I fell in love with Israel since the first day I stepped into the country, especially for its large golden Telavivian beaches, the friendly and amazing people, the vibrant atmosphere and, of course, its tasty food.
Before my departure, I did some research about what I could visit and do, and my expectations got higher and higher the more I was browsing the web. Apparently, Tel Aviv is a heaven for all vegans and vegetarians, in fact, the 10% of the population made this ethical choice. I felt incredibly lucky, mainly because I had turned vegetarian five years ago and life is not always easy when travelling.
No need to say that one of the best ways to learn about different cultures is to taste the typical food, and trust me… I ate a lot, trying to vary every day. I also had the traditional Friday dinner at a friend’s house, I went to several restaurants and bars, and I learnt more thanks to a specific food tour held in Tel Aviv.
I knew about Delicious Israel during my searches online. I contacted them, and we decided which was the best tour for me according to my interests, so I took part in the one called Eat Tel Aviv. They offer several food-related tours both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, including private ones. Eat Tel Aviv is the perfect balance between food, city history and walking tour through the most charming neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv.
I was very excited to do a different activity and came out to be marvellous! For this reason, I want to share with you about this experience. A piece of advice: don’t have breakfast, you are going to eat a lot during your visit!
I met my guide, Ilana, in the picturesque ancient neighbourhood called Jaffa. Our group was multicultural and small enough to appreciate every single explanation, to get to know each other and to spend a pleasant time together.
Ilana introduced herself by telling us her family background. Like most Jewish folks, the cultures can be very different even in the same family: mom and dad’s side found “within the kitchen walls” the best way to communicate and overcome linguistic barriers.
She also shared many interesting food-related anecdotes: my favourite was about a type of date that is called medjool. The man who decided to import it in Israel didn’t know the specific name, so asked a Bedouin how this fruit was called and he answered “Medjool”. The man thought he finally had found the name of the date. However, what the Beduin actually said literally meant “I don’t know”. The Medjool dates are still called like this nowadays…
Ilana had many other interesting stories, and this is something hard to find on guides. She varied from food culture to the history of the city.
Which is the food that you imagine when you think of Israel? I’m sure that the first dishes that come to your mind are hummus and falafel, but there’s much more to taste, and I learnt a lot thanks to this tour in which all my five senses were stimulated.
The tour followed the path and the history of the first inhabitants of Tel Aviv and their next expansions. People initially settled down in Jaffa, the oldest port of Israel and the most ancient area of Tel Aviv. In front of the port, there are maps nestled into the ground which show the distances and cities of origins of the communities who arrived and established in Jaffa.
Exporting shamuti oranges became the main trade thanks to the excellent quality of the citrus which were grown using farming methods traditionally employed by Arabs until the 19th century; also lemons and mandarins were produced and exported in smaller quantities.
Once the community in Jaffa grew significantly, the population moved to different areas, such as Neve Tzedek and eventually the Carmel Market, which also coincides with the final destination of our tour.
The tour started with the tasting of the most remarkable dish of Israel: hummus. This chickpea cream is so famous to be one of the stereotypes of the country, and it’s widely appreciated by tourists too. Hummus is so important to be the only food to hold a specific verb: לנגב (lenagev) to wipe. You don’t eat hummus; you wipe hummus!
Later, we stopped in the oldest Abulafia bakery to have some special bread with herbs, followed by a dessert called malabi in one small bar in the Jaffa Market. Malabi is a sort of light pudding made of milk (animal or plant-based), syrup, granola and grated coconut. It melted in my mouth. I tried the dairy and the vegan version and were both sublime.
The tour continued towards Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighbourhood of Tel Aviv built outside the old port of Jaffa where Mizrahi and Yemenite Jewish initially settled. Nowaways Neve Tzedek is one of the fanciest areas of the city with an evident European influence in styles and architecture. Have you ever thought of mixing French croissant dough and halva, the Israeli sweets made of sesame? Give it a try!
The last part of the tour was in my favourite neighbourhood, the Carmel Market. I spent one entire week in Tel Aviv, and I believe that this is the best place to look for an accommodation to thoroughly enjoy one’s stay in “the city that never stops”. It’s located at a walking distance from the beaches and the main streets of Tel Aviv.
Originally founded by the Yemenite community (who still owns most of the houses which are passed down from generation to generation), the Carmel Market is now a hipster paradise with eccentric bars, a bustling market and an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. For these reasons, it became such a popular area filled with expensive houses, hotels and Airbnb.
We got the chance to try more typical food such as falafel, Israeli craft beers, cookies, ice cream, and a unique Yemenite bread made by an exceptional lady in an exceptional restaurant.
I enjoyed every single thing I tasted, and I found incredibly interesting all the curious details that our guide gave us. Naturally, I shared with you only a small part of all the information I gained: I don’t want to spoil the surprise, although I believe that words would never be enough. Food can’t be explained; food has to be savoured.
Israel is a unique country, sacred to the three monotheist religions, and home of many different nationalities and cultures. This fact is probably one of the reasons why also its food is so extraordinary.
I genuinely recommend this tour with Delicious Israel. I learnt a lot, I had a pleasant walking tour through the oldest and most fascinating neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv, and I tried local specialities that probably I would not have tasted or known about if I was just travelling solo.
What I particularly appreciated is the fact that the guide took us to small local places far from being tourist traps. I discovered tiny family-run restaurants, I sat in bars in which locals sit, and I felt as I experienced something special and unique, so my money was well spent and I keep a beautiful memory.