Tel Aviv

seeded bread

Tel Aviv was always hovering something in the middle of the ever-growing list of places I wanted to visit. But in recent years, I kept hearing what a hip place it was, and how it was sort of the “San Francisco” of Israel. Stretching along a massive beach, as soon as I arrived in the city, I wanted to ditch my luggage and jump right in. Then eat.

Tel Aviv restaurant

bagels

Tel Aviv is a lively place and the vibe is decidedly different from Jerusalem. I don’t think you could visit one without the other. Whereas Jerusalem is historic, Tel Aviv has a somewhat more modern look and feel because many European Bauhaus architects fled to Tel Aviv, so there are lots of Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired houses and apartment buildings across the city, making this a UNESCO World Heritage site.

asaf

There are 4000 Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv and it’s nice to see many of them being restored as we passed along the streets. In fact, I was tempted to slip a note under a few that caught my eye, currently under renovation – especially the ones a block or two from the beach – so they could be in touch with me when they were finished, and we’d talk.

Israeli fruits

There are over on hundred different cultures living in Israel and one of the many influences in Israel is, surprisingly, French. No, I didn’t partake in macarons or croissants (I can get those at home) – but at Ika Chocolate, chocolatier Ika Sarah Cohen learned from the best in Paris: Michel Chaudun, Jean-Charles Rochoux, and Jacques Genin.

pate de fruit at Ika Ika Chocolates

Naturally we had plenty to talk about, which was a little difficult when I had a mouth full of her superb chocolates. One I particularly liked was filled with a tumble of slivered, roasted almonds. But the real test was the box I brought home to taste-test by my very own, on-site Parisian taste-tester, who proclaimed them “exceptionnelle.”

Ika chocolate in Tel Aviv

Although Tel Aviv is modern, with its hip coffee bars and stylish boutiques, one evening we took a trip up to the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood with Dorit Barak. It’s a rather challenging place to go and although one could likely go wander around alone, I was glad to have a guide along.

Kugel

Many of the people are extremely traditional and there’s a lot of controversy about their role in Israeli society within Israel. Dorit took us to a delicatessen which served salads, a giant kugel (noodle pudding) – which wasn’t as good as my Aunt Millie’s – and gefilte fish, which everyone made a face when I mentioned it. But I still like it, especially with the bite of horseradish grated alongside. Unfortunately no one else was up for a taste, so I didn’t get any.

bakery workerbaked challah
rolls in Tel AvivAbsolut bread

Then it was over to Hatzvi bakery. (Also spelled as Hazvi bakery. And warning, the site opens with music.) The first thing I noticed about the decidedly modern-looking place was that it was “help yourself” – which meant there was definitely no French bakery influence here. (As in, “Ne touchez pas!”)

bakery workers in Tel Aviv

braiding challah bread

The only similarity, perhaps, that Challah is an eggy bread, somewhat similar to brioche sans le beurre. But like France, there were a whole lot of able-bodied jeunes homes manning the ovens.

challah bread braidsbraiding challah
challah hummus

The bakery walls were lined with breads of all kinds – and baskets were filled with bagels and flatbreads. And when I posted a quick snapshot of one particular round of bread holding a bottle of vodka, which had been prepared as a special order for someone’s celebration, someone online quipped that the bread would probably have more flavor if the bottle was facing the other direction.

challah bakers

I went upstairs to watch the young men hard at work, mixing up giant batches of dough, then standing around a table braiding them into loaves. While it doesn’t look all the strenuous, in the limited time I spent working in a bread bakery, I’d have to say it’s not easy to do what they do all day – or night. But at least if they ever get tired, with their impeccable braiding-abilities – and speed, they could likely find jobs in a swanky hair salon and quadruple their income.

Hatzvi also had amazing hummus. I couldn’t help myself from ripping off wads of challah and smearing them with the tahini-laced chickpea spread. It was really excellent. And when I astonishingly wrote about it on Twitter, Amit Aaronsohn tweeted back…

So Amit promised to take me on a hummus tour of not only Jaffa, but Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on my next visit. And I’m holding him to all three of them, even though he only promised one – which at least I have in writing. (And I hope Twitter counts!)

Israeli beer tasting

Aside from being so intense, Israelis have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, even more so than Americans. (And less-so than, um, elsewhere.) But not being a beer-drinker, I was vaguely interested in going to a tasting of artisanal beers.

fruits in Israel beer tasting

And Israel is not a country of beer-drinkers either. When I asked what people drink in cafés, I was told “Coffee. Lots of coffee.” But with the hot weather, why not beer?

Israeli beer tasting

While my notes got a little hazy after the twelfth beer, I remember the first few the best, especially one flavored with a bit of passion fruit juice from Negev Brewery, who has great labels on their bottles. More straightforward beers were made by the Shapiro brothers, whose beer is brewed close to Jerusalem. No word on whether their mother was hoping her nice, Jewish boys would grow up to be doctors, but she should be proud nonetheless.

Just when I thought I couldn’t drink, or eat, any more, we took a trip up north, in the direction of Haifa, to Acre, where the restaurant of Uri Buri is. Uri is large, bearded man who served some of the freshest fish I’ve ever had. And I’ve had lot of fresh fish in my life. There were some innovations, like pear slices with mascarpone, and flying fish roe, but lots of raw fish served in thin slices with nothing but a simple acidic vinaigrette or lightly smoked, which had me wishing I’d pocketed a few of the bagels from Hatzvi bakery.

Nearby, in his ice cream shop Endomela, they were scooping up flavors like Arak (anise liqueur), apricot, poppy seed-yogurt, and we even tried Wasabi sorbet at his restaurant, paired with raw fish.

near to Haifa uri buri

He gave us a tour of the Efendi Hotel, which is like a little oasis in a small village. Uri spent eight years remodeling, under the ever-watchful eye of the Antiquities Authority of Israel, to bring it back to its former splendor. If you think remodeling a home will give you gray hairs, look at poor Uri! : )

near Haifa

But looking out over the amazing skyline, I was thinking about leaving my resumé with Uri, just in case he needed any extra help scooping.

Then later it was up to Mizpe Hayamim, where I had the incredible Israeli Breakfast that was worth waking up for. But the night before was dinner at their restaurant, Muscat, where nearly 80% of the products served come from their organic gardens, including house-made cheeses and yogurts, from their herd of cows, goats, and sheep. The chef walked us through the gardens, and showed us the lovely, fragrant strawberries, I pulled out some watercress floating in a pond and marveled at the peppery flavor, fig trees were ready to explode with ripe fruits within a few weeks time, and best of all, the mulberries trees were glowing with angry-purple berries, whose sticky juices left my camera-snapping fingers useless. (Which was okay, since I was happy to have an excuse the pick more mulberries off the trees.)

plums strawberries

Because night had fallen, and it was rather dim, photos were out of the question at the restaurant. But you can take a look at their Flickr stream to get a taste.

Tel Aviv waiterwhite cheese
roasted lambIsraeli chef

The food all over Israel was pretty great, which Israelis told me was not always the case. (I’m pretty sure that kugel was a holdover from those days.) In fact, we only had one meal that I wasn’t wild over. Partially because when I go out to eat, I don’t care about gimmicks (like pounding carpaccio right on the table, which had me scrambling to hold down the wine glasses, which were precariously wobbling towards the edges of the table) and was deafeningly loud. I think because I live in France, where voices and music are moderated in restaurants, I’m more happy to be relaxed at dinner, and I like talking to my tablemates. (Although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before someone starts pounding out carpaccio à table here, too.)

Tel Aviv at night

Our last meal was at Messa. Truthfully, when I walked in and saw the floor-to-ceiling white drapes, doormen, and a lot of very good-looking people perched in oversized chairs, I was expecting the usual tuna tartare and arugula salad with Parmesan shaving, à la restaurants Costes, in Paris. But I almost fell off my oversized bar stool when plate-after-plate came out of chef Aviv Moshe’s kitchen, each one better than the one before, culminating in a tableful of desserts that were so creative, and so incredibly delicious, if I hadn’t eaten so much before they arrived, which included a re-imagined Lamb “Shawarma”, Fish kabobs with eggplant cream, yogurt, pickled lemon and pine nuts, and Kade, a Kurdish pastry with cheese and grilled vegetables, I would have gladly scraped all the dessert plates cleaner than the white drapes. And to prove how much I liked them, I just wrote the longest run-on sentence in the history of this blog.

gefilte fish tel aviv sign

The low light was very romantic, but not good for picture-taking, so you’ll just have to take my word on it. But it’s been a few weeks, and I’m still thinking of the dessert composed of rich chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, and a few mysteriously wonderful crunchies mixed in. If I wasn’t leaving for the airport early the next morning, I would have gone back and talked to the pastry chef. But alas, I had to bid shalom to the gefilte fish, and to Tel Aviv.



Related Posts and Links

Jerusalem

Israeli Breakfast

Haj Kahil

The Hummus Factory

Tel Aviv Foodie Guide 2012 (Matkonation)

Israeli Salad

Tahini-Almond Cookies



Note: The trip was part of a hosted and guided visit to meet the food producers, chefs, and bakers of Israel, organized by Kinetis.

69 comments

  • All of Israel evokes history and culture to me. Never have I associated it with food. Thanks for the lesson.

  • i am a proud Israeli!! come again please!!

  • David, I’ve been a fan for a while now. You get a lot of comments of appreciation, I know! But really, great posts, great pictures, and I really enjoy your sharing of your love of good food. I’ve never thought about taking a trip to Tel Aviv, but now, I think I have to!
    By the way, I made the recipe for the “Tahini Almond Cookies” from a few posts back…what a delicious cookie! Easy and quite amazing. The person I made it for (I have to give most of what I bake away, otherwise I would not be able to fit through doors, simply loved them. I think there were tears in his 78 year old eyes!

  • Another wonderful post! Thanks for taking us along on this tasty tour

  • Your Israel posts make me want to drive to Kennedy and hop the next flight out! Thanks for highlighting an amazing “melting pot” cuisine, with an ongoing food scene and culture that all peoples should discover.

  • Wow that is all so impressive. I had never really considered travelling to Tel Aviv but now I may have to change my mind!

  • Love your descriptions! Yes, the bakeries are quite different here in Israel. I was walking through the Shuk here in Jerusalem one evening as everything was closing up. We passed by a bakery that is all open to the sidewalk. The baker had dough laid out and was preparing borekas. We were standing there watching him, quite intrigued. He then invited my friend inside and he taught her how to fold the dough correctly to make the little triangle. Great fun!

  • Another great post from Israel. I hope this trip never ends!

  • Thank you for another colorful post. I too am now considering adding Israel to my list of destinations to visit.
    And chocolates with roasted slivered almonds sounds so delicious–I hope they were bittersweet with smooth ganache and a tad of crunchiness in the center.

  • Bread photos so delicious I could eat my iPhone! Also much appreciated: photos of handsome Israeli men. Where to next, David?

  • Bravo, David. For once I was able to read something joyful coming out of Israel. Thank you. The last time I was in Israel was 1973 and Tel Aviv was quite different than what you describe. There was no youthful, hip culture at that time, and as for the food, it was still a “poverty culture” cuisine. We ate a lot of chopped cucumber salad and bony fish. It made me so happy to see the energy in your photographs and the optimism in the faces. I hope i have the opportunity to go back again.

  • Great travelblog. Thanks so very much, David! I particularly enjoy the baking photos and the gorgeous braiding. (Did you miss your calling as a photographer?!) I braid an Eastern-European Easter bread once a year. Suffice it to say mine isn’t so beautiful. Good incentive.

  • Dear David, just discovered your blog and spent hours going back and reading everything – one by one. Your posts are long, and thank goodness for that because every word is a pleasure, the pictures are great, I am learning a lot, my love for food and travelling just gets bigger and bigger with every line.. It is also nice to see some familiar aspects to your expat life, I moved ten years ago too and your perspective on worldly things is so refreshing. Thanks from a new fan.

  • I can’t remember enjoying a post as much as these from Israel. Going there is definately on my bucket list. Thank you David for givng me a taste of this amazing and controversial land. I have familly buried there.

    Shalom

  • Did you taste the strawberries? Were they as good as the ones we folks “of a certain age” used to collect, growing wild in meadows, as kids?

  • What a wonderful experience. I’m surprised you’re coming home. Everyone I know that goes to visit has stayed. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  • What an amazing post in every respect. The writing, the photos, the stories, the recipes… A perfect 10 in each of these respects! Keep up the good work, David.

  • And just like that Tel Aviv is now on my list of places to visit. I really enjoyed the details and photos of this post, they were the next best thing to actually being there and getting to enjoy all of that great food. Thanks for sharing!

  • great place to visit! enjoy!!!

  • Love your blog and especially this post. I will now place Tel Aviv on my “hope to visit” list!

  • Messa does have strange interior decorating (those drapes are good for acoustics I guess) but it is one of the better restaurants in Tel Aviv. As for the gefilte fish, that’s a sensitive subject, not as much as hummus of course, but it does cause some heated conversations. Amit is 100% right but the best place for hummus is not in Jaffa but in Ramle ;-) . Lovely pictures!

    • I wasn’t prepared for the food to be so good there, especially the desserts. I really would have loved to have gone back into the kitchen and met the pastry chef.

  • It was great to meet you in Tel Aviv, David! Let me know when you come back, I think there are a couple hummus places you haven’t tried yet.

    • Yes, I know there are many. Like bakeries in Paris, it’s simply not possible to go everywhere you want to go. I don’t stress about that when I travel anymore since one can only do so much. Fortunately there weren’t really any ‘duds’ on this trip and I ate really well on a daily basis!

  • What a fantastic post. I read you all the time and while this is my first comment, I have to say you always make me want to grab my passport and make dinner reservations somewhere.

    Thank you.

  • I’ve been reading your blog for probably, as long as you’ve had it. I have to say however, with this trip to Israel, you seem transformed! Israel has worked its magic on you and it can be felt through every word that you’ve written.
    Israel truly is a remarkable place.

  • How fascinating this trip must have been for you!

    I realize that when I travel, more and more I consider the food as my driving inspiration- if there isn’t something interesting to eat in a place, I have little interest in going (although there are very few places for which that is the case).

    I truly appreciate the blog, David. What a great window into all the incredible culinary journeys I am now inspired to make.

  • Aahhh, Palestine, so beautiful. Thanks for the great photos David. Wish I were there.

  • I love your photos! What kind of camera do you have?

  • I’m exhausted and I only read about what you did in a day. What an amazing journey meeting all those fantastic people. I think Uri is kinda cute. :)

  • David, you mentioned that you didn’t consider yourself very spiritual. However, I find all of your posts overflowing with spirituality. Love is many things. : )

  • Fantastic post; wonderful pictures. I’m always looking forward to what you’re doing next. I agree with Shari (above) – spirituality manifests in many ways.

  • Wow David what a great post !

    Next visit don’t miss a meal at ” Catit ” – the best restaurant in Israel.

  • a hummus tour
    Will you be taking along tour followers?
    Oh yum
    I think I just leche-vitrined my PC screen…

  • That looks like a Yerhushalmi kugel (Jerusalem kugel), which is very different than the kugel most of us are familiar with in the States (no cheese, no raisins, etc.). It’s made with very fine noodles, and its key flavor components are caramelized sugar syrup (or burnt sugar syrup, if you will) and pepper. They’re made in huge pots and then cut around in a spiral (height-wise), then each spiral layer is sliced into pieces. Hard to explain. Good to eat. Lovely post, both nostalgic and new.

    • I have to say, I tried to like that kugel. But it was gummy and bland. I suppose it has its fans – it’s so huge, they must go through a lot of it! But it’s not on my Top 10 things to eat in Israel ; )

  • It was gratifying to see Israel flourishing– restaurants and streets busy, cooks producing gorgeous meals and people smiling, sharing a happy moment with your group. Thank you for giving us this much needed look at a side of Israel rarely seen on newscasts and front pages in the US.

  • Again…

    What an amazing trip!!!

  • I virtually eaten all the words you managed here..Absolutely a treat.To brain and eyes..I love the way you narrate and my God,your clicks I am gone for !

  • I would love to make Kade with cheese and roasted vegetables! It sounds delicious.
    Alas, I cannot find a recipe for Kade anywhere!

    And that photo of the blue blue sea near Haifa is just so lovely!

    Peace.

  • Gorgeous photos and wonderful writing – thanks for sharing :)

  • Like Claudia, first commenter, I never thought of food and Isreal in the same sentence! It really is so good to read something that doesn’t dwell on the tension surrounding the region. Regarding kugel; I was so intrigued after years of reading so many stories and recipes with nostalgic and glowing comments that I was compelled to make one last year (and from a reputable source). I should have been clued in by the nostalgic recollections because I was unimpressed and decided that it’s something you either have to share in good company or grew up eating at holiday meals where love conquers all . The noodles make for a gummy structure for a dessert and I just couldn’t get past that feature.

  • I would have said Israel was not on my Top 10 places to visit before reading your post. Because of you I’m changing my Top 10 to Top 100. What a wonderful world we live in.

  • I’m really loving your Israel posts – I miss the food there so much! Thanks for demonstrating the amazing food culture of such a remarkable place.

  • okay, what is up with israeli men being so beautiful? i’ll take two of those and one of the bagels to go, please.

  • I never seem to learn this lesson:

    Do NOT read David’s blog before lunchtime!

  • Ok. Have I gone mad or can I really smell all that lovely food.

  • Maybe the people who turned up their noses at gefilte fish would have tried them if they were called Quenelles de Poisson?

    So glad that you managed to sample so much great food here in Israel. Almost everyone in Israel takes food as seriously as the French or Chinese. The emphasis is on freshness and simple prep to let the natural flavors shine. There are countless wonderful wines too. And great coffee!

  • Forgot to comment on that kugel! As others have noted, your photo is of the classic Yerushalmi [Jerusalem] kugel. It was an item of poverty – made of cheap cheap cheap and simple components – thin noodles, sugar, oil, minimal eggs, a little salt and a lot of black pepper. When almost everyone in Jerusalem barely had anything to eat, it would be one of the standard items of a Sabbath day kiddush meal – accompanied by vinegary sour pickles, maybe also pickled herring and hard boiled eggs and pita, sweet wine and liquor. Humus also, another cheap filling dish for the poor.

    The making of this kugel is everything, not to mention a bit dangerous. Because the sugar is caramelized until a hot dark brown before stirring in the noodles, the kugel is not very sweet. Careful slow cooking gives it a toothsome texture – it should never be gummy or bland. The caramel & pepper should contrast each other and give a delightful variety of taste sensations, especially when eaten with the accompanying pickle. So perhaps when you make your next trip to Israel, ask your guides to find a better source for this unique humble dish.

  • Ok. The hummus was awesome and so were a couple of not-so-easy-to-spell dishes, but how about the chocolate? The Parisian taste tester said “exceptionnelle,” anything else? Exotic fillings?

    Impressive photos, as always. Those plums look surreal!

    Best,
    O

  • This has been the best series.

  • I’ve loved your posts on Israel – reminds me of some of my favorite trips. The pictures of food and scenery are beautiful. And those of les jeunes hommes aren’t so bad either…

  • It makes me wanna be there
    your pictures are amazing !
    thank you

  • seriously i am a fan of yours.. lovely recipes you used to share:)

  • It’s lucky I don’t live there I would never stop eating! These posts have been fabulous David… Thank you for taking us along… xv

  • Just for your general info, the best chocolate I have ever had ANYWHERE in ALL my world travels is Chez Henriet in Biarritz ,they now have stores in St Jean de Luz and Bayonne. Heaven. Any chocolate connoisseur I have ever known and has also tried, paris, Belgium, Switzerland, etc becomes immediately recognizant.
    The 500+ year old recipe dates from the MIDDLE AGES when the family fled the Jewish Inquisition in Spain…and no I am not related :) (Catholic)
    The next time you are in the Basque Country you must not miss it!

  • PLEASE put up a new post. I can’t get this food out of my mind!

  • Beautiful place, happy people, delicious food… what else could you need? Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I don’t think the food was this sophisticated back when I visited Tel Aviv, though I still fell in love with the savory flavors.
    I would love to go back and catch up

  • Spent one of the best summers of my life in Israel in 1987. I know things have changed but I thought the food then was Amazing!! I loved every meal, and the breakfasts in particular. I agree that the best hummus came on a plate! Glad you got to enjoy this beautiful country!

  • very interesting post! thanks david.
    i know a little israeli food, eat often in a kosher restaurant in Milan.

  • Hummos is a Lebanese/Syrian food….not Israli

    • I’m not sure where I said where hummus (hummos) was from, but they definitely eat a lot of it in Israel. Just like hot dogs (German), Waffles & French fries (Belgium), Hamburgers (Germany), Beef stew (France), Spaghetti and Meatballs (Italy) are considered “American” food, in countries that are composed of immigrants (like Israel and America), the cuisine reflects the ‘melting pot’ of the people who live there.

  • I studied in San Francisco with a roommate from Tel Aviv. She kept telling me that the two were very similar. Now I have even more reason to go visit her!

  • Hi David! How come I didn’t know you were here until it was too late? :)
    I have quite a few awesome ice cream parlors to recommend next you’re in these parts. :)
    Namely, “Allora” in Tel Aviv, and “Muslin” in Jerusalem.
    Plus, a really awesome chocolatier named Ellie Tarrab, his shop situated in the center of Tel Aviv. His intense, unusual flavor combinations are to die for!

    All the commentators who’d like to hop over for a visit – please do. Tel Aviv is a good food city! :)

  • Funny and interesting to learn about and “see” your hometown through a foreigner’s eyes!
    The only thing I don’t understand is the awful kugel thing. What on earth did your hosts had in mind ?

  • To Barbara, as an Israeli born and bred I can tell you that Israel in 1973 and Israel today are so completely different, that if you haven’t been here since then you’re really in for a big surprise. Come visit again, I think you’ll enjoy it and this time you’ll eat very well, no “poverty culture” cuisine anymore. I’m sure you’ll find some really great restaurants.

  • Could you possibly help with a good kanafeh recipe? I’ve been searching for one for EVER but they never come out right. Thanks as always for your site!