I take a huge bite. It’s off the scale good. The meat super succulent and smoky, charred to perfection on the embers still glowing on the grill in the tiny kitchen behind me. The yogurt is so creamy and thick. But real the hero has to be the amba, a nuclear yellow sauce made from mango, fenugreek and chilli. It’s sweet, sour and spicy, and brings all the flavours together beautifully. This is my first taste of a traditional Iraqi kebab and I’m in heaven.
I have come to Hatikva Market in Tel Aviv to check out the food scene. Now Tel Aviv is a shiny plaything on the Mediterranean coast that loves nothing better than a jolly good feast. Restaurants and bars serve kick ass food late into the night and Carmel Market is a mouth-watering experience with vibrant stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to craft beers and baklava. Having visited the city many times, I wanted to try something new, so I enlisted the help of my friend Inbal who runs Delicious Israel, a local travel company that do the best walking tours for anyone wanting to take a bite out of the city.
Back at the market, we grab a seat at Hasaluf, a tiny little Yemenite café and bakery. The owner, Yaacob brings out a huge plate of JaChnun, a traditional breakfast of rolled dough, cooked in rich stock and served with boiled eggs and zhoug, a spicy dip. The bread is full on, hearty and dense, and it needs the spice to cut through it. As we eat, Inbal explains that the Hatikva was traditionally a working-class neighbourhood and a melting pot of different cultures. You could find Iraqi, Yemenite and Arab-African Jews living here. Today the market still is the hub it once was, a covered central street lined with bustling stalls and little cafes and a maze of tiny alleyways packed to the gills with hungry shoppers.
We make our way into the market. It’s buzzing with throngs of people food shopping for the weekend. We stop at a little hummus café called Zeitun and grab a bowl of classic hummus. It’s super creamy and rich with tahini. This is one of my favourite things to eat and I polish it off with fluffy pitta in no time. Next stop is a little stall selling steamed Iraqi dumplings, known as Kubbeh Burgul. The dumplings are made from ground bulgur wheat, stuffed with beef, steamed until tender and then doused in Amba, the same succulent sauce that I had on my kabab. I am a sucker for a dumpling and I love this Middle Eastern interpretation. It’s deeply savoury and the chewy texture is so pleasing.
After all the rich food, we stop for something sweet at a well worn ice cream shop called Merkaz Harimonim, which translates as The Pomegranate Centre. They have a large churner full of faloodeh, a Persian pomegranate sorbet that’s quite wet in texture and has noodles set into it. I take a huge spoonful. It’s teeth tinglingly sweet, the taste of rose water so strong that I feel like I’m eating my grannies old powder puff. This one’s not for me but I love the sentiment; how cool to be in Tel Aviv trying an Iranian specialty.
Pic – Delicious Israel
Our final stop is Inbal’s favourite shop, Naama Spices. Now I am obsessed with traditional spice shops and this one is a veritable treasure trove, with huge wooden boxes piled high with different house blends. Inabal shows me her favourites, including a punchy Yemenite hawaji that’s used for scenting soups, an interesting Iraqi hawaji for baking and that tart yellow amba powder that I have enjoyed all day. I try the dukkah, a mix of ground woody spices and nuts. It’s off the scale good, the spices so fresh and fragrant. I love this scattered over everything from grilled kebabs to creamy soups. It might be a little off the beaten track, but this wonderful market captures the spirt of Tel Aviv beautifully; Exotic, buzzy and wickedly delicious.
Hatikva Market walking tour with Delicious Israel from $90 PP