We tasted our way around Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, taking in history, traditional foods, modern flavours, & all the hustle & bustle the ‘shuk’ has to offer!
It’s a couple of years since we took a fantastic culinary tour of Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market, and being back in Israel it seemed like a terrific opportunity to do something similar in the city’s Carmel Market. We used the same tour company as last time – Delicious Israel. This time we were lucky enough to be taken on our tour by the company’s founder Inbal, who was an enthusiastic and knowledgable guide.
A bit of History…
The Carmel Market was founded by enterprising traders in the early 20th Century, to meet the needs of residents of the newly established city of Tel Aviv. Before the new market was set up, it was necessary to make the long, hot, dusty walk to the market in Jaffa to obtain fresh produce – and of course then to carry it all the way back! After a few traders set up their stalls in TA, the market quickly grew and has thrived ever since. While it was once a source only of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat and baked goods, the market has grown and evolved over the years. It now also supplies household goods, clothing, school supplies, jewellery, toiletries and all manner of tourist nick-nacks.
A changing landscape
Significantly, the Carmel Market’s food purveyors have also changed and evolved to reflect the way that local people eat. It was this changing food landscape that was the basis of our tour. The city’s original inhabitants would buy and cook fresh produce daily. However the advent of refrigeration, and modern busy schedules, have meant that people shop less often and also want to buy much of their food already prepared or cooked. New businesses have of course sprung up to fill this need. In addition, established traders have shifted their focus or extended their offering to stay relevant in 21st Century Tel Aviv.
We started our tour at Magen David Square, where the Carmel Market meets Nahalat Binyamin street with its colourful arts and crafts street stalls. Our first stop was at Uzi Eli – “the Etrog medicine man”. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside as some local TV personality was filming there! Instead, we gathered outside to try some of the delicious juices on offer, each of which made frankly outrageous claims about what they might do for your health and wellbeing. But they were delicious!
We also tried some of Uzi Eli’s etrog-based moisturising cream. My daughter Kipper put some onto her mosquito bites and told me later that day that it was the only thing all week that had stopped the itching. I wish she’d mentioned it before we left the market as I’d have bought a tube!
Start with dessert
From there, we walked around to Malabia, a bar serving a limited menu of drinks plus fabulous homemade malabi. Malabi is a milk-based pudding, and Malabia made both milky and dairy-free versions, topped with natural fruit syrups, nuts and coconut. (Get my recipe for vegan malabi here.) Inbal explained that many of the market’s newer entrepreneurs were setting up this kind of business, to make only one thing but make it really well. This became something of a theme as we progressed on our tour.
Around the corner we stopped at a takeaway grill called simply Carmel, which specialises in grilled, marinated chicken in a pita, with salad and pickles. (They kindly provided some gorgeous smoky grilled aubergine for the vegetarians.) The aromas were incredible, and there were lots of appreciative noises as everything was devoured! A steady stream of customers in and out of the shop suggested that doing one thing really well seemed to be a strategy that was paying off.
Spice it up!
It wouldn’t be a proper market visit without an opportunity to stock up on spices! Teva HaCarmel is a tiny shop where a vast array of herbs, spices, salts and tea blends were displayed in baskets, pots, drums, dishes and glass apothecary jars. I felt a bit like a kid in a sweetshop but managed to limit myself to only three kinds of tea, some dried Luisa (lemon verbena) and a bag of deliciously smoky house spice blend. Yummy.
It’s all about the humous
Having worked up an appetite again, we stopped for humous. Inbal provided us with a potted history of Israeli humous, which differs from the dip made in some other Middle Eastern countries. True Israeli humous contains only a handful of ingredients – chick peas, tahini, and water, with seasonings like olive oil, garlic and lemon being optional (if popular) extras. There is also fierce debate about the ratio of chick peas to tahini. Apparently most blind taste tests suggest that Israelis prefer a relatively high proportion of the sesame paste, to give Israeli humous its smooth, creamy consistency and unique flavour.
Inbal explained about the traditional accompaniments to humous – fluffy warm pita, raw onion, fresh lemons, and a dash of fiery schug (Yemenite chilli sauce). She also taught us “the wipe” – the best technique for scooping the maximum amount of humous onto the smallest amount of pita!
We were served four different humous variations – basically everything on the menu at Shlomo & Doron. We ate:
- Classic humous, topped with cooked whole chickpeas and herbs
- ‘Balkan style’ humous with aubergines and black olives
- ‘Arab style’, topped with a cinnamon spiced vegan mushroom mixture, diced fresh tomatoes, herbs and seeds
- and their house special, the ‘Hum-Shuka’ – a hybrid dish of shakshuka served on a bed of humous.
I had my doubts about this last one but I can assure you that it was incredibly delicious! We struggled to decide which of the four was the best, and even Kipper, who adores aubergines and olives, and who I was sure would choose the Balkan style, had trouble choosing a favourite.
Small but perfectly formed
We didn’t have long to think about it though, as we were moving on to our next stop. A tiny hole-in-the-wall selling lachuch im betza v’salsa – fluffy Yemenite flatbreads (think giant flat crumpet) folded around an egg and fried to crispy perfection, served with a fresh tomato salsa. Delicious! So delicious in fact that they vanished before I manage to take a photo! This one of Irit, our energetic cook and hostess, will have to do instead.
Eating with our eyes
By this time we were starting to feel quite full, so we took a stroll up the main drag of the Carmel market. There’s plenty to look at and we admired the mountains of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, dried fruits and nuts, spices, cakes and baked goods.
Stall holders source all their produce locally; most of it travels less than 2 hours from producer to market, so everything is fresh, seasonal, and exceptionally good quality. We sampled some fruit (it seemed rude not to!) just to put us on till our final stop on the tour.
There’s always room for ice-cream
Our last stop was at Arte, an amazing gelato shop on Nahalat Binyamin street. The gelateria was established by an Italian couple wanting to bring real gelato to an Israeli audience. Arte sells dozens of unusual and intriguing flavours, both in traditional dairy ice-cream and also a huge vegan selection. I tried the vegan lemon & cardamom, and the goats cheese, pear & honey flavours. Both were incredibly delicious! Other flavours included dark chocolate with Guinness, peach & lavender, forest berries, green apple, and fig & rose. Arte’s ices use no artificial flavours but rely on fresh ingredients to produce spectacular results.
Kipper had one scoop of plain dairy-free dark chocolate, and a second scoop of tiramisu, both of which seemed to go down well. We also tried a lemon-mint granita which was icy and refreshing. The perfect way to end our Carmel Market tour.
Carmel Market adventure
Our Carmel Market adventure lasted a good couple of hours, and took us into all kinds of places that I’m sure we wouldn’t have found otherwise. We learned a great deal, had a lot of fun, and came away with full bellies, delicious souvenirs, and great memories!
Our tour of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market was organised and run by Delicious Israel who run a range of walking tours, workshops, winery tours and more. We paid for our tour and I was not expected to write a review. All opinions are my own.