Why we crave a meal at Tel Aviv’s top vegan restaurants
Veganism is a hot trend everywhere, but especially in this Israeli metropolis where delicious choices abound.
A vegan craze has gripped Tel Aviv. The Israeli city was recently named the most vegan-friendly destination in the world by New York-based website The Daily Meal. Meat- and dairy-free restaurants continue to sprout like crops. Even mainstream food providers in Israel are sensitive to vegan needs. For instance, Domino’s pizza offers vegan pizza made with soy cheese, while major Israeli coffee chains, like Café Greg and Landwer, offer vegan-friendly menus. With more and more Tel Avivians embracing veganism, choosing to go animal-free is no longer seen as a niche dietary choice here.
But just what has spurred on this vegan movement? Food critic and blogger Ori Shavit believes there are a number of factors at play. Shavit spoke of the broad mindset of Israelis and their receptiveness to change. “People are very open-minded … Because we are a young nation, people come from all over the world to Israel… so our kitchen is a combination of all sorts of kitchens. It’s evolving and changing all the time so people are more open to trying new things.”
The prevalence of plant-based foods in the existing Israeli diet has also helped veganism flourish, said Shavit. “The Mediterranean diet is not very far from vegan food. We have lots of vegetables and fruits and grains and legumes and leaves. This is an ideal place to live as a vegan because if you think about it, our two national dishes, hummus and falafel, are vegan … It’s not like we live on cream and foie gras.”
Although hummus and falafel are indeed omnipresent in Tel Aviv, they are by no means the only vegan-friendly options. Restaurants in the city are becoming increasingly creative with their vegan cooking, earning reputations based as much on the merit of their food as they are their adherence to a plant-based lifestyle. Here are just a few of the Tel Aviv restaurants propelling vegan dining to new gourmet heights.
Something of an establishment in Tel Aviv, this much-loved Georgian restaurant delighted diners with its meaty fare and party atmosphere for more than a decade, before taking a risky U-turn. In February 2014, the menu was given a vegan overhaul. Gone were the animal by-products and the meat- and cheese-laden pastries. The change of direction seems to have paid off, and Nanuchka continues to be a recipient of critical and bums-in-seats success. Nanuchka is just as raucous and buzzy as ever, only now the patrons are eating dumplings stuffed with spinach and nuts rather than minced meat.
Among the vegan restaurants recommended by Shavit is Zakaim, a family-run establishment that champions fresh produce. Vegetables overflow from boxes and shelves near the open kitchen where they are soon lovingly prepared and presented. Well-thought-out plates like hand-torn chips and avocado and sweet potato “sashimi” have proved to be a hit with omnivore diners, too. “It’s not about substitutes,” said Shavit of Zakaim. “It’s not about trying to imitate all kinds of foods that we don’t eat … It’s natural, Israeli food. Very sexy, a little bit spicy. A great atmosphere and very good food – I like it a lot.”
Since it opened in May 2014, this vegan café and market has been making waves in Tel Aviv with its creative cooking. Healthy superfoods, like chia seeds, spirulina and acai, are put to work here with surprisingly delicious effect. Try macadamia nut crêpes and vegan spreads, such as turmeric tahini or pesto, then finish off your feast with a slice of vegan tiramisu. Dairy-free milks, including almond and hazelnut, are made in-house and bring a delicious nutty twist to coffee. When the weather is sunny, the outdoor terrace quickly fills. After you’ve eaten, you can stock up on healthy foods, like vegan cheese and coconut oil, in the onsite store.
For those who crave a fast-food style feast, this vegan burger outlet offers a guilt-free alternative. Buddha Burgers, with two outposts in Tel Aviv and another four spread across Israel, uses meat substitutes that are astoundingly convincing. Bite into seitan, lentil or okara patties topped with vegan cheese and vegetables, or choose from the wide array of other meatless options, such as burritos and salads. Head to the Yehuda HaLevi Street branch for a vast and extensive vegan menu that includes spelt pizzas, pastas, soups and stir-fry.
This café, a Tel Aviv branch of an extremely popular Jerusalem restaurant, is a favorite lunchtime spot. The vibe is casual, and the options abound. A breakfast menu includes pastries, scrambled tofu and pancakes, while lunchtime sees burgers, pizza and quiche hitting the tables. Alternatively, simply pick up a bowl and fill it with nutritious, vitamin-packed salads from the buffet or stewed and curried vegetables from the hot bar. Coffees can be topped with soy or almond milk, and a selection of delicious desserts, such as muffins and tarts, are made daily.
At Meshek Barzilay, an organic bistro in an upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood, the menu encompasses both vegetarian and vegan options. The café began life on a family farm outside the metropolis before moving to the city in 2013. The farm produce – organic fruits and vegetables – came with it, and the emphasis on freshness and seasonality remains. The menu is eclectic with Indian and Asian influences sneaking their way onto the plate. The Barzilay mixed sandwich, a ciabatta stuffed with grilled tofu and mushrooms, and the masala dosa have both drawn much praise from diners.
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