Carmel Market, the focus of our tour with Delicious Israel, is the heart of Tel Aviv. I don't mean the geographic center; I mean the soul of this modern city. Originally on the outskirts of the city, it was populated by immigrants in the 1920s who set up stalls that would become Tel Aviv's grocery store by the 1950s and '60s.
This is where we met Delicious Israel guide and founder Inbal Baum.
The first stop on our Carmel Market food tour was just outside the market's entrance. Sabich Tchernikovsky is a tiny, no-frills street food stall serving sabich, an Iraqi dish brought over by Jewish immigrants.
Sabich, an eggplant-stuffed pita, at Sabich Tchernikovsky. Photo Credit: Katie Lockhart
Baum describes it as "the only Israeli food." A healthier and tastier version of a falafel, it consists of slices of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, salad and tahini stuffed inside a fresh pita. Add pickles, peppers and amba (a mango chutney) on top for the perfect flavor-packed mouthful.
Afterward, we tried a sweet treat called malabi from a place named Hamalabiya. This Turkish dessert is made of cornstarch with milk (or coconut cream for a vegan version). On top is a sweet pomegranate grenadine syrup, shredded coconut and peanuts and the owner's mom's homemade cookies. Our group was surprised at how delicious these simple ingredients turned out to be when stirred together.
Once we licked our spoons, we headed off for a bit of a palate cleanser at Uzi Eli. Known throughout Tel Aviv as "The Etrog Man," or the medicine man, Uzi-Eli Hezi's small shop is at the entrance to the market and is now run by his daughter. There we sampled juices made from locally grown fruits and homemade elixirs for everything from jet lag to a stuffy nose.
Hummus at Shlomo and Doron, a family-operated spot started in 1937. Photo Credit: Katie Lockhart
You can't visit Israel without trying hummus. Baum took us to one of the best and most iconic spots, Shlomo and Doron. Started in 1937, this family-run institution is now known for its unique twists on traditional hummus, such as the deconstructed falafel hummus and the shakshouka hummus.
As if we weren't full enough, Baum insisted we had to try some homemade gelato made with fresh, local ingredients. Arte Italian Ice Cream specializes in natural gelato and granitas. There were so many unique flavors I had to order two: goat cheese and pear with honey and peach lavender.
Gelato at Arte Italian Ice Cream, which serves up eclectic flavors like peach lavender. Photo Credit: Katie Lockhart
In an attempt to work off the calories from our tour, our group walked through the busy marketplace past stalls piled high with strawberries and pomegranates. We meandered by counters full of fresh-baked baklava and halvah, spice shops and craft beer bars. Our group stopped to gawk at the varieties of feta and goat cheese before we ended our tour in front of where it all started: Carmel Market.
Delicious Israel's Carmel Market tour costs $90 per person and operate with a minimum of four guests. Visit www.deliciousisrael.com.