Inside Levinsky 41 with Neta Maoz (left), who works in the shop, and owner Benny Briga (right). Photograph by Shulie Madnick.
One and a half year old Levinsky 41 is a bright, artisanal soda shop nestled in the historic Levinsky Spice Market, in the shadows of the old bus station in southern Tel Aviv.
A wide range of residents populate this bustling neighborhood and its surroundings, which was established in the 1930s by Jews from Saloniki, Greece. Hipsters, a mix of African immigrants, old timers, young starving artists and some involved in shady business at night are some of the dwellers in this revitalized area.
My friend Inbal Baum, of Delicious Israel, an American-born culinary guide in Israel, introduces us to Benny Briga, the owner of Levisnky 41. Benny, who resides in the neighborhood, is amused by my childish excitement and tourist-like, trigger-happy picture taking. I am sure he has witnessed my sort of enthusiasm before for the bubbly refreshments he concocts.
How did all this happen? Apparently, because of the currently upgraded street food trend and promotional work by chefs, the image of the sausage (or frankfurter) has changed dramatically. No longer a product made from low-grade meat leftovers, the sausage has become a culinary challenge worthy of any chef. Today’s sausages have become juicy, carefully prepared main courses and are made of fresh beef (in most cases, the non-kosher variety) seasoned with special spices and various additions that are usually associated with gourmet restaurants rather than street food. Therefore, it is no easy task to choose the five best sausages in Tel Aviv.
A culinary secret weapon: Thai House’s Isaan-style pork sausage
Thai House has already become a Tel Aviv institution and is proud to offer its customers challenging, accessible and outstanding Thai cuisine. Although you might not find too many sausage recipes in Asian cuisine, it does have quite a few sausage options prepared on the grill. And you can trust that Thais from the northeastern province of Isaan can cook sausages that are both “hot” and absolutely delicious.
Read more on Haaretz.com.
Even for a veteran filmmaker whose widely praised documentaries have explored subjects as diverse as the O.J. Simpson trial, the classic American Chevrolet, the Kennedy assassination and the life of Broadway musical giant Richard Rodgers, this could be considered a rather unlikely topic.
And that might explain why Roger Sherman tends to bubble over with excitement when you get him talking about his latest project: a four-part special on Israeli cuisine scheduled to be broadcast across the United States on Public Broadcasting Service affiliated channels in 2014.
Make no mistakes about, cautions Sherman − it’s not what you think. “This is not going to be a cooking show and it’s not going to be a food show,” he says, as he sits down for a break during a recent jam-packed pre-production trip to Israel. “What I’m doing is looking at this country through the lens of food. It’s going to be part travelogue, part biblical history and part food tour.”
In the series, which will be divided into four 30-minute segments, Sherman will follow Israeli-American celebrity chef Michael Solomonov, crisscrossing Israel with him, as they search out ethnic, immigrant and regional specialties. During their journey, says Sherman, they will sample dishes at Tel Aviv’s most exclusive eateries, nibble at street food in backwater holes, and enter the kitchens of Israelis from all walks of life to discover what’s simmering in their pots.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
Do you have a caffeine addiction to feed, but not much money to do so? Then consider moving to Tel Aviv. Since September, Tel Aviv residents have been able to get all the coffee they want for NIS 169 ($45) per month, thanks to a new loyalty program called CUPS-Unlimited Coffee.
The program “goes across not a specific chain, but across independent and franchise stores we signed up for the program,” Alon Ezer, the company’s CEO, told The Times of Israel. “As far as I know, this is the only such loyalty program anywhere in the world, and it holds a great promise for not only coffee shops, but for brick-and-mortar retailers of all kinds.”
It’s really quite simple: A customer pays the monthly all-you-can-drink fee, or alternatively NIS 99 ($27) per month for just one cup of coffee per day. A map on an app that you download to your iPhone or Android phone shows you where all the participating cafes and coffee kiosks are, including the one closest to you. You go to any of the establishments, order any drink you want (no matter how fancy, frothy or creamy), let the barista tap a code into the app on your phone, and you’re done…at least for the next 30 minutes. After half an hour, you can do the same thing all over again at the same café. If you absolutely cannot wait the 30 minutes, then you can go to another participating café and order that second cup right away.
The atmosphere in Tel Aviv last week, as residents ran to bomb shelters in response to incoming missile warning sirens, was far from pleasant. So Danielle Levy, proprietor of I Love Cupcakes, did her part to try to lighten the tense mood that had settled over the city by offering her customers some Operation Pillar of Defense themed cupcakes.
“It was hard to live in Tel Aviv last week,” Levy told The Forward. “Everyone was very stressed. It was a big shock for everybody.” A few people had asked her to make cupcakes with army-themed decorations like little helmets, uniforms, and boots. However, she decided to go in a different direction and decorate her cupcakes in a way that would “make people smile, brighten their day.” The little doves, hearts, peace signs, Israeli flags and IDF insignia decorations were a gesture of moral support to the citizens and army of Israel. She even topped some cupcakes with miniature “Make cupcakes not war” signs.
Israeli culture balances itself between hot modern trends and deep traditions. This trickles down, even to our choice of tea. Made with fresh herbs or traditional bagged tea, the drink is incredibly popular.
When it come to modern innovation in our teas, two relatively new shops on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, one of the main fashion thoroughfares, are stirring things up. One is Palais Des Thes, the upscale tea chain with outlets in only seven cities outside France, Tel Aviv being one of them. The store, open since 2010, offers what’s considered some of the world’s most exclusive green and black tea leaves, including artistically molded blocks of pu’er, that fermented, aged Chinese tea whose price recently soared and then crashed in yet another investment bubble.
When most of us go to an Israeli market or shuk, we experience a colorful hustle and bustle, and plenty of shoving and shouting going on around us. Nir Avieli, on the other hand, stands among the fish mongers, vegetable sellers and spice merchants and sees a precise order in all of this chaos.
Avieli, an affable and outspoken professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, studies food and culture. “My main interest is food as a cultural artifact – how food reflects and sometimes even produces culture,” he explained. He spent three years in a town in central Vietnam studying its food ways, exploring its marketplace, and discovering how food and power can be closely related.
Back in Israel, Avieli has focused his research and teaching on issues of food and power, and has once again turned his attention toward markets. On his own and with his students, he has explored the markets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva, and has come up with some unique findings. I recently sat down with Avieli and asked him how anthropologists work methodically amid the tumult of a crowded shuk, and whether his years of observing Vietnamese markets helped him understand Israeli ones.
Vibrant Tel Aviv manages to pack in the energy of New York, the leisurely pace of Florence, and a Mediterranean climate to boot. While the political and religious soul of Israel may lie in Jerusalem, the youth and vigor can be found in rowdy yet cultured Tel Aviv. The city is home to numerous galleries and museums, hosts countless dance and music performances, and boasts a culture of culinary innovation with chefs who are on the forefront of Israeli cuisine.
Still, while Tel Aviv may be a foodie city in Israel, a kosher paradise it is not. Meat is mixed with milk, shrimp is served with bacon, pork chops are common, and places don’t like to close on Shabbat. Most chefs who are pushing the envelope are doing it secular style in order to compete with their peers around the world. Still, there are more kosher options than your average American city and the quality far surpasses that of your typical kosher restaurant.
Three years ago, the idea of a farmers’ market was completely alien to Israel. Certainly, most Israelis understand the idea of buying produce in an open-air stall, Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda turns 100 this year and Tel Aviv’s Shuk HaCarmel is only ten years younger. But buying in the shuk instead of the supermarket is no guarantee that the wares are locally grown or of high quality, and those who operate the stalls in the shuk are still middlemen — not the farmers themselves.
“Many people advised us not to use the word ‘market’ (shuk) at all when we were starting,” recalls Shir Halpern, one of the two female foodie entrepreneurs who founded and operates the fast-growing network of Farmers’ Markets in Israel. “We were told that Israelis associate the word with dirt and noise, and it would turn them off.”
Indeed, the farmers’ markets are nothing like the bustle and crowds of the shuk experience. In the urban setting of the shuk, one jostles with the crowds, as vendors loudly compete with one another to advertise their prices. In the pastoral setting of Ra’anana’s weekly market, in the city’s large park, next to a lake, a green and white canopy covers the 15 tables where the producers sell their goods. The customers are well-heeled — all middle-aged or older, and politely chat with the sellers about the best way to store and prepare their food products.
This blog is cross-posted from Haartetz.com.
The restaurant world’s most closely guarded secret project this winter is not a sleekly designed new restaurant, a gourmet bistro or a new menu. The next challenge facing Eyal Shani, the chef who waxed poetic in the “Master Chef” series, is none other than a pita stand, set to open in the coming months at the intersection of Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol streets in Tel Aviv.
The dishes and ingredients are being kept secret, but Shani promised, “We will create something new there.” At his Tel Aviv restaurant, Abraxas North, he already serves several experimental pita dishes that have been well received, from pita filled with shrimp and aioli sauce to minute steak in pita.
Shani is not alone: Pita is making a grand comeback in gourmet restaurants. No longer just the simple, familiar baked bread used at shawarma stands, it is now served in a hot pan, with sauces, fennel seeds, salads and stir-fried meat cubes.
Read more at Haartetz.com.