohen to meet Shlomo Cohen, coffee roaster and cantor, and sit down for a cup of coffee. This unique cafe is one of the unmissable stops of Carmel market.
Walking through the back streets of the market we arrived at a corner bakery where we tasted freshly baked cheese burekas (small Turkish pastries filled with cheese or spinach, potatoes, meat). I also couldn’t resist buying rugelach (Jewish pastries made with cream cheese dough rolled around chocolate, jam or cinnamon) to take back to London. They are still in my freezer waiting to be eaten on a special occasion!
We stopped at Uri’s spice shop to learn about the origins of different spices from the immigrants who brought them to Israel. Carmel Market is the place to buy zaatar, a Middle Eastern a blend of herbs and spices. Every shop will sell different ones! I also bought a jar of schug or zhoug, a Yemeni spicy sauce made with coriander, red chillies, garlic and salt.
Not too far from there, Inbal took us to a tiny restaurant to taste lahoh: a spongy, pancake-like bread originating in Somalia and Yemen, but also popular in Israel. We dipped it in homemade schug mixed with tahini sauce.
Walking back through the bustling market on Carmel Street (trying very hard not to get lost in the crowd) we reached Allenby Street, one of the main roads which border Carmel Market. Here we made our final stop of the food tour at HaMalabiya, to taste malabi, of course. Malabi is a Middle Eastern pudding made with corn flour and milk, topped with pomegranate or grenadine syrup, and peanuts and coconut. It’s light, refreshing, and delicious!
Walk along Allenby Street, past Boulevard Rothschild, and you will get to another popular food destination of Tel Aviv: the Levinsky Market. The market was founded in the 1920s by immigrants from the Balkans who brought their local flavours with them to Tel Aviv. Unlike Carmel Market there are no stalls selling fresh produce, instead there are many shops and delis selling a wide range of spices, nuts, olive oil, dried fruits, halva, bread, pastries and so on.
We visited Levinsky Market on a fairly quiet Wednesday morning with our tour guide Avihai, stopping along the way to have a little taste of Israeli, Persian, Greek, Turkish cuisines.
At Maadaniat Haim Rafael, a deli on Levinsky street, we ate green peppers stuffed with soft cheese and drank arak, a Levantine alcoholic spirit made with anis (similar in taste to sambuca or Turkish raki). This deli was founded in 1958 by Chaim Raphael, a Holocaust survivor from Greece and over the years it has grown into one of Tel Aviv’s most popular deli stores.
Across the street from the deli, you will see a corner bakery. That’s Penso, which arguably sells the best burekas and filo pastry in Tel Aviv (they supply it to more than fifty restaurants in the city). They offered us four kinds of burekas to taste, with potatoes and cheese and spinach and aubergines, all absolutely wonderful.
At Albert’s Confectionery, a small bakery and pastry shop also founded by Greek immigrants, we met Jacob and tasted the almond and sugar cookies he bakes every morning following his family’s recipes.
A couple of kilometers away from Levinsky Market – but miles away in terms of history and culture – is the new, beautiful Sarona Market in Sarona Compound, the colony where German missionaries settled upon arriving in Tel Aviv in the late 1800’s.
Opened in July 2015, Sarona is now a trendy hub of cafes, restaurants, offices and co-working spaces. At the heart of Sarona is a modern food hall with 91 shops and stalls featuring local and international food. It reminded me of Torvehallerne in Copenhagen and Borough Market in London.
The shops are beautiful and the food I tasted was great, especially the noodle salads at Segev Concept and the flat white at The Coffee Station. Sarona Market lacks the charm of the older shuks like Carmel and Levinsky, but a city cannot stand still; it has to grow and evolve.
Sarona Compound is in my opinion a fantastic example of gentrification and city development. Make sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center to learn about the history of this important heritage site and how 36 historical buildings were restored and brought back to the community.
For a genuine experience of Tel Aviv and to understand how the city is a real melting pot of cultures, don’t miss a visit to one of its many markets. Take in all the smells, colours, tastes and sounds of the city and its people. You will have a wonderful experience!
If you’re looking for a place to stay, I recommend Carlton Hotel.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Israeli Government Tourist Office. All opinions are my own.