Vegan in Tel Aviv beats any and all expectations

Be Tel Aviv offers tours of every kind but one tour is based on the vegan restaurants across the city of Tel Aviv.

 Bana on leafy Nachmani Street refreshes its menu seasonally with the vegetables in some dishes changing daily (photo credit: MarkDavidPod)
Bana on leafy Nachmani Street refreshes its menu seasonally with the vegetables in some dishes changing daily
(photo credit: MarkDavidPod)

As students in Manchester, UK, our first real exposure to veganism was via the meatless cafe On The 8th Day. It was a stereotyper paradise: the food, people, hippie decor and politics.

But jump forward all-too-many years and our vegan experience is a very different story.

The Tel Aviv weather is perfect: just warm enough for those who still want to sit outside and catch the last rays of the day’s autumnal sun.

The setting is an unremarkable building on Nachmani Street. There’s no sign to tell you this is Bana, a terrific cafe with an open kitchen.

Chef Or sits next to us to describe a couple of his latest creations: a smoked-wheat tabbouleh on cashew-based tzatziki and mushrooms, and scallions and bok-choy in a nutty Greek skordalia sauce.

 Bana on leafy Nachmani Street refreshes its menu seasonally with the vegetables in some dishes changing daily (credit: MarkDavidPod) Bana on leafy Nachmani Street refreshes its menu seasonally with the vegetables in some dishes changing daily (credit: MarkDavidPod)

He says he doesn’t feel limited by vegan dietary requirements when he and his colleagues come up with their new menus, which change with the seasons – the vegetables used can vary daily.

“Far from being restrictive, in many ways, vegan cooking is much easier,” says Or. “Cheese and butter both spoil very quickly. That’s not the case when you use alternatives made from cashew and vegetables.

Bana is one of three stops on the tour led by veteran guide and entrepreneur Eviatar Gover, CEO of Be Tel Aviv Tours. His resume takes in working the stalls in United States shopping malls, bartending, event production and, get this, a restaurant by the Ganges with a resident cow in the kitchen. Only in India, as they say.

Be Tel Aviv offers tours of every kind: bikes, graffiti, pubs, cocktails, markets and more. But this evening, it’s plant-based gastronomy.

Vegan tours with Be Tel Aviv

It’s a good 10-minute walk to stop number two, the phenomenal Green Roll vegan sushi bar on Ahad Ha’am Street.

We ran out of superlatives for the quality of the product clearly made with a lot of love by owner Eliran and his team. Not a fish fillet in sight but we swore we could taste the tuna and salmon in the rolls after taking a few moments to admire and photograph the immaculately-presented platter.

The cafe is beautifully decorated and even offers a double-width chaise lounge for a quick post-prandial snooze or the perfect Instagram moment. As we interview Eliran for our Jerusalem Post Podcast Travel Edition, his staff take a well-deserved break from kitchen duties and one by one peek at their boss, as he describes his dishes to our listeners. Eliran plans to open Green Roll branches elsewhere in Israel but he also has the US in his sights.

Time to move on but before we leave, we say “Hi” to another of Eviatar’s groups on the vegan tour and arrange to meet up for dessert at our final destination for the evening.

It's not a hard sell. Eviatar isn’t vegan but he does buy into the philosophy for the sake of the future of our planet. The three top pollutants in order, he says, are industry, food production and transportation.

“Just think,” he says as we take a pause from reading the menu at venue three, “Put together the pollution from cars, trucks, planes and all the other modes of transport and that is surpassed by the bad stuff we pump into the environment in order to eat.”

 Green Roll on Ahad Ha'am Street offers explosive tastes and original decor (credit: MarkDavidPod) Green Roll on Ahad Ha'am Street offers explosive tastes and original decor (credit: MarkDavidPod)

He’s a proponent of each of us making a small gesture. In his own case, Evi doesn’t buy products tested on animals. As for the rest of us, he suggests that given how much methane is released into the atmosphere for us to enjoy our steaks, perhaps we could adopt Meatless Monday as a regular practice.

Back to the food...

Meshek Barzilay is top-end vegan. The award-winning kitchen has become a firm favorite in the Neve Zedek neighborhood, trying to stay true to its roots in Moshav Yarkona in Hod Hasharon. The restaurant moved to Tel Aviv in 2013 and has been packed ever since.

For us, it was a mushroom (yes, again. We love them.) medley on a walnut-based cream sauce, followed by desserts and tea.

Fuldan, whom we bumped into earlier on a parallel tour joined us as we shared lemon tart with aquafaba topping, tiramisu and a cashew cheesecake. She is in Tel Aviv for a week en route to a conference in Amman, Jordan. Fuldan’s family is of Turkish origin and she lives in Germany. It’s been a dream of hers to visit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And when in Tel Aviv…

“I’ve heard the vegan scene is huge here so I decided to try it out,” she says between bites. “I’m not vegan at all but I love to eat vegan because it’s super light, they use good vegetables and I like the whole philosophy behind it even though I don’t stick to it myself.”

This is music to Eviatar. He wants people to sample this healthy lifestyle, to take on board its messages, maybe make some small changes in behavior to help the environment but above all to go home better educated, sated and smiling.

The writers were the guests of Be Tel Aviv Tours (www.betelavivtours.com). Mark and David host The Jerusalem Post Podcast Travel Edition (www.jpost.com/podcast/travel-edition)