Eat This: Melding old and new in Tel Aviv

A new column, “Eat This” will explore the "what’s what" of the Israeli food scene, with a focus on Tel Aviv. From restaurant reviews and rising food trends, food enthusiast Molly Cutler is excited to share her culinary musings.

Spice stand in Shuk HaCarmel (photo credit: Molly Cutler)
Spice stand in Shuk HaCarmel
(photo credit: Molly Cutler)
Often 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 everyone here.
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.
The 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.
Molly 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.