The Israeli vegan movement can be traced back all the way to the 60’s, when a community known as the Black Hebrews immigrated to Israel from the United States, and with them brought a culture of veganism, which stemmed from their interpretation of the Bible. The first vegan restaurant in Tel Aviv was opened by the same community, and thus, vegan-consciousness was brought to the White City. This laid the seeds for the recent wave of vegan converts in Israel. In the 90s, animal rights activists started making the public aware, comparing what was being done to animals to a ‘holocaust’ of sorts, a concept all too familiar to Israeli society. In recent years, Israeli celebrities publicly embracing veganism has brought it into the media spotlight numerous times, pushing it slowly into mainstream consciousness like no other country in the world.
Picking up on the momentum of the booming trend, Eviatar Gover, a seasoned Israeli tour guide, has created TLVEG Tours, a one-of-a-kind vegan tasting tour of Tel Aviv, to expose locals and visitors alike to the plethora of culinary delights that abound. The concept of the tour revolves around education, exposure, and of course, fun. It is intended for both vegans and non-vegans to get a literal and figurative taste of the vibrant vegan culture scene in the city. The hosts emphasized that it’s possible to enjoy a wide variety of flavors and to be satisfied eating only plant-based foods, and then proceeded to show us the best places to do so in the city.
Our meeting point and first stop was Zaka’im, a pure vegan sustainable restaurant off of Allenby Street in the south of the city. Stepping inside, one can feel that the owners, the Zaka’im brothers, have really embraced the DIY aesthetic, complete with rustic décor that was sourced almost entirely second-hand. We joined a table full of fellow tasters, a mix of tourists from around the globe and a couple of curious Israelis, including fellow blogger Mariana from TLVegan and her masterful photographer Daniel, who provided the images you see here.
After a warm introduction from our host, Eviatar, and his fellow guide, Rei, we started the tour with a cooling organic citrus iced tea and a customary shot of arak, an anise-flavored local liquor, and then dipped into perfectly crusty potato wedges accompanied by a tomato salsa, followed by an incredible platter of baked root vegetables and a kale salad with rosewater-soaked basil seeds and watermelon. The food was fresh, inventive, and every ingredient made from scratch on-site from local ingredients.
The next stop on the tour was the famed Nanuchka, a well-known culinary establishment owned by the eponymous eccentric chef and art collector. Stepping inside, one can really feel the spirit of the owner, with works by local artists adorning the intimate, eclectic space. Formerly a traditional Georgian restaurant, Nanuchka herself went vegan several years ago and then decided to turn over her restaurant as well. The risk paid off, and this place is as popular as ever, boasting amazing vegan adaptations of Georgian fare and a lively environment in the evenings, where live music and dancing on the bars is the rule rather than the exception.
The food itself was sumptuous. We were given a starter of homemade bread with tahini and a seasonal chopped salad, followed by their renowned ‘love balls.’ Seitan-based meatballs slow-cooked in a stew of root vegetables with a luscious gravy and served on a bed of rice, this dish was a perfect marriage of ethnic and vegan in a individual-sized stoneware dish.
As you can imagine, that was incredibly satisfying, but only the beginning. The sizzling midsummer Tel Aviv heat was alleviated by Eviatar and Rei’s upbeat enthusiasm and informative facts, and we were quickly onto our next destination. The Florentin neighborhood is a graffiti-plastered haven of the young and artistically inclined in Tel Aviv, many of whom have embraced the vegan trend. Eviatar and Rei explained the history of the area and the Levinsky Market, where one can find a selection of local produce, specialties and some of the best eateries in the city.
Nanuchka, Lilienblum St. 30, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972 3 516 2254
Yom Tov Delicatessen
Next, we stepped into the quaint Yom Tov Delicatessen, a boutique shop established in 1947 and run by the same Turkish family since. While not purely vegan, they served up a platter of some mouthwatering vegan treats, such as rice-stuffed vine leaves, a variety of olives and marinated veggies, and the unusually delicious hibiscus flowers, a delicacy originating in South Africa.
From there, we headed just around the corner to the legendary hummus joint Garger Hazahav, or ‘The Golden Chickpea.’ Hummus is, of course, a well-known Middle Eastern staple, and Garger Hazahav elevates it to a high-level delicacy that rivals some of the most established ‘hummuseries’ in town. We sampled a variety of hummus, accompanied by crispy beet and sweet potato chips, charcoal-roasted eggplant and savory roasted cauliflower, relishing in the textures and tastes that define the region.
We didn’t have far to walk to the next location, the Bar Kayma. It is a revolutionary concept which is less restaurant and more a sustainable collective complex. At its inception, locals were invited to invest a relatively small sum in creating the place, and in return were made members, which grants partial ‘crowd-sourced’ ownership and discounted prices on the already reasonably priced, ever-changing menu.
The Bar Kayma adheres to principles of fair wages and sustainability in all aspects, regularly hosts lectures, second hand sales, exhibits and live music, and is growing to include a fair-priced hostel and an organic garden on the roof.
With all that being said, how was the food? Astonishingly good, and bountiful. We were spoiled with cashew nut labane — a regional soft cheese — drizzled with olive oil and za’atar, which we thought competed mightily with the non-vegan original; a gorgeous roll-up of tortillas with antipasti veggies; and a glorious platter of toasted pita chips topped with a delicious mixture of seasoned seitan, vegetables and nuts, dashed with raw tahini. Heavenly! After checking out the roof garden, delicious vegan desserts from the Bike Bakery awaited us.
Bar Kayma, Ha-Mashbir St. 22, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972 3 949 3322
All in all, even for non-vegans, this tour really gave a delicious insight into the culture of Tel Aviv: full of layers of ethnicities and tastes, charming neighborhoods with an east-meets-west sensibility, and most notably, an overflow of energetic people who are passionate about sustainability and the vegan lifestyle.
To book a TLVEG Tour: +972 52 645 8779 or via Facebook page
By Ree Levin
Ree is not really a blogger, nor is she a writer, nor does she enjoy self-promotion; she simply enjoys a little challenge from time to time.