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 the Western markets. Israel’s dairy cows gave a record amount of milk, the ancient wine industry was resurrected to international praise and Israeli gourmet chocolate received global recognition.
World-class Israeli chefs are winning awards for a new class of healthy cuisine combining homegrown ingredients with classic mid-east 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. As culinary tourism was identified as the top travel trend for 2016, Israeli tour guides are constantly adding to the menu of gustatory options for 2017 and beyond.
1. In Search of Israeli Cuisine
This tour idea came from viewers of Roger Sherman’s documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine.
“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 stated. The first tour took place last May, and additional groups are booked for the coming year.
The itinerary created by Via Sabra tour company founder Avihai Tsabari, the film’s culinary guide, includes many of the restaurants, street-food vendors, markets, cheese makers, farms and ancient ruins where the documentary was filmed.
“The response has been wonderful. Guests get to meet the chefs, eat the food and learn first-hand 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.”
2. Flavors of Florentin
With Aaron Gertz Tours, you will get to taste the Mediterranean-Sephardic influence in South Tel Aviv’s neighborhood established by Jewish immigrants from Greece, all while getting an up-close look at Florentin’s world-famous street art and architecture.
Gertz takes visitors to gustatory icons such as Bourekas Mis (a Turkish family deli in Levinsky Market), masters of marzipan Conditoria Albert, and Benny’s Soda that boasts fizzy drinks made from homemade syrups and greens.
3. 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. After all the ingredients are gathered, participants cook an ethnic meal in the chef’s home or restaurant using their purchases. Among those in Tel Aviv are Inbal Baum’s Delicious Israel and Orly Ziv’s Cook in Israel.
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 and malabi custard 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.
A less hands-on luxury option: Israel Unlimited Boutique Tours takes visitors to Levinsky Market for tastings prior to a chef-prepared lunch, 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.
4. Shuk and Cook (Jerusalem)
The original Machane Yehuda market tour was launched by chef Tali Friedman in 2009. She takes participants to an array of vendors to purchase seasonal ingredients, and demonstrates how to turn them into a simple multi-course Mediterranean meal in her atelier above the heart of the shuk.
For North African delicacies such as mufleta, matbucha and Moroccan fish, book a personal lunchtime or dinnertime slot (Sunday through Thursday) with Jerusalem Cooking Classes. You’ll go on a guided tasting and shopping trek, then prepare meals with Chef Kobi Peretz of Shem Tov (who speaks English, Spanish, French and Italian).
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.
5. 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. A Mediterranean-style picnic lunch caps off the tour.
6. 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 with a balcony overlooking the heart of the Old City.
7. 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, you’ll also tour its ancient marketplace and restaurants.
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 local produce market.
8. Foraging in the Fields
For the pick-your-own-salad crowd, Via Sabra and Foraging Israel offer foraging adventures. (Foraging tours also are sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.)
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.
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.
Originally posted at Israel21c.