Spice stand in Shuk HaCarmel.
(photo credit: Molly Cutler)
the larger and more established a city becomes, the more it loses its
quaint, “knowing all of your neighbors and their dogs’ names” feel.
While this is somewhat true for Tel Aviv as it continues to expand and
populate, it is impressive to witness (even if only on occasion), the
small town vibe that lives on within this big city. Last week, after not
having visited my daily coffee stop in over two months due to a trip
abroad, one of the baristas gave a wholehearted greeting and inquired of
my whereabouts all summer. This was an instant reminder that warmth
pumps through Tel Aviv’s veins.
Before moving to Tel Aviv, it
seemed as though its main attractions remained localized along its
aqua-stained coast, where restaurants, parties and trendiness revolved
around the revered Namal Tel Aviv (Port of Tel Aviv) at the city’s
North, Hayarkon’s beach hotels and bars at its center, and Jaffa’s Old
City quarter to the South.
It didn’t take long, however, to
realize that Tel Aviv is far more than a beachside paradise or a hip
hotspot. It is a culinary center where global traditions have melded
together to create an ever-changing, yet distinct food landscape. Arab
and European cuisines, particularly those throughout the Mediterranean,
have made their way through the homes and hearts of Israelis over the
last forty years, truly leading the way for an evolving food scene in
this urban vortex. As a result, it has been easy to appreciate Tel Aviv
in all of its rawness primarily through its food, where regardless of
shape or form, it mirrors Israeli culture; that which promotes hard work
and modernization, but values tradition. A mix of trendy and
traditional restaurants, bakeries, markets and the city’s buzzing energy that never ceases makes Tel Aviv unique .
Whether relishing in
beef Kubeh soup (an Iraqi-Jewish dish typically made with beet broth,
beef stuffed and fried dumplings, and vegetables) at Café Suzannah or biting into a Middle Eastern pizza topped with Bulgarian cheese, za’atar, and kalamata olives at Abulafia
in Jaffa, pictures and questions arise about the origins of this food
and how it came about. Don’t you love when history creeps into our
modern lives (and mouths)?
On the flip side, fusion packed
dishes and treats that even the most traditional of palates can
appreciate are to be found at every turn in this city. From tabouli
kicked up with crunchy fire-roasted asparagus, sweet tehina, and cous
cous instead of bulgar at Tapas Ahad Ha’am
to the “Beitzah Shnitzel” (literally translates to “Shnitzel Egg”), a
boiled egg battered and lightly fried atop lemon and mustard marinated
onions at Chef Omer Miller’s, “HaShulchan”, there is something for
To sum up Tel Aviv, I would describe her as the
smell of oven-fresh pita wafting through Shuk HaCarmel on a bustling
Friday afternoon. She is the elderly couple sitting side by side in
Rabin Square, linking arms, and arguing relentlessly. She is the spice
vendor in Levinsky Market who guides you through Asia and Africa one
spice at a time. She is the twenty something woman walking alone at 5
a.m. with a sense of trust and security. She is the American tourist who
excitedly stops you to ask for directions. She is the cashier at the
grocery store who shamelessly comments on your “excess spending.” She is
the storeowner who tips his hat every time you walk past his shop. She
is the neighborhood butcher who knows your order by heart. She is the
bartender who treats you like a pal every time you make a sauce stop.
heart and soul of Tel Aviv and what grounds us here is the human aspect
that remains. It is present in our food and in our daily lives.
Tel Aviv, I love you.
Cutler is Chief Marketing Officer of Cutler Group, a Tech PR Agency
based in New York City and Tel Aviv. She is a bonafide food enthusiast
who spends much of her spare time browsing markets and specialty food
shops, cooking in her small kitchen in Tel Aviv, reinventing recipes as
her own, and sharing in the joy of eating with her friends and family.