Tel Aviv – Yemenite Quarter – eating in and around Carmel Market

As you’d imagine, such a great market as Shuk HaCarmel has lots of great places to eat in and around it. Below I review one amazing restaurant, two great streetfood market stalls and one cafe I couldn’t get my head round. You’ll find everywhere I mention, and more I haven’t been to yet, on my city map here. And you’ll find a neighbourhood map for the Yemenite Quarter here. See my previous post for pictures from walking around the market.

This first place was in fact the best of many good places we ate during our time in Israel…

HaBasta (Intermediate A+), 4 HaShomer Street, a side street off HaCarmel Street

Thanks to my friend Kate who had already road-tested a few of the dishes the previous day, Mark and I had the best final meal before going home that we could have wished for. The food seems to be unique to the chef; his or her personal adaptions of Libyan, Turkish and Moroccan recipes. The hand-written menu changes every day according to what is available from the market which is just a stone’s throw away.

We started with four small plates, one with fish, three completely vegetarian, all of which scored straight As.

From top left, these were; Kohlrabi & Goat Cheese (with parsley and chopped almonds), Root Mesabacha (Jerusalem artichoke puree with chopped almonds, green beans and parsley), Chuska & Tulum (roasted red peppers walnuts and cheese), Beetroot Cured Fish (beetroot, red apple and parsley with chunks of an unknown fish, perhaps Yellowtail tuna, and prawns).

With Kate’s advice we added another larger plate; Hyssop Salad with pomelo and chopped almonds. Hyssop is a herb, the leaves of which taste similar to fresh oregano. It’s sometimes an ingredient in some versions of Za’atar.

These were beautiful fresh flavours that were complete revelations, even to us three veteran foodies.

Mark and I shared two mains. The Brain Plancha, veal brains cooked in beurre blanc, finished with lemon juice and served with garlic and spinach, is still the best way that I’ve ever eaten brains (A).

The second main was ‘Kishke’ & Freekeh involved intestines stuffed with rice and offal (kishke), a flaky beef cheek, and another large chunk of offal (that worryingly none of us three big foodies could recognise!), all cooked in a black spinach sauce and served with rubbed green spelt (freekeh). Pretty rustic stuff! But amazing still (B+).

For dessert, we shared the Almonds & Strawberry Tart and the Chocolate Fudge (both A) which I had with a glass of Krupnik, a beautiful honey schnapps (A), made in Israel but originally from Poland.

With two glasses of a lovely dry Israeli white, I’m not sure what my bill came to but it was worth every penny. For me this was the best of many culinary highlights in Tel Aviv.

Druze Corner Market Stall, Carmel Street, with your back to the south end, seven stalls up, on the left

Mark and I searched high and low for this legendary spot and only found it on the third attempt. Some give the address as 1b Carmel Street but we didn’t find that particularly helpful. As bad luck would have it, when we did find it, we’d just had a huge meal at HaBasta above and were on our way home to pack and take a taxi to the airport. However, after all the effort we’d made to try and find it, I couldn’t not get a Laffa wrap.

Laffa is a local flatbread, sometimes called Iraqi or Druze pita. The dough is stretched out over a pillow and then cooked on a portable Taboun, a convex iron griddle. My video here.

Here the lady coated it with Labeneh (cheese made from strained yogurt), a salad made with olive oil, za’atar, chopped parsley, and diced tomatoes and finally hot sauce and red pepper puree. I was so full that I only managed a nibble but the bread was fluffy and light and the filling deliciously sour (A). It’s a Carmel market must-do, just don’t leave it as late as we did.

The Druze by the way are a minority ethnic group whose religion draws on elements of Islam, Hinduism and Greek philosophy which is quite a heady mix. There is an international diaspora of Druze migration around the middle east and the Americas. I was interested to read somewhere that Yerba-Mate tea from Argentina is the Druze beverage of choice, thanks to returning migrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. The custom resulted in Syria, which also has a large Druze community, becoming the biggest importer of yerba-mate in the world (15,000 tons a year!).

There’s another street food stall just along the way…

Burika Center (Initial B+), 42 HaCarmel Street

With your back to the south end, it’s at least ten stalls up on the right. You’ll probably hear the vendors shouting “Burika Burika Burika!” before you see them. You can also distinguish them by their logo; Gadaffi, the former Libyan leader, wearing a fez, which appears on their signs, t-shirts and sandwich bags. The staff sometimes wear fezs as well.

The Burika should not confused with its cousin the Boureka; the flaky cheese and spinach filled pastries I was eating for breakfast every day in Jaffa (post here). By contrast a burika is a very thin layer of dough pulled over the filling (usually egg, lamb or potato) and deep fried. It’s then stuffed into a pita with some chopped tomatoes and doused in Tahini and chilli sauce. My video here.

There are a couple of vegetarian options (eg potato, spinach, salty cheese, hard-boiled egg) but we went with the lamb and egg filling. We also got a free sugared donut with it which was a nice touch.

This stall is another strong recommendation so you’ll need to come to the market at least twice as it’s quite filling.

And finally a place I didn’t enjoy so much…

Shimon the King of Soups & Cooking (Elementary C), 28 Yehya Kapah Street (the second parallel street to HaCarmel Street going west)

This is a tiny workingman’s café specialising in Yemenite Jewish food. Sadly I had a disappointing experience here, mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing and the food was a little too rustic for my tastes. I requested the Marak Teimani, a beef stew, which came with Lachuch, a spongy flatbread (served cold, so C-), and Hilbe which looked like beaten egg but turned out to be fenugreek paste. Considered an aphrodisiac, by itself it was pretty horrible, even with a spoonful of Zhug, a hot green chilli paste (B-). I later found out it was supposed to be mixed in with the stew which might have made everything taste a bit better. I’d give it another whirl somewhere else but this place wasn’t for me.

I didn’t get to eat at this last place, but I did get a couple of photos…

Hummus HaCarmel (Elementary A?), 11 HaCarmel Street

The entrance to this shop is like that of a synagogue, with colored stained glass and Judaic texts on the walls. Apparently the design came to the owners in a dream.

The hummus is supposed to be amazing but sadly I was too full to try it, a regular problem I suffered in Tel Aviv.

Remember there are more options on my map.

Now it’s time to walk off some of that food!

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