Market gastronomy comes to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market and it's about damn time.
By ARI MILLER
If you don't like the shuk you're square. This should come as no surprise, but I'm referring specifically to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market. Still, years behind the polished, Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, the Carmel Market still offers offensive odors, offensive vendors and a plethora of options that go the route of international variety more so than ghetto-fabulous.
And while Jerusalem's market offers a wide selection of well-tailored cafes and copious cuisines on offer, at the Carmel Market one can still find elderly types selling hand-rolled Iraqi kube, which costs just NIS 5 and makes for a delicious treat if you don't care about health code violations or the chance that the meat you're eating might not come from an animal that you usually eat.
But progress, they say, is unavoidable and the Carmel Market spins on the same planet as the rest of everything. Luckily, the recently opened Hashuka works hard to be a part of the market, rather than attempt to change its character for the worse.
I recently was invited to check out the place for breakfast. But when we arrived, we were encouraged to try the afternoon and evening dishes. Walking into the place feels more like you're entering a whole other layer to the shuk, as opposed to leaving it. The huge window that lets in the colors and lights of the shuk is about the most inviting aspect, with the energy and life of what's beyond the glass allowed to seep inside. Overall, it has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of a shore-style, casual eatery - so what could be better for a Tel Aviv establishment? Nothing. Even the plates and dishes themselves are so cute, they give shabby-chic a whole new vitality. And, the small deck located on the side by the entrance is a great spot to sit with a morning coffee and/or afternoon cocktail.
We started with the stuffed vine leaves (NIS 18) which were served in the style of little burritos: as tasty as they were impressive. We then had the chopped liver (NIS 20), served on toast points with garlic confit and sprinkled with chives. And, we had the distinct pleasure of sampling a special dish of calamari stuffed with polenta. Hashuka places special emphasis on their daily specials, creating them from what is available fresh that day. This was by far the tastiest dish we ate that visit and is up there with some of the tastiest dishes I've had the pleasure to sample in this country.
Main courses were a vegetarian couscous (NIS 28) with a standard mix of veggies (zucchini, pumpkin, carrot, onion, chickpeas etc.) - the flavor was full and satisfying. It is also available with chicken or beef (NIS 34). And, the beets stuffed with lamb and rice in a wonderful sauce of tehina and pine nuts (NIS 36) was so very impressive with a great fusion of sweet flavors, with none overwhelming the other. Even my dining partner, who is decidedly anti-beet, found it impossible to abstain.
Dessert was a white chocolate malabi with cherries (NIS 14). While it was served in probably the most chic dish they had, neither of us were too into that authentic industrial flavor. The chocolate and cheese brownies (NIS 11) on the other hand were so good, with added bonus points for conjuring up childhood memories of this treat.
So impressed I was, that I returned not long after to check out the breakfast, taking the green shakshuka (NIS 29). Aside from a breakfast menu offered all day, this dish was super tasty, a mix of spinach and feta cheese served alongside a great yogurt sauce, extra tasty salad ('cause of the sunflower seeds), olives and bread. Both times I had a hafuch. While not a true fan of Saquella coffee, the milk was so very well steamed and the price (NIS 8) makes it more than doable. And enjoyably so.
Worthy of mention, though I did not try them myself, are the summer frozen cocktails of arak and watermelon, arak and lemon-nana and vodka and apple for NIS 18/glass.
Hashuka - 42 Rehov Rabbi Meir and the corner of Rehov Hacarmel; (074) 701-6895 - is open Sun.-Wed. From 10 a.m. to, at least, 10 p.m. Thurs. from 10 a.m. to the last customer and Fri. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; not kosher. The writer was a guest of the restaurant on his first visit.
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