Israeli food markets are colorful places to experience Israeli culture. In Tel Aviv, tourists generally prefer the larger Carmel market, while Tel Avivians in search of bargains travel to Shuk HaTikvah. However, the Levinsky Market, famous for its spices, is mainly an attraction for the local residents, most of whom come to socialize and feed their senses.
Levinksy Market was initially the main market in Tel Aviv and marked what was then considered Tel Aviv’s center. The market is located on Levinsky Street in south Tel Aviv and operates daily although it’s most active on Fridays. Residents come to replenish their favorite spices, freshly ground coffee and pitsuhim – nuts and seeds – which are roasted right here on the spot.
Initially, Levinsky Market was run by the Greek Jews, who arrived from Thessaloniki before World War II to assist the local Jews in construction of the Jaffa port. The Balkan nature of the ‘shuk’ started changing in the early 1950s with the arrival of the Iranian immigrants bringing their cuisine, along with their spices, to Israel. That’s when the market has become the spice heaven of Tel Aviv and remains so to this day. Nevertheless, you can find almost every other delicacy at the market.
When coming to Levinsky from the direction of the Florentine neighborhood, visitors are tempted to grab a chair at the relatively new, but already fiercely popular hummus place, called Garger HaZahav (30 Levinsky St., 03-677-7456), meaning ‘Golden Seed.’
This is where the 21 century décor seems to end on Levinski Street, and walking further is like entering a time warp. The next shop is Victor’s (36 Levinsky St., 03-682-5064), specializing in fresh and salted fish. Victor’s grandfather, an immigrant from Argentina, opened this shop 84 years ago.
After you pass Victor’s store, two famous delis are positioned one in front of the other, Haim Rafael (36 Levinsky St., 03-682-6147), founded in 1958, and Yom Tov (43 Levinsky St., 03-681-3730), founded in 1947, mimicking the rivalry of their owners’ birthplaces. Haim Rafael was founded by a Holocaust survivor from Thessaloniki while the Yom Tov family came to Israel from Turkey.
Next store on the left is Bourekas Penso (43 Levinsky St., 054-586-6366), specializing in filo dough products, as well as sweets. The store was founded 70 years ago by a Turkish immigrant and has seen four generations of storeowners since. Their spinach and feta filo pastry is phenomenal.
The next stop, Café Atlas (49 Levinsky St., 03-682-4614), is a particularly hospitable spice and coffee store run by a Georgian couple, David and Juliette, for the past 40 years. The wall of their store is graced by the photo of its original owners, Thessaloniki immigrants, from the day they opened the store in 1924. Café Atlas is famous for its green or unprocessed coffee, as well as a fresh Chai Masala tea blend.
The most well known Israeli spice producer is Pereg (46 Levinsky St., 03-681-3956). Unsurprisingly, it also originated at the Levinsky market in 1906. For anyone in the mood for a deli sausage or a sandwich, there’s Boutique Naknik (50 Levinsky St., 072-250-2504), which also has a few tables where you can get a boutique beer with your sandwich.
For dairy and chalva lovers, there’s HaChalvan (48 Levinsky St., 03-682-8020), which has been making chalva and cheeses since 1958. Finally, perhaps the most famous nuts and seeds place in Tel Aviv is Shuk California (53 Levinski St., 03-683-7436), located toward the end of the Levinsky market.
Right in between the busy shops, there’s Beit Knesset Eliyahu HaNavi (44 Levinsky St.), a Sephardic synagogue, which was built here in the 1940s and at one time was managed by Yossi Gabai, one of the founders of Tel Aviv.