If you are a food-lover who has not yet been to Israel in the last 10 years, you are missing something — quite a lot, actually. Israel’s food and wine industry has exploded in the past decade or so, and what we have here, in addition to the traditional foods that have always existed — creamy hummus, fresh flat-breads, fruity olive oils, incredible local produce year-round, fresh squeezed juice on every corner, flaky bourekas, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, and so on — are the organic farmers’ markets, award-winning vineyards, micro breweries, and a booming goat milk, cheese and yogurt industry, to name a few. Israel is a country where you can sit in a dusty desert tent eating an authentic Bedouin lunch with your hands and be drinking organic pinot noir on an oceanside rooftop in Tel Aviv by cocktail hour. The very new mingles with the ancient quite regularly in this tiny country, and if you want to experience it all during your stay this is the man who can make it happen:
I’m very fortunate to have been connected with Ben through friends, and am now working with him on developing his Jerusalem food tour, which I hope to begin leading this summer. A couple weeks ago, I shadowed Ben as he led a group of visitors on a food tour of Tel Aviv and Yafo, which was both delicious and educational.
The tour started out at the Yafo Port and then wound its way up into old Yafo towards the famous Abu Hassan hummus restaurant. We stopped to see if the cookie man was open but, alas, we were meant to save room for hummus.
At Abu Hassan the line was not too bad, and Inbal (Ben’s right-hand woman) snapped this shot of the men in the kitchen while we waited.
Once we got our table, no menu perusing was necessary since the choices are limited in this famous hole-in-wall establishment.
Since it was already close to 11 am by this time, Ben warned the group to leave room for lunch. He shared his secret for not filling up at Abu Hassan: eating the hummus with the raw onion scoops they provide instead of the pitas. I tried, but I am just not that hardcore.
After a scenic walk through the artists’ section of old Yafo we made our way along Yafo’s main drag, Yefet, and out towards the new city.
Our first stop out of Yafo was the new Farmers’ Market at HaTachana, the beautifully refurbished Ottoman train station that dates back to 1891. We sampled delicious organic fruits, Israeli-made chocolate liqueurs, and some artisan cheeses before sitting down for espresso at an outdoor cafe.
From HaTachana we walked north, skimming the edge of the Shuk on our way to Irit’s, whose praises I’ve sung more than once before. Although lunch would have been welcoming enough, we were also greeted by my favorite food-partner-in-crime, Liz, and her husband Eitan.
I knew the group was in for a treat as Irit fired up the stove and began sending plate after delicious plate to folks who were about to get their first real taste of authentic Yemenite soulfood.
After lunch, the group and I parted ways. They were on to the architecture portion of the tour — Tel Aviv is a UNESCO World Heritage site with many beautiful buildings form the Ottoman and Bahaus era — and I was off to celebrate a birthday. I was extremely grateful to Ben for having me tag along and I look forward to working with Israel Food Tours in the future.