About two years ago I’ve moved to south Tel Aviv, where I discovered the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood in Tel Aviv, but when you visit it, you’ll feel like it’s a different country (Despite being a 10-minute walk from Rothchild). It’s an area with a high percentage of refugees and illegal workers, and though it sounds like a less graceful place to visit, it’s actually one of my favorite places in town. There’s a large variety of Ethnic restaurants there, Chinese, Sudanese, Eritrean, Filipino and other cuisines.
Since there are many restaurants and hidden corners, I thought it would be a good idea to go on a tour of this area. Abraham Hostel said they’ve begun offering tours there and I decided it was a good opportunity to join it and see whether I’d discover any new places (Link to the tour).
I must admit I didn’t know any of the places we ate at on the tour. Besides, I’ve heard fascinating stories about the people behind the restaurants, it was really intriguing.
Food tour in Neve Sha’anan, Tel Aviv
The tour leaves on Sundays and Wednesdays through the hostel and is usually in English (So it’s also a great opportunity to meet people from all around the world).
I arrived for the tour at 11 and met the guide, David, with three more people joining the tour. Two were from England and one was from France.
At first, David told us about the area itself, why it has become a less reputable part of the city, and why in 10 years it’ll be completely different and more prestigious (Hint, the largest cultural center in Israel will be built there and the whole surrounding area will be transformed).
Our first stop was at Chamara
The place looks like just a shakes stall from the outside, but it turns out there’s an entrance to a backyard where you’ll find a large area with a billiards table, tables and chairs, Shishas and 3 TVs. It was one of my discoveries on this tour, as apparently there are many more like it in the neighborhood, places I never knew existed.
It’s essentially a gathering spot for people who come to drink (Not alcohol), eat, talk and watch TV and just hang out together. We drank a papaya, mango and avocado shake and it was a great way to start a food tour.
The second stop was at a Sudanese restaurant
where we ate a broad bean stew with egg and fried vegetables in a chicken stock. I don’t remember all of the ingredients precisely, but I can tell you it was excellent. I’ll definitely be coming back there with Roman. David told us there how he started working as a food tour guide and why he chose Neve Sha’anan in particular.
Turns out he was riding his bike through the neighborhood one day and saw people eating a dish he didn’t recognize. He decided to go in and see what it’s about and was blown away by the food. He also got to talk to some of the people and hear their story, how they came to Israel and why.
He found their stories to be very moving and fascinating and began a project where he interviewed people in the neighborhood about their lives. One day he brought friends to join him on a tasting round in the neighborhood and told them the stories and they told him: David, this is amazing, you should do tours like this. And the rest is history 🙂
A surprise in the factory
From there we went to Neve Sha’anan street, the central street of the neighborhood which used to be a street of purely shoe stores (500 m’ of shoe stores). At some point we turned into a place that looked like a small factory and it turns out there’s a plant for making knives for leather cutting machines but… Apparently there’s also a small Eritrean bakery there, making breads and offering deliveries in the area. David brought out two buns for us and some butter oil (Like Indian ghee) and berbere powder – an Eritrean powder you can only find in Neve Sha’anan. Each of us cut off a piece of the bun and dipped it in the powder, it was tasty and a nice experience.
We then continued to an Eritrean restaurant
There, we drank cold Hibiscus tea and ate Injera (Eritrean bread made from teff flour and considered a super food). The Injera is very large and a type of flat, airy sour bread, made in a round shape with different Eritrean stews and Israeli salad on top of it (A twist added in Israel :)). What’s fun about it is that everyone shares it and eats with their hands. This dish I already knew and it’s one of my favorites, but it was my first time at this restaurant which was very good. The dish is vegan and gluten free, but they also serve meat.
We moved on go a Filipino restaurant
I’ll tell you the story behind this family, as it’s very emotional. It’s a family that came to Israel when the mother was pregnant. She looked for work in the city and couldn’t find any. Then she had an idea – Sell Filipino food on the street (There are many Filipino people in the area, and there weren’t any Filipino restaurants at the time).
For a year she sold food out of a cart and managed some success, but then the municipality banned her from selling on the street. Since she was considered an illegal immigrant, she decided to open an underground restaurant in her apartment to continue selling her food. So, for 8 years she sold food this way. When their son turned 9, he received legal status in the country and so they could open a legal restaurant of their own.
Their restaurant, which we are at, is very sought after and they even manage a catering business and are the main catering of the Filipino embassy. The couple even went through conversion to Judaism.
I’m always amazed at hearing how people climb up from the lowest points of their lives. This story, in my opinion, shows how dedication and hard work end up paying off.
From there we continued to the playground, where David brought out a Thermus and said that since there are no dessert places around, he made cold Chai for us and poured each of us a glass. The Chai was really good and refreshing, and I only now realize I forgot to ask him for the recipe 🙂
To summarize, this was a delicious and fascinating tour. I loved hearing the stories behind the people and David was very charming. He managed to convey the stories in an exciting manner and was very well versed in the neighborhood’s history. I highly recommend this tour, especially to those who like trying different foods and hearing stories about the controversial neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.