Ex­plor­ing Tel Aviv & Jerusalem through food

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - BY LOT­TIE GROSS PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY LATN BLACK

From tra­di­tional street food in Jerusalem to fine-din­ing in Tel Aviv, we eat our way around Is­rael’s tasti­est mar­kets, cafes and res­tau­rants.

As I stand un­der the bak­ing sun among the rub­ble of what used to be a park­ing lot op­po­site the

City of David vis­i­tor cen­tre, I can just about piece to­gether the ev­i­dence that’s laid out be­fore me. The dusty, faded mo­saics on the ground in­di­cate a court­yard and I can see rem­nants of the stone pil­lars that once held up the walls of this near 2,000-year-old Ro­man villa.

The hairs on my arms stand on end as my guide, Ye­huda, re­counts tales of the in­tern ar­chae­ol­o­gist who dis­cov­ered a hoard of over 200 gold coins here in 2008. A stash that was clearly left in a hurry be­fore the Per­sians in­vaded, and whose owner never did re­turn to col­lect them, their fate un­known.

The fate of Jerusalem back then, though, is not un­known. Thanks to the as­ton­ish­ing ar­ray of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites across the city you can lit­er­ally see the his­tory play out be­fore you. It seems al­most ev­ery new de­vel­op­ment that breaks ground finds some­thing of im­por­tance.

The phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of the many civil­i­sa­tions that tried, failed and suc­ceeded in con­quer­ing Jerusalem is oc­ca­sion­ally over­whelm­ing for a vis­i­tor. Just over the road from where I’m stand­ing are the un­cov­ered re­mains of the City of David and pos­si­bly Is­rael’s most ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery: King David’s palace, the one de­scribed in the Bi­ble. In the dis­tance I can see the Old City walls, dat­ing back to the Ot­toman era, and in­side them lies the Tem­ple

Mount which was built by King Solomon in 957 BCE. There are around 33 ex­ca­va­tions across the city, each pro­vid­ing an in­sight into how Jerusalem changed with each oc­cu­pa­tion and bat­tle, and how the dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and cul­tures found their way here to­day.

As a re­sult of this tur­bu­lent his­tory, mod­ern Jerusalem is a fas­ci­nat­ing con­coc­tion of cul­tures from around the world. Out­side the Old City walls peo­ple from across the globe – Jews from South Amer­ica and Africa, Arabs from all over the Mid­dle East and Or­tho­dox Chris­tians from as far as Rus­sia and Egypt – share their tra­di­tions in pub­lic spa­ces. And to­day, there’s no bet­ter place to see this in ac­tion than the bustling Machane Ye­huda Mar­ket.

Once just a hum­ble plot with a few shacks from which Arab women would sell gro­ceries, Machane Ye­huda is now a sprawl of ac­tiv­ity. The air has a pun­gent smell, ow­ing to the blend of herbs, spices, fruit and veg­eta­bles piled high on many of the stalls, and as I pass by each stall­holder yells in He­brew, Ara­bic or English to draw at­ten­tion to their prod­ucts. I’m of­fered tasters of halva –

a Mid­dle Eastern sweet made from sesame paste – dried fruits, roasted nuts and iced tea as I push through the throng­ing crowds, but I by­pass them all in pur­suit of a tra­di­tional Is­raeli sand­wich: the sabih.

“Haba Bak­ery makes the best sabih in Is­rael,” my guide Maria, from food tour com­pany Yalla Basta, tells me. The open-fronted shop sits on the fringes of the mar­ket with stacks of plump, freshly-baked pita breads on dis­play.

She in­tro­duces me to Has­san, whose frown of con­cen­tra­tion turns to a cheeky grin as soon as he sees me. He im­me­di­ately grabs my arm, drags me be­hind the counter and has me fum­bling with some silky dough he’s been knead­ing.

Orig­i­nally hail­ing from Iraq, Has­san is Mus­lim and his busi­ness part­ner, Zion, is Jewish. The un­likely pair – given the his­tory be­tween their two faiths – have been mak­ing bread to­gether for decades, and a pho­to­graph of them with longer hair and fresher faces hangs on the wall next to the smoul­der­ing ovens.

My dough doesn’t quite mould into the per­fectly rounded disc that Has­san is ca­pa­ble of, but he slaps it on the in­side wall of the fiery oven re­gard­less and in­vites me to stick my head in­side to watch it bub­ble up into an un­du­lat­ing, crispy flat­bread. When it’s ready, he pulls it out with long me­tal tongs and slathers it with olive oil and za’atar – my new favourite sea­son­ing, made with hys­sop, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. It’s de­light­fully mor­eish, but I stop my­self, be­cause I know what’s com­ing next.

He scur­ries over to the other end of the kitchen where he be­gins build­ing my sabih. In­side the pita bread he piles slices of fried aubergine, boiled eggs, finely chopped toma­toes and cu­cum­ber, and sea­sons it with tahini and more of that ad­dic­tive za’atar.

This de­li­ciously fresh sand­wich is a pop­u­lar street food here, and it’s go­ing to be the next big thing in Europe ac­cord­ing to Maria. I hope so, I think to my­self – I’d quite like to con­sume this on a daily ba­sis back in Lon­don.

My tour of the mar­ket con­tin­ues – much to my full stom­ach’s dis­may. I eat a mini khacha­puri (cheese-filled bread) made by a Geor­gian chef who came to Is­rael when he was just a boy. I quench my thirst with et­rog juice, a cit­rusy health drink in­spired by the fa­mous 12th-cen­tury rabbi and doc­tor Mai­monides. And I in­dulge on stuffed vine leaves and kibbeh – a bul­gur wheat case filled with meat then deep fried – at fam­ily-run Mor­duch.

As I jos­tle through the crowds I spot an Ethiopian shop sell­ing tra­di­tional wo­ven bas­kets, a store spe­cial­is­ing in Ju­daica and kip­pas (the cap Jewish men wear on the crown of their heads) and tiny cup­board-sized shop of­fer­ing freshly roasted Ara­bic cof­fee beans. The mar­ket is a true sym­bol of the city, with all na­tion­al­i­ties, faiths and flavours on dis­play.

It’s not en­tirely stuck in its tra­di­tional ways though, as a smat­ter­ing of mod­ern es­tab­lish­ments have popped up in re­cent years. Roast­ers, the hip­ster cof­fee shop that wouldn’t be out of place in Ber­lin or Copen­hagen sits side-by-side with the clas­sic spice sell­ers. Op­po­site, a sushi restau­rant has ta­bles out­side await­ing the lunchtime rush.

On my way out I stum­ble past an ice cream shop and be­fore I can con­vince my­self I’ve al­ready eaten too much, its 26-year-old owner is ask­ing if I want to see how liq­uid ni­tro­gen ice cream is made. Of course I do.

Ivan, the Is­raeli who started the shop with his friend, Rafi, is one of the many in­no­va­tive young peo­ple bring­ing this mar­ket into the 21st cen­tury. His in­stant ice cream shop has been open for just one month he tells me, as he pours liq­uid ni­tro­gen into my cho­sen mix­ture of al­mond milk, crushed Oreos and choco­late sauce. He saw the idea on Amer­i­can TV show Shark Tank and de­cided to recre­ate it here. Cus­tomers can choose ev­ery sin­gle el­e­ment of their ice cream, from the base (dairy and non-dairy) to the flavours, and it’s ready within min­utes, un­like the tra­di­tional stuff which takes hours to mix and freeze.

Come night-time, the mar­ket doesn’t shut down, but in­stead comes alive with a far younger, row­dier crowd. With most of the food stalls closed for the evening, a hand­ful of bars spread them­selves out along the walk­ways. Dis­play stands are cov­ered with cush­ions and blan­kets to be used as seat­ing at cock­tail bar Tap & Tail, and the Beer Bazaar uses up­turned crates for ta­bles and spills out of the mar­ket onto the streets.

The vibe, I find out the fol­low­ing evening, is rem­i­nis­cent of many bars in Tel Aviv, Is­rael’s glis­ten­ing coastal gem. I ar­rive there late at night and head to my apart­ment in Florentin, the city’s cre­ative neigh­bour­hood fa­mous for its many mu­rals and street art pieces. On a Thurs­day evening, it’s all lively bars, al fresco drink­ing ter­races and small cor­ner shops sell­ing street food to the ine­bri­ated masses.

It seems, though, that this is one of the few things Jerusalem and Tel Aviv has in com­mon. Oth­er­wise,

th­ese two cities – just an hour apart by road – are starkly dif­fer­ent places.

Tel Aviv was de­stroyed and re­built many times through­out his­tory, so to­day, most of its build­ings date back no more than a hun­dred years. In­stead of the beau­ti­ful sand­stone struc­tures the Old City of Jerusalem is fa­mous for, this far more cos­mopoli­tan city is all con­crete and glass. High-rise ho­tels stand tall along its beach­front prom­e­nade, where hun­dreds of tourists and lo­cals alike come to stroll and en­joy the sea breeze af­ter the hottest hours of the day are over.

On an evening am­ble I pass buzzing beach bars with blar­ing mu­sic, vol­ley­ball tour­na­ments and groups of friends pic­nick­ing on the sand. It seems the party here goes on well into the night, but I’m less in­ter­ested in the late-night drink­ing cul­ture and more ex­cited by this city’s food scene. Tel Aviv is home to some of Is­rael’s best chefs.

One of those chefs is Raz Ra­hav – the 26-year-old be­hind Tel Aviv’s sole tast­ing menu-only restau­rant. OCD – named for his own ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive ten­den­cies – has just 20 seats at a bar around its open kitchen and only serves two cov­ers a night.

When they first opened, word on the restau­rant scene was that OCD wouldn’t last more than three months. Is­raelis, Ra­hav tells me, want to go some­where they can own the ex­pe­ri­ence, play loud mu­sic and dance on the ta­bles, and this isn’t some­where you just come to eat. This is some­where you come to be fed. “I know what’s best, so I de­vise the set menus and wine pair­ings,” he says sternly, as if the idea of choos­ing your own food from a menu is ab­hor­rent.

Three years in and they’re still go­ing strong: OCD is fully-booked for at least two months in ad­vance – Tel Avi­vians have clearly shown a taste for ex­pe­ri­en­tial din­ing, and Ra­hav ex­pects more places like this will open as a re­sult.

Un­for­tu­nately, this means I don’t get to taste any of his ex­quis­ite cre­ations, but he does point me in the di­rec­tion of some ex­cep­tional Tel Aviv res­tau­rants. I have lunch at Onza, in the heart of the Jaffa Flea Mar­ket where you can find any­thing from old mo­bile phones to high-end, hand­made fur­ni­ture.

There, chefs Arik Darhani and Muli Ma­griso have de­vised a di­vine Turk­ish menu. I sit out­side in the swel­ter­ing mid­day sun and feast on su börek (boiled pas­try with feta cheese and herbs), wal­nut and tomato salad and ta­doum, a Turk­ish bread filled with cheese, seafood and slices of ‘lamb ba­con’.

An ideal peo­ple-watch­ing spot, it’s here I re­alise how dif­fer­ent this place feels to Jerusalem. There are no re­li­gious men wear­ing or­tho­dox dress, but in­stead young cou­ples hold­ing hands, brows­ing jew­ellery bou­tiques and drink­ing cock­tails in the sun.

As I sit down at a bar my own af­ter­noon drink, the bar­man at Raisa in­sists on pour­ing me shots of ouzo along­side my cock­tail. For din­ner I eat at Cof­fee­bar, a Tel Aviv fine-din­ing in­sti­tu­tion and an­other of Chef Ra­hav’s favourites. It’s heav­ing with lo­cals even on Shab­bat – a scene you’re un­likely to find in Jerusalem on a Fri­day evening, when most of the city’s pop­u­la­tion are at home with fam­ily and many res­tau­rants are closed.

This might not be the Holy City, but it’s cer­tainly a city of he­do­nism and just the kind of place I could spend a week or two.

WHERE TO EAT

In Jerusalem, try a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing in the Machane Ye­huda Mar­ket with Yalla Basta’s Bite Card (pur­chase on­line at yal­labasta.com); feast on falafel at the most pop­u­lar joint in town, Moshiko; have af­ter­noon tea at the gor­geous Villa Brown Ho­tel; and eat bril­liant meat dishes at Hachatzer.

In Tel Aviv, book well in ad­vance for the 12-14 course tast­ing menu at OCD, or try chef Ra­hav’s gourmet sand­wiches at Bar­vazi Ur­ban Sand­wich; for bril­liant mod­ern Turk­ish food head to Onza in Jaffa Flea Mar­ket; eat Mediter­ranean dishes at Ouze­ria; Meshek Barzi­lay serves fresh, healthy in­ter­na­tional ve­gan dishes; and for fine-din­ing and ex­cel­lent Is­raeli wines go to Cof­fee­bar.

WHERE TO STAY

Brown Beach House in Tel Aviv is prime lo­ca­tion for sea­side fun, and their sis­ter ho­tel, Villa Brown, in Jerusalem is a gor­geous Ot­toman prop­erty, lov­ingly con­verted into a beau­ti­ful stun­ning ho­tel – break­fast at both is an ex­cep­tional feast of meze. For ul­tra-lux­ury and an ex­cep­tional lo­ca­tion next to the Old City in Jerusalem, try Mamilla, which has a spa, two res­tau­rants and a lux­ury shop­ping pa­rade nearby.

In­ter­na­tional ac­cess: Ben Gu­rion In­ter­na­tional Air­port (TLV) is Is­rael’s main air­port sit­u­ated a 35 min­utes’ drive from Jerusalem and a 30 min­utes’ drive from Tel Aviv.

Pre­ferred air­lines: Turk­ish Air­lines op­er­ates 9 daily flights from IST-TLV vice versa on Busi­ness and Econ­omy class cab­ins.

This Page, from top, bread for sale in Jerusalem’s Machne Ye­huda Mar­ket; olives in the Machne Ye­huda Mar­ket. Op­po­site,clock­wise from left, the Gi­vati Park­ing Lot dig where a Ro­man villa was found; Jerusalem’s Tower of David; a view of the Old City from the City of David. Pre­vi­ous Pages from left, lunch menu at Ouze­ria in Tel Aviv; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

This Page, from top, build­ing a sabih in Haba Bak­ery; the au­thor with Has­san; Roast­ers cof­fee shop in Machne Ye­huda Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, spices such as za’atar and turmeric in Machne Ye­huda; a halva stall in the mar­ket; a pas­try stall; piles of dried fruit in Machne Ye­huda

This Page, from top, the mam­moth break­fast at Villa Brown, Jerusalem; fil­let steak from Hachatzer, Jerusalem; rooftops of the Old City of Jerusalem. Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, um­brel­las sus­pended over Yoel Moshe Solomon Street in Jerusalem; an old man passes a new Asian restau­rant in Machne Ye­huda; the nightlife scene in Machne Ye­huda; the ‘cave bar’ at Villa Brown, Jerusalem

This page, from top, Tel Aviv as seen from Jaffa at sun­set; choco­late tahini slices at Meshek Barzi­lay, Tel Aviv; cured tuna on br­uschetta at Ouze­ria, Tel Aviv. Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, meze dishes at Hachatzer, Jerusalem; sashimi from Cof­fee Bar, Tel Aviv; var­i­ous dips at Hachatzer, Jerusalem; a main course from Hachatzer

This Page, from top, Machne Ye­huda Mar­ket, Jerusalem; the li­brary at Villa Brown, Jerusalem; home­ware shops in Jaffa Flear Mar­ket. Op­po­site, clock­wise from left, fur­ni­ture for sale in Jaffa Flea Mar­ket; a sand­stone al­ley­way in Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv; the lunch spe­cial at Ouze­ria, Tel Aviv; the kitchen at OCD, Tel Aviv

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