Lesley Williamson savours the produce in a market in Tel Aviv that is the heartbeat of Israeli culinary spirit.
Hunting down the best street food and scouring farmers’ markets around the globe in search of authentic culinary experiences, Lesley Williamson reports on the emerging fine food scene in Tel Aviv from Sarona market, the new sophisticated – yet super cool – temple of gastronomy.
“Want to taste the best olives in Israel?” shouts a cheerful and inviting voice as I pass by an impressively colourful market stand displaying a selection of olives and pickles of all shapes and sizes. Sure. Not only are there endless varieties to try but olives are also a key ingredient of Mediterranean diet, famed for being one of the heathiest in the world.
And this is how I get to sample the tastiest olives in my life and engage in a fascinating conversation with Sassy. His grandpa Yitzhak Shulman arrived in Tel Aviv from Turkey in 1955 and opened his olive and smoked fish stand at the Carmel market. The family business grew with his son Haim in 1965 until the terrorist attack in the market in 2004, which forced the latter to retire.
Today, grandson Sassy, the owner of Sassy Pickle Centre, takes immense pride in perpetuating the family business and is looked upon as an inspiration. “Olive trees are part of the landscape of Israel, some trees here are a thousand years old. Israelis are crazy about olives!’’ says Sassy. “For me, it’s about family traditions. I’m the third generation ambassador of olives, and I’m continually expanding my range of products of smoked fish and herring, natural tahini and olive oils.’’
Funnily enough, Sassy recommends that I check out another olive stand in Sarona market. You would think there would be only one stand of each kind, but Sarona Market CEO Sharon Moman explains: “The supply and variety of the stores were chosen in order to ensure competition in quality and price, with many options available to the customer in each category of products. We brought in three or four players in each area, because we believe that competition is healthy for both consumers and businesses. ” So, after this first olive fix, I head off to Olive People, who specialize in extra virgin olive oil and derived products such as spreads and soaps, but also tahini, honey and tea infusion.
A family affair
The 8,700 m₂ indoor food emporium, home to an eye-boggling 91 carefully selected stands, includes restaurants, bakeries, farmers stands with fresh fruits, wine, beer, cheese, fish, spices, sweets, coffee shops, cakes and pastries – you name it, Sarona has it.
Strolling down the market aisles, distraction is endless. A vendor from Hamama market shop offers me to taste zattar, a home-made Middle Eastern spice blend of sesame seeds, salt and sumar. And there again… I get drawn into another family affair. The Hamama family started out trading spices and roasting nuts using traditional methods in Iraq, to become, 32 years later, one of Israel’s leading brands. The beautiful store made of stone and natural wood recreates the atmosphere of the original shop in Iraq. And so the tour goes on, sampling nuts and sniffing the pungent aroma of spices and teas. I start realizing that Sarona is much more than a gourmet market. Without doubt it’s a deeply cultural encounter.