From the rich history of Jerusalem’s Old City to the coral reefs of Eilat, the salty shorelines of the Dead Sea and the booming contemporary art scene and nonstop nightlife of Tel Aviv, Israel offers something for everyone. But what many people don’t know is that the real heart and soul of Israel is captured in its food. With its melting pot of influences from across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and its emphasis on fresh ingredients—especially vegetables, breads and grilled meats—Israeli cuisine having a “moment” around the world. You can sample it at hotspots like Nur in New York, London’s Palomar and The Barbary, and Balagan in Paris), but I decided to spend a week tasting its delights at the source. Here are some of my favorite discoveries. 

By Joanna Cisowska
Baklava for sale at the Carmel Market
Photo by @jojo_travels on Instagram

STREETS & STRANDS

When you ask an Israeli for tips on where to eat, their answer is simple: on the street. And there is no better place to get a taste of the city than the Carmel Market, or "the shuk," as locals call it. The largest market in Tel Aviv offers a plethora of fresh vegetables and produce, gorgeous displays of halva, baklava and burekas (phyllo pastries filled with cheese, potatoes or other ingredients), and stalls cooking delicious fresh meals.

After a morning at the market, grab lunch at the nearby HaBasta, a lively local institution with daily-changing menus created from the market’s freshest offerings. Don’t miss the crudos made from freshly caught fish and the divine crispy calamari.

No visit to Israel is complete without trying hummus, and there is no better place to try it than Jaffa’s Abu Hassan. There's a reason that the place has been written up by everyone. Make sure to get there early, because once the hummus is gone... it's gone.

The beaches are a big part of the Tel Aviv lifestyle. After a day in the sun, head to Cassis in Jaffa. The menu is composed of the freshest seafood and gorgeous salads. With breathtaking panoramic views of the ocean and the sounds of waves crashing in the background, it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset.  

The open kitchen at North Abraxas.
Photo by @jojo_travels on Instagram

NIGHTS OUT

It is no secret that Israelis know how to have a good time. This rings truest at famed Chef Eyal Shani’s restaurant North Abraxas. Shani, nicknamed the Cauliflower King for a reason, turns up the heat with killer ingredients and beautifully executed cuisine, and he seriously knows how to put fun in dining. The food is served on sheets of brown paper instead of plates—and don’t be surprised if everyone ends up on their feet for some dancing. (His Port Said, a restaurant-slash-club whose walls are lined with vinyl records, is equally entertaining.)

The lively Sarona Market is a fairly new development and home to acclaimed Chef Ran Shmueli's buzzy farm-to-table restaurant Claro. With a taboon (specialty brick oven) as the centerpiece, you'll discover fresh fish, meat, chicken, handmade pasta and breads executed to perfection. Grab a counter seat facing the big open kitchen, enjoy the meal and soak in the atmosphere.  

For a fancy night on the town (fancy being a relative term in super-casual Israel), head to Shila. Chef Sharon Cohen’s temple of creative seafood will satisfy even the toughest critics, and the sea fish tartare wrapped in avocado should be on everyone’s list.

The incredible quality of ingredients, bold Mediterranean flavors and thriving culinary scene make Tel Aviv an easy place to dine out. The most difficult decision you’ll face is how to find enough time to enjoy them all!

 

Joanna Cisowska (@jojo_travels) is a hospitality professional, bon vivant and avid explorer who has visited more than 50 countries.