Israel advocacy through delicious dishes

Chomp your way through the Holy Land with Inbal Baum’s culinary walking tours.

Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel (photo credit: INBAL BAUM)
Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel
(photo credit: INBAL BAUM)
It’s difficult not to respond favorably to those who have successfully realized their dreams, particularly when they are so clearly delighted with their luck. Inbal Baum, creator of Delicious Israel, offering culinary tours around Israel, is a success story.
Baum’s success is rooted in the questions she asked herself five years ago: “What will really drive me and make me happy?” It turned out that life as a lawyer in New York, or as a yoga teacher in Mexico, was not the answer. Idyllic childhood memories of summer vacations with her grandparents in Israel created a lifelong affinity with her parents’ homeland, which eventually became her own home when she left the States to settle in Tel Aviv.
A love of food, the outdoors and Israel meant that she was always volunteering to show her friends around the local markets and restaurants when they came to visit.
Word spread, fortunately to the right people, giving Baum the opportunity to spread her own brand of Israel advocacy through tasting tours of its culinary scene and fresh produce. Advocating for Israel is important to her; she will briefly touch on her political views if quizzed, but prefers to focus on Israel’s culinary treasures to create a positive impression on visitors. One of her most significant success stories, she recounts, was seeing an article based on her recommendations of the Carmel Market listed in the “Food” rather than “Travel” section of The Washington Post.
Delicious Israel undertakes a mammoth task, offering public or private tours in Tel Aviv under various guises, from discovering the distinctly untouristy Levinsky Market to “Shuk and Cook,” where participants buy ingredients in the Carmel Market to prepare in her own apartment. Experiencing Shabbat dinner at Baum’s is also an option, as are tours around Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda Market, Nazareth and various wineries. Now, the vendors at various markets around Israel are her “colleagues,” with a select few from the Yom Tov Deli in Levinsky Market invited to her wedding, “they are like my brothers.”
I spent a day with Baum and others, chiefly American tourists, exploring the culinary delights of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The tour was a little fragmented – a plump cherry tomato with a rich, balsamic taste here; a slither of halva there – but then, so is the emerging Israeli cuisine, if you consider the hotchpotch of influences from culture to neighbors to religious considerations that have shaped the way Israelis eat. She hopes that Israeli chefs will follow the example of Eyal Shani, whose gourmet pita chain, Miznon, has branches in European countries, championing simple food, prepared with care and restraint.
The colorful array of fresh produce – perhaps the only thing we can claim as “ours” – was presented with pride, from segments of Jaffa oranges that introduced the tour, to the stall in the Carmel Market selling locally grown Asian and South American ingredients, such as yucca and plantain. Though history is not her forte, she makes an exception when it comes to food. Using the Jaffa orange as a symbol, Baum narrated the beginnings of Tel Aviv, which began to thrive with the exportation of citrus fruits.
Typically Middle Eastern eats were the most revered among the group; she relayed the history of the infamous “Hummus Wars” between Israel and Lebanon, which competed for the Guinness World Record for the largest serving of hummus for three consecutive years before the organization refused to send a judge to Israel, claiming it was too dangerous, with a wry smile while our masabacha and hummus ful was served at Abu Hassan.
Her infectious enthusiasm for this iconic hummus joint succeeded in ensuring that everyone scooped up the dish with the customary half-moon of white onion.
One participant commented, “the onion kind of threw me off, but it’s really delicious” – a success.
We continued on to tick off another of the “Must Eat” dishes on Baum’s personal checklist: malabi (at Hamalabiya) at Jaffa’s Flea Market. This was initially approached with trepidation, though widely appreciated, particularly the vegan option made with coconut cream instead of milk. The pomegranate grenadine that replaced the more traditional rose water syrup was a welcome substitute, and the smooth panna cotta-like texture was punctuated with peanut chunks, coconut shards and cookie crumbs. A thimbleful of bitter Turkish coffee recommended by Baum was a great accompaniment to the dessert.
The caffeine jolt spurred the group on to our penultimate stop: sabich, deviating through Neveh Tzedek to the Dallal Bakery for a sophisticated French twist on the only Ashkenazi delicacy included on the tour: a chocolate babka. This one was made with brioche and dark Belgian chocolate, and was divine. A pita stuffed with slices of fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs was, however, the undisputed star. The group willingly sampled the collection of sour pickled vegetables and sweeter pickled cucumbers in addition to the complex mango notes of amba, about which opinions were divided.
After bidding every participant farewell with a truly heartfelt hug and last-minute references for dinner that evening, she describes the challenges of her venture.
On a local scale, the vendors, particularly at Abu Hassan hummus, could not grasp the concept of a “taster” portion, urging groups to sit down and eat a bowl for themselves. They seem to have become accustomed to Baum’s strange habits by now, although they do regard her scant order with skepticism.
Far trickier are the trials of working in such a “tumultuous” political situation. During her recent honeymoon in the US, she was conversing with a colleague who was nervous about leading a tour due to a stabbing in Tel Aviv the previous day. These obstacles – “should I hire an armed guard? Should I cancel the tour?” – are often accompanied by a lack of tourists and slow business; a very current problem. Baum, instead, busies herself with cataloging stories of the vendors at Levinsky Market.
Older sellers are leaving the ever-changing bazaar with no heirs to continue producing their secret recipes; she hopes that she may be honored with them.
Slow business and grumpy vendors will not defeat her; she converses with everyone as if they were her long lost friend. The pleasant company alone is reason enough to taste Israel alongside her.
Join a tour or create your own by contacting Inbal Baum through her website: