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Tel Aviv: Tasting Israel

On a sunny spring morning in Tel Aviv I’m loitering on a street corner near Levinsky Market waiting for a woman I’ve never met. Her name is Inbal Baum and she has the key to this city, at least when it comes to its food.

Tel Aviv: Tasting Israel
Levinksy Market. Image: Delicious Israel

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Founder of Delicious Israel, Inbal is to take me on a walking tour of Tel Aviv to uncover the rich culinary history and traditions of the most food-focused Israeli city. And where better to start than Levinksy, once Tel Aviv’s main market; a place whose shops, stalls and stands have been owned by the same family for generations.

It may be set on the fringes of the hipster hood Neve Tzedek, but Levinksy’s vast aggregate knowledge is ages old, with recipes and ingredients, customs and kitchen savvy that span centuries. Black-and-white photos of past generations of traders don the walls of the market, displayed in mismatched frames and pinned photocopies; pride in tradition literally papers the walls of this place.

Goji berries. I can’t say I’ve ever tried them before but at Café Levinsky 41 they’re the main ingredient in the sparkling fruit, spices, vegetables and herb mocktail, otherwise known as a gazoz. My kids, Leah (9) and Noah (6) are invited to join Benny the ‘gazozologist’ behind the scenes to choose the ingredients to make their own bespoke beverage… which wasn’t too bad at all.

Further into the market, we’re met with a bewildering variety of marinated olives, mini peppers and vine leaves stuffed with hot soft cheese, all served on a silver platter at Yom Tov (‘Good Day’ in Hebrew), a deli run by Eitan Levi. While we eat, Eitan introduces us to his mother, who’s pottering around at the back of the shop, and we hear the story of his grandfather, who emigrated here from Turkey, carrying a bag of olives on his back.

At Konditoria Albert, we bite into a meringue so fresh it melts onto our tongues. The titular Albert of this enterprise is a little old man hunched over a large tray of almonds, shelling each nut one by one. I buy a bag of marzipan to take home. Then, at Lupo’s fish shop, a childhood memory is served up with a portion of smoked mackerel. Every Friday night, my mum would prepare smoked, peppered mackerel with vinegar as a starter before our main meal; something I’d forgotten until my taste buds were given a prod from this peppery fish. I wonder why we don’t have this at home any longer, and pop this, too, in my bag. A little bit of tradition to take back home.

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