Despite Tel Aviv's short culinary history, the White City has already established a local mythology of dishes that you can't help but return to time and again. So what makes a dish iconic? An 'iconic dish' is classified as a dish that has been featured in a Tel Aviv restaurant for several years, a dish that customers return to on multiple occasions, a dish that becomes a role model in the culinary scene. These 30 iconic dishes featured in some of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv–from Tel Aviv street food establishments to boutique hotel restaurants and classy eateries–have stood the test of time, the test of passing trends, and held true to their names as local legends.
Thirty, flirty, and thriving
The dish that shaped the 90's remains a star, and it only needs one single raw ingredient: the sweet potato. Orna and Ella cooks, crushes, and fries these orange beauties right in the pan. The triple-act performance is served alongside a refreshing sour cream sauce, turning the dish into a cult classic. By the way, the pancakes (or fritters) are not actually all that simple to prepare, so most home cookers add eggs to ensure that the pancakes don't collapse and crumble during the frying process.
Haim Cohen stole America's idea of taking raw materials, which are considered cheap and laborious, and turning them into a cure for every craving. Dixie's chicken wings pair their perfect crispy skin with a thick, spicy, sticky sauce. The secret is in the marinade, which some claim contains milk, and the absurd amounts of butter they inject into the sauce. After all, if Paula Deen taught us anything, it's that the butter the better.
With a lot of self-confidence, Chef Raphi Cohen chose to serve a fried dish that was considered a meal for weddings. He gave it his own personal interpretation that relates to its traditional sources, while adding a touch of over-the-top cooking to it. The Moroccan cigar was served from opening day and quickly became the best selling dish on Raphael's menu. Inside the crispy dough lies chicken livers with well-seasoned lamb fat.
The craziest dish in Tel Aviv quickly became a group consensus. Messa's goose liver is served beneath a generous drizzling of white chocolate. Chef Aviv Moshe is passing on all the big medical and moral no-no's. Even so, this dish has been a crowd favorite for a decade.
Today 'nams' are found everywhere in the city, in Asian restaurants and in local food restaurants. The first to bring nams to the city though was the Montefiore Hotel who realized that a Vietnamese eggroll - with its powerful combination of flavors that balance against the crispiness of fried rice sheets and a lettuce wrap - creates an unforgettable dish.
Rice balls wrapped in raw fish and tahini sauce? Japanese or Israeli? Why not both? Yakimono's Goma Sushi Mori is indeed a combination that raises eyebrows at every meal. The inherent logic becomes clear when one understands that sesame holds a constant presence in the kitchens of the Middle East and Japan alike.
"The most delicious fries in the world" was the 'modest' definition that chef Eyal Shani gave to his Romano French Fries. After the special species of potatoes are well-cooked, they undergo a process of triple frying. In short, a dish that immediately leaves you with heartburn, but for a good cause.
Chef Victor Gloger is known for his magical touch with everything from the sea. When it comes to a simple dish that demands slow processes without being able to hide underneath a mass of sauces, his skills are even better showcased. That's what makes his Gravlax (the basic Nordic salmon dish) so wonderful. The ingredients are simple: fish fillet in salt, sugar, vinegar and mustard - and the result is rich and flavorful.
While pork isn't the first white meat you'd expect to find on an Israeli menu, the challah filled with minced pork leg and bacon is a dish that screams Tel Aviv. This dish connects the butcher shops tailoring to Russian immigrants with the bakeries operated by the city's veterans. In fact, the pork-filled challah acts as a kind of French toast with a smokey touch. Served with baby gem lettuce and a white wine sauce to tie it all together, this little piggy is going all the way home satisfied.
The sophisticated market restaurant was one of the first to take the Balkan pastry–which had become a derogatory term for industrialized food–and serve it to diners in an especially upgraded and delightful manner. This is how the first Tel Aviv crab bourekas were created. Crab meat in a square of puffy pastry. Simple. Delightful. Wonderful.
This dish brings the heat with egg noodles, chunks of chicken in red curry sauce, coconut milk, green onions, peanuts and coriander, all mixed together to open up your nostrils and hearts. We can't begin to describe the pleasures of just one bite of this classic dish.
This XXX dish is so insanely tantalizing, it should be outlawed. The heavy cast-iron pot is filled to the brim with mussels, prawns, shrimp and calamari in tomato and white wine sauce and mixed with roasted vegetables for added color. Technically speaking, this is a dish for two, but with a glass of good wine it can easily double as a therapist session.
Chef Orel Kimchi created a dish that people come especially to the restaurant to experience, and return to experience once more. Inside bite-sized steamed buns lie miniature shrimp patties, Yuzu aioli, crispy lettuce and pickled red onion. The secret of the preparation is...we can't tell you that. You'll have to taste it to find out.
This is not your average sidewalk schnitzel. A simple dish like schnitzel can sometimes make a wild buzz. This is particularly remarkable when the buzz has been buzzing for decades–the story of the schnitzel at Café Noir. You get a large, thin piece of breaded meat next to light, fluffy mashed potatoes that compliment the protein perfectly. A Montefiore must.
This is the cauliflower that carried Eyal Shani's name overseas...to Australia at least. Cooked in boiling water, the cauliflower then undergoes a deep olive oil massage bordering on sexual harassment, and finally receives a well-burnt finish. Watch out broccoli, there's a new kid in town.
Agedashi Tofu - Onami
This delicacy was served in Onami from the beginning, when Ali Grossman founded the restaurant. For the general public, the dish was defined as a soup, although the Japanese do not see it that way. The tofu dish is soaked in corn flour and fried until crispy on the outside, then soaked in a sauce that is too thick to be defined as soup. Grossman has kept the recipe top secret, and rightly so.
Tel Avivians cannot escape the perfect match between alcohol and ham and cheese toast at the Kerem's bumping establishment. Their bread is generously sprinkled with butter, topped with ham and a generous slice of cheese, which is melted in their toasty oven. Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are severed by its side to create the illusion of health. A dish that has earned its status as the perfect drunk munch to end a sloppy evening with grace (actually, with more sloppiness).
You do not have to wait for winter to be pampered with chicken soup for the soul. This soulful soup is served with three hand-made meat-filled kreplach. Whether you're under the weather and need delivery straight to bed or your hungry for a taste of Safta, Shmulik Cohen is here to care for you.
This two-bite dish served on soup spoons is certainly amusing to the bouche. Taizu's Shanghainese Dumplings feature steamed dough filled with veal cheek, in a pomegranate broth and beef soup, topped with pistachio Masala. Handle with care! This tiny dish is so delish, you'll want to spoon it afterwards.
The doctor is in. One of Israel's most recognizable breakfast (lunch and dinner) staples holds a special place in Jaffa diners' hearts. This long-standing Middle Eastern establishment has the recipe down pat: the perfect combination of ripe red tomatoes, fresh chili, garlic, paprika, and eggs...just what the doctor ordered.
This Thai Eden is serving up the classic thinly sliced green papaya salad with tomatoes, seasoning, chopped peanuts, and fish sauce. It is the closest thing in Tel Aviv you can get to the real deal, which is a standalone dish in Thailand. Thai House's Som Tam has accompanied the restaurant from opening day and continues to hook customers left and right.
When owner Joe Marciano prepared a simple bass dish with paprika, garlic, and coriander, he did not think it would become an exceptional classic on Cantina's Italian menu.
NOTE: If you're not a spice addict, it is possible to adjust the level of spiciness to match your individual taste.
Brasserie's elegant version of this French staple is comparable to the Jewish penicillin: rich chicken soup with thin egg noodles and herbs (tarragon, chives, and parsley). One slurp of this consommé and suddenly the clouds will scatter and the world will look oh-so-beautiful.
One of the best reasons to go to Zepra is for the flavorful Healthy Buddha salad tossed with garden fresh vegetables, red cabbage, mint, coriander, chopped peanuts, and an apple vinaigrette. A dish that competes only with its spicy sibling, the Crazy Buddha salad.
Legend has it that Toto has a special pasta maker, 'blessed' with the magic touch, who has been preparing all the fresh pastas from the day the restaurant opened its doors. The secret to Toto's gnocchi may be their baking process–the potatoes are prepared with salt and combined with potato chips and ricotta. The chestnut adds much-desired tasting notes to the dish that sing out in harmony, "O Sole Mio"!
Only Coffee Bar could take a dish that has been on the menu since 1995 and keep it relevant. In their version of the Jewish classic, which today only exists on the de-liver-y and business lunch menu, the tender chicken livers are served on a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes enriched with cream and butter and roasted in balsamic vinegar with an arugula finish.
Brothers Assaf and Yotam Doktor promised to use only local ingredients in their Dok restaurant. The coal-roasted kohlrabi dish is the most spectacular realization of this promise. The kohlrabi is roasted in a charcoal oven, scorched a little from the outside to get that sweet caramelized finish, then immersed in quality olive oil, and served with Hame'iri cheese, poppy seeds, thyme, and a little hot pepper.
When you say "comfort food," what you actually mean to say is "this dish," which consists of a beef stock packed with a thousand flavors. Swimming around inside the broth are dumplings made from a thin dough filled with ground meat that has been fried up with onions–a Bukharian classic executed to perfection.
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