In the 1950s, a very young Israel experienced severe food shortages. But in an amazingly short time, Israel’s desert was blooming with fresh produce prized in Western markets.
World-class chefs are winning awards for a new class of healthful Israeli cuisine melding homegrown ingredients with classic Mideast fare and dishes that immigrants brought with them from every corner of the diaspora.
Today’s tourists want more of those delectable delights beyond the famous Israeli breakfast. And as culinary tourism was identified as the top travel megatrend for 2016, Israeli tour guides are constantly adding to the menu of gustatory options.
Here are 10 to whet your appetite.
This tour idea came from viewers of Roger Sherman’s documentary of the same name. “It’s quite amazing: Wherever I’ve presented the film I’m asked if we’re organizing tours. It’s usually among the first questions,” Sherman tells ISRAEL21c.
The first one took place last May, and additional groups are booked for October 2016 and January and May 2017.
Created by Via Sabra tour company founder Avihai Tsabari, the film’s culinary guide, the itinerary includes many of the restaurants, street-food vendors, markets, wineries, cheese makers, farms and ancient ruins where the movie was filmed.
“The response has been wonderful. Guests get to meet the chefs, eat the food and learn firsthand why Israel has the most dynamic food scene in the world,” says Sherman. “We’re also offering custom Israeli Cuisine tours for families or groups. We’re even planning one for a group of ultra-marathoners who will do a week of runs before running a marathon in Israel next year.”
- Flavors of Florentin
Taste the Mediterranean-Sephardic influence in this hip South Tel Aviv neighborhood established by Jewish immigrants from Salonika, Greece, while getting an up-close look at Florentin’s world-famous street art and architecture, with Aaron Gertz Tours.
Gertz takes visitors to gustatory icons such as Bourekas Mis; a Turkish family deli in Levinsky Market (cheese-stuffed hibiscus flowers, anyone?); masters of marzipan Conditoria Albert; and Benny’s Soda, a.k.a. Gazoz or Levinsky 41 (fizzy drinks from homemade syrups and greens). Details: email@example.com, +972-(0)52-640-8998
- Shuk and cook (Tel Aviv)
Many different culinary tours guide visitors through the open-air market (“shuk”) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Participants sample and shop at produce, spice, meat and fish stalls with the guidance of a chef and then cook an ethnic meal in the chef’s home or restaurant using their purchases.
Baum takes groups to Carmel Market and back to her kitchen studio nearby to learn about and prepare kosher-style Israeli dishes such as herbed shakshuka, sabich sliders, flame-grilled eggplant, seasonal market salads – for example, kohlrabi, pomelo and fennel salad – and malabi custard and cardamom-laced coffee for dessert.
Baum also offers a tasting tour, Eat Tel Aviv, encompassing back-street shops and eateries in the Jaffa Flea Market, Neve Tzedek, Yemenite Quarter and Carmel Market. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ziv, a clinical nutritionist of Greek heritage, starts her tour in Carmel Market with breakfast at hole-in-the-wall bakeries and eateries, followed by shopping and a cooking class in her Ramat Hasharon home. Participants share the abundant kosher-style Sephardi meal with Ziv’s family. On Thursdays and Fridays, the experience includes challah-baking.
“The first time I had people from Asia, they loved every bite,” Ziv tells ISRAEL21c. “One of them came with her chopsticks and ate Moroccan fish with them.” Details: email@example.com
A less hands-on luxury option: Israel Unlimited Boutique Tours takes visitors to Levinsky Market for tastings prior to a chef-prepared lunch at a winery, boulevard-hopping in downtown Tel Aviv, bistro visits, and a tour of Jaffa ending with dinner and a show by blind and deaf actors at the Nalaga’at Theater and its Blackout restaurant. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Shuk and cook (Jerusalem)
The original Machane Yehuda market tour was launched by chef Tali Friedman in 2009. “Come hungry because we eat all day long,” says Friedman. She takes participants to an array of vendors to purchase seasonal ingredients, and demonstrates how to turn them a simple multi-course Mediterranean meal in her atelier above the heart of the shuk. Details: +972-(0)53-809-4872, email@example.com
For North African delicacies such as mufleta, matbucha and Moroccan fish, book a personal lunchtime or dinnertime slot (Sunday to Thursday) with Jerusalem Cooking Classes. You’ll go on a guided tasting and shopping trek, then prepare meals with Chef Kobi Peretz (who speaks English, Spanish, French and Italian) of Shem Tov, a small eatery inside the market. Details: +972-(0)2-566-1441, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chef Guided Food Tour of Machane Yehuda pairs participants with a professional chef to learn about the culinary secrets and stories behind the shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Stops include a bread bakery, specialty spice shop, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, butcher, fromagerie and more. Details: email@example.com, +972-(0)55-664-6684
- Biblical Food Tour
This option from My Israel Wine Tours takes visitors to vineyards, farms, olive-oil producers and bread bakeries in search of the flavors from biblical times and how they are produced using ancient and modern methods.
Adjusting the route according to region, season and participants’ religion, guide Amir Katz relates historical and fun facts about the seven indigenous foodstuffs listed in the Bible: wheat, barley, grape wine, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and date honey. (For example, did you know that date honey financed the Crusades?) A Mediterranean-style picnic lunch caps off the tour. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org, 720-538-5447 (US), +972-(0)52-727-5422
- Old City taste and tour, Jerusalem
Israel Unlimited Boutique Tours offers a culinary exploration of the Old City of Jerusalem to impart an “understanding of the influence of every ethnic group and religious group on the food of Israel,” says CEO Aviv Jasman.
Apple strudel, hummus, tahini and sweets in the Arab market; a meeting with an Armenian chef; lunch in an ancient dwelling; and dinner in a chef restaurant are interspersed with a tour of the Western Wall tunnels, pottery-making and views from the Mount of Olives and a balcony overlooking the heart of the Old City. Details: +972-(0)77-408-0230, 312-212-3919 (US), email@example.com
- Coffees of Nazareth
Via Sabra introduces participants to coffee culture in Nazareth, exploring generations-old establishments that founder Avihai Tsabari calls “a hidden treasure.” While in Nazareth – the largest Arab city in Israel – you’ll also tour its ancient marketplace and hip new restaurants. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org; +972-(0)3-518-8188
Another Nazareth culinary tour, run by Delicious Israel, includes a visit to a tahini factory, an old-time sweet shop, a 100-year-old spice mill and the ultra-local produce market.
- Western Galilee taste and tour
Also from Israel Unlimited Boutique Tours comes this multicultural visit encompassing the Acre (Akko) Baha’i Gardens, a cozy Tunisian synagogue, and the marketplace inside a Crusader fortress to sample hummus and sweet coffee and learn about medicinal herbs. After lunch at an Acre fish restaurant, where participants may assist the chef, visitors ride the Rosh Hanikra cable car and see a show at the remains of a castle followed by dinner in a bistro. Details: +972-(0)77-408-0230, 312-212-3919 (US), email@example.com
My Israel Wine Tours, Israel Wine Journeys, Israel Wine Tours, Wine Tours in Israel, Israel Wine Tour and Delicious Israel are among several operators that lead explorations of Israel’s burgeoning wine and beer scene in the Golan Heights, Galilee, Carmel, Judea and Samaria, Judean Hills, central Israel and the Negev.
- Foraging in the fields
Via Sabra’s Tsabari leads winter treks in different parts of Israel looking for everything from truffles to wild sage and thyme. In summer, the foraging focuses on spices, figs and wild olives. Either way, the experience ends with outdoor cooking using what was found. “You can find pretty amazing things,” says Tsabari. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org; +972-(0)3-518-8188
Ronit Peskin of Foraging Israel offers a Wild Edibles Walk and Wild Edibles classes and cooking workshops anywhere within 90 minutes of Jerusalem for toddlers to senior citizens. Participants learn about wild edible greens such as purslane; seeds, spices, vegetables and fruit, as well as medicinal plants. Details: +972-(0)50-710-1791, RMPeskin@gmail.com