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Shopping and Noshing in Tel Aviv...

 

Evelyn Hannon

I'd been to Israel several times before but that was many, many years ago. The memory I carried of Tel Aviv was of a busy, crowded, noisy, Middle Eastern city. I remember cars honking, people shouting, lots and lots of falafel, and swimming in the absolute bluest of blue seas. Yet, lately I'd sensed a media 'buzz'; Tel Aviv was enjoying a renaissance and was being lauded in travel sections of top newspapers and on the covers of popular travel magazines. There were big changes. I had to go and see for myself.

Luckily I have a life-long pal living in Tel Aviv. Sunny Holtzman welcomed me with her own sweet brand of Middle Eastern warmth and hospitality. She acted as my guide and interpreter. For four days we had one mission -- to check out the shopping areas and the quirky restaurants of Tel Aviv that women travellers would enjoy. Oh my goodness, it was fun.

Shenkin Street is in the center of Tel Aviv...

This area used to be the bohemian quarter of the city -- a jumble of independent cafes, coffee houses and fashion forward workshops. Alas all of those oldies are just about gone. Yet, what has sprung up in it's place is truly fun in it's own more modern way.

In the cafe category and hanging on for dear life is Cafe Tamar, one of the oldest original coffee houses in Tel Aviv. It's run by legendary, Sara Stern who has been in charge for over 55 years. The original Formica tables and chairs are still in use both inside and outside the cafe. The bagels with cream cheese, hard boiled eggs and salads items are the same as they were way back when. We loved the jumble of of vintage bumper stickers stuck to the front counter as well as the aging photos of famous folks from years gone by. This is a hustle, bustle Israeli coffee house experience at its very best. (55 Shenkin)

On the opposite side of the street is a shop in the 'newbie' category. Eretz Bread at 44 Shenkin is part of a well-know chain of bakery shops. It's a tiny place with old fashioned tiles on the floor and the sweetest aromas in the air. Crammed into their space are delicious baked breads, rolls and muffins all started from a healthy whole wheat base. Think mouth watering loaves like cheese, olive, black plum, sesame seeds and pumpkin. Their hefty sandwiches have a distinct Middle Eastern flair. Imagine tehina, avocado and pickled lemon layered in a sesame seed bun. Oh my goodness! They sell olives by the weight and spreads of almonds and honey from the Golan Heights. If you're lucky a seat will become available on the one bench outside. Jackpot! It's a great people watching perch.

Orna and Ella is a modern restaurant named after the two women who own and run it. These two friends have known each other and worked together for eighteen years and it shows in their cafe's delicious fare and warm, welcoming service. It's the type of spot that both local gals and tourists flock to and love. The decor is minimalist with modern lines, whitewashed walls and tables covered in white linen tablecloths. Ella and Orna started out by serving just their fat-free cakes and deserts. They now offer Middle Eastern specialties with a modern twist. Imagine sweet potato pancakes served with an unique mixture of sour cream, chives and mayonnaise or their special brand of mouthwatering Israeli chicken curry. All brunch dishes are accompanied by organic goat cheese bread and Syrian olive tapenade. For us, that complimentary starter was a meal in itself (37 Shenkin).

The shops in this area consist of a mixture of well-known brands easily found in North American (Diesal, Billabong, Addidas) mixed with a smattering of European chains and a few upstart clothing boutiques that were fun to browse. However, I was looking for places that were truly Israeli. My guide laughed when I insisted in popping into an AM PM which is just a grocery chain found all over the city. I liked it because I could buy sunflower seeds (Garinim) by weight (a favorite Israeli snack) and Israeli bubble gum called Must which is the Hebrew version of Bazooka Bubble Gum. A perfect gift to bring home for the little ones (26 Shenkin).

Finally, Journeywoman's favorite shop on Shenken Street is the international brand, Michal Negren. Their corporate mandate is 'Live the fantasy' in an 1820 Romanic Era sort of way and every piece in their collection of furniture, clothing and jewelry lives up to the promise. Each nook and cranny of the shop is filled with items covered in bright colored stones and sparkles. You can buy anything from earrings, to picture frames, clothes, necklaces and religious items that are attention grabbers. Be sure to take note of the pink chandelier and the pink roses in their floor tile. Website: http://www.michalnegrin.com/. It is kitsch with a capital 'K' (33 Shenkin).

 

Carmel Market...

Within easy walking distance along Shenkin Street is Tel Aviv's famous Carmel Market where you can buy anything and everything from eggs, toys and t-shirts to fruit, veggies and bath towels. Vendors hawk their wares and you needn't be afraid to bargain. This place is the perfect spot to pick up reasonably priced gifts for the folks at home. There's the Middle Eastern sweet call Halvah that's sold in tins for export, $5.00 pajamas for toddlers, Israeli wines for the guy in your life, tea towels for granny and $8 personalized funky t-shirts for teenagers (Ask for Arie at the Cool Gunja Stuff stall, 41 Hacarmel at the entrance to the market). Guaranteed you will fill your shopping bags in this place.

Take a look at the produce aisles. Israelis manage to grow the largest and tastiest fruits and veggies Journeywoman has ever seen. Pick some up for your picnic lunch. Friday morning in the market is a perfect time for people watching. This is when housewives across the city pop in to buy the ingredients they'll need for cooking their traditional Sabbath dinner.

Looking for an authentic restaurant within the market for a casual lunch? Journeywoman recommends HaShuka (The Market) on Rabbi Meir Street. This no nonsense eatery has good, solid food served on plain wooden tables and chairs. There's no address outside; their sign is in Hebrew only so you'll need to ask a local for directions. My pal and I ordered a smorgasbord of small plates -- specialties like falafel, stuffed vine leaves, fried cauliflower along with the traditional chopped liver and pita bread. It was so good and priced perfectly for our budget.

On our way out of the market we stopped into a second restaurant, Bat Artzi (Daughter of our Land), a female inspired basic co-op eatery that had been recommended to us as well. Here all the food preparation is done by three women who cook their own traditional family recipes. They say that the menu changes every day and depends solely on what they find in their fridge. When we were there they were serving from large pots brimming with rice and lentils, roast chicken, goulash, and a fish dish enlivened with pesto sauce. There is absolutely no decor to speak of at Bat Artzi. It's really like eating lunch at your Aunt Tilley's kitchen table. Address: 7 Hashomer Street (off Nechlat Binyamin)

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