Halvah is a popular dessert in the Mediterranean. Halvah is a popular dessert in the Mediterranean. Halvah is a popular dessert in the Mediterranean. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Where I tasted the best halvah this side of the Mediterranean

I filmed a Facebook live video on my visit to Seed + Mill, a new halvah and tahini shop in New York's Chelsea Market.

On a recent stroll through an open air market in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, a man emerged from one of the countless stores. "Want to try some halvah?" he asked me, holding out a plate of cubes that look like pieces of fudge. I taste one: it's surprisingly hearty and flavored with Nutella, somewhere between hummus and candy.

For those in America hoping to try this delicacy, you're in luck. Sesame store Seed + Mill just opened up in New York, and it reminds me of Israeli halvah shops. By what could be sheer coincidence, the new store happens to be located in Manhattan's Chelsea Market, an indoor mall that looks like the traditional open air markets I remember from visiting Israel.

halvah samples at Seed + Mill Halvah samples are an industry classic. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

It's always hard to describe halvah to someone who has never tasted it since it's so unlike any other dessert. Halvah is a kind of sweetened and baked sesame spread that turns into blocks of protein-heavy, vegan fudge in the oven.

I've seen halvah for sale in the U.S. before, usually in the form of checkout line candy bars with one or two flavors. Enter Seed + Mill.

halvah and tahini shop in New York Seed + Mill specializes in all things sesame. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

When I heard about a halvah store opening nearby, I decided to see if I'd finally found a place in this hemisphere where I could get my halvah fix. After getting lost in Chelsea Market for a bit, I finally reached the right busy room and open air stalls.

I was rewarded by Seed + Mill's display case, which featured dozens of flavors of halvah, including some I'd never seen before, like white chocolate cranberry. I tried a few different kinds, all of which were tasty.

Customers continued to line up at the stand the whole time I was there. One young man even waited in line without having any idea what halvah was.

Seed + Mill is located in New York's Chelsea Market. Seed + Mill is located in New York's Chelsea Market. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

"Want to try some?" a Seed + Mill employee asked him, holding out a sample. The young man tasted it.

"Whoa," he said. "That's really good."

According to the shop's website, Seed + Mill is the only store in the country that focuses exclusively on foods made with sesame seeds. In additional to selling halvah, Seed + Mill also sells tahini and ice cream.

jars of tahini Tahini is made from ground sesame seeds. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

Lisa Mendelson, one of the store's cofounders, made me a cone with soft-serve goat cheese ice cream. She drizzled some freshly ground tahini over it and added halvah pieces on top. It must have been the most decadent ice cream cone I'd ever had.

As I ate, I chatted with the employee.

"Not a bad way to spend a workday," he said. Not at all.

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