‘There’s a little bit of a different vibe this year because there’s more people here from out of the country,” says Keren Ben-Yehuda of Tel Aviv. The 29-year-old sits cross-legged on the grass next to friends while they finish off their bowls of Thai noodles. “There’s a lot to choose from, there’s special kinds of food, it’s pretty cheap and the environment is great.”
The Eat Tel Aviv food fair has been running the same week as the Eurovision Song Contest. Held in Charles Clore Park, a green space off the shore between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, the food fair might as well be considered a food emporium. There are trucks and stands farther than the eye can see – and just when you think you’ve reached the end, there are more.
The park grounds also serve as the Eurovision Village, the spot where fans get together, dance, watch international contestants and Israeli musicians perform for free and, of course, eat. The first night of the six-day dining event was Sunday. Chefs rolled food out at 5 p.m. and the night closed with highly professional stage performances from popular hip-hop artist Stephane Legar and Mizrahi pop duo Static and Ben El Tavori.
“I love the songs, but we mostly came for the food,” says Sivan Shwartzberg. Her friend Vered Benbabid chimes in, too: “The show was great and it’s just the beginning. We are excited. It’s been so long that we’ve [Tel Aviv] been getting ready for Eurovision and all the tourists. It’s going to be amazing. We hope all the tourists have a great time in Israel because it’s the greatest country ever, and the greatest city ever.”
A big allure for the food fair is the variety. Tel Aviv is known to be an international city, but the range of countries represented on the grounds are extremely impressive. Sausage professionals from Frank, a restaurant that exclusively sells hot dogs and sausages, say when they started their business, they met a need in the community.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t find a decent sausage in Israel,” says Yuval Sas, chef and general manager at Frank. “You couldn’t find them in stores or restaurants. So it became a hit and there were other people and businesses who followed us. We started the high quality sausage scene in Israel.”
Food engineer, guitarist and sausage extraordinaire Zev Tene spent much of his life studying food and meat, living in European cities learning to make the most quality dogs.
“I had the formula. I went to Germany on my own and learned how they do the hot dogs. No need to go to Prague or Munich or Austria to eat a good hot dog. You can eat it here. You can get it for your barbecue for Independence Day.”
The best part about hanging around the sausage stand was watching people chow down. That included New York City–born Karen Barouk, who says one thing she misses about her home city are the quality hot dogs.
“It’s amazing. It’s filled with cheese inside. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever had,” she says. “My partner is German, so I just got introduced to sausages. But this I haven’t tasted yet. It’s really good.”
The sausages are made with a mix of pork, beef and chicken. Some are all beef. They’re cooked over coals on a large outdoor hanging barbecue, alongside a load of halved onions.
Poke, a Hawaiian restaurant that recently opened in Tel Aviv named after the Hawaiian raw fish salad, is bringing quality Pacific food to the city. Or Finkelshteien stood near the stand, bowl in hand. His wife joked that when the restaurant opened on Ibn Gvirol, he was so excited he didn’t sleep for 10 days.
“I like to mix the tuna and salmon,” Finkelshteien says. “These guys are the first ones. I love poke. It’s delicious and actually in Israel, in the last 10 years – Asian food like salmon, sushi, dim sum – it became much more popular. Sushi restaurants try to create poke, but it’s not like this one.”
Restaurant owner Liran Rozenvasser spent time in New York visiting friends and then visited Hawaii where he learned all about poke and wanted to bring some of the culture to the other side of the world.
“You can’t compare Tel Aviv to New York, but it’s getting there. We’ve had Hawaiian people come to our store and tell us they were so happy we had their dish in our country,” Rozenvasser says.
The chef’s main goal is to serve healthy food and also accommodate the growing vegan community in the area, saying there’s always a need to raise the consciousness for healthier food. Currently the restaurant is open until midnight, but soon, delivery will be available until 4 a.m. to target late-night munchers who prefer something nourishing over, say, a greasy slice of pizza. The company is also preparing for the opening of another restaurant that will be certified kosher.
The classic poke bowl includes greens, watermelon, green and white onion, edamame, bean sprouts, ginger, cucumber, horseradish, a house sauce and a citrus vinaigrette. The spicy version includes chili, jalapeño, mango, ginger and peanuts, and the Israeli house special poke bowl has tobiko egg with house sauce and portobello mushrooms. Any of the dishes can become vegan by choosing to swap out the fish for tofu and mushrooms.
If you’re someone who pooh-poohs the vegan lifestyle and prefers the carnivorous one, there’s a place for you. And it’s full of flavor. Paula’s Latino Catering is a must-stop. Not only is this stand high in demand, but since it’s a kitchen and catering service, you won’t be able to get a single portion of it just for yourself at any other time in the future. This South American-Jewish family left the Latino lifestyle in 1989 and though they loved living in Israel, the married couple missed their asado and empanadas. It turned out there were other Latino families who were hurting too.
Head chef Antonio Mend hails from Uruguay and considers his business the “rincon” or “corner” of Latino food in Israel. The kitchen is located in Rishon Lezion and caters kosher events all over the country. His wife, Paula, for whom the business is named after, was born in Chile.
“It’s a business we work in with all of our heart,” Mend explains in Spanish. “We cook the asado for 12 hours and bring the meat in from Uruguay and Argentina. The cows here just aren’t the same. The beef needs a certain flavor and fat that the animals here don’t have. This could be the result of a variety of differences – the climate, the weather, there are many variables that affect the way the animals taste.”
All of the meat is kosher, so that, as he explains, anyone can feel “tranquila” or relaxed while eating his food. For Mend, his passion is making the empanadas. “I missed them so much.”
A traditional plate has a potato puree with pulled beef and chimichurri on top. Customers stood nearby shoving the beef into their mouths, including 17-year-old Omer Sayag, who is a self-described meat-eater and came from Hadera for the festival with his mom and sister.
”The flavor is wow. I think it actually melts in my mouth. It’s very tasty. I can tell it’s been cooking for a long time,” he says. “There are a lot of options to eat a lot of food from all the countries in the world. It’s amazing. I don’t really do this all the time.”
The food fair ends Saturday night. Trucks will serve food from 5 to 11:30 and even until 2 a.m. during the weekend. Plates are no more than NIS 35 each, making it tough to justify cooking a homemade meal after work. Entrance to the event is free, but security is tight. Avoid bringing anything sharp and leave your e-bike batteries at home.
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