Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood has been home to wave after wave of immigrants, and despite gentrification, has never fully lost its bohemian flair. In the middle of this Israeli Lower East Side is Shuk Levinsky, a spice and food market representing the freshness and diversity of Israeli cuisine.
Saveur Magazine recently named the locale one of the 100 Best Food Places of 2013, calling it “unfussy but magical.”
The marketplace (shuk is Hebrew for market) occupies five blocks amidst the neighborhood’s remaining industrial stores. It represents every group that has passed through and stayed in the area.
From the Greek Jews of Saloniki who first settled the area in the 1920s is Konditoria Albert. Opened in 1935, it’s Tel Aviv’s only Greek bakery, serving up almond paste and meringue cookies. Yemeni families still operate spice stores open since 1931, and Turkish immigrants brought bourekas, the now-ubiquitous filled pastries, available at Penso bakery. A Turkish family also owns Yom Tov Delicatessen, a traditional appetizing store opened in Istanbul in the 1940’s, and moved to the Florentin in 1969.
But the area is now dominated by Iranian families and establishments, many of whom fled that country’s revolution of the 1970s. They brought with them hard-to-find ingredients and spices such as rosewater and special kinds of rice. Packed restaurants like Salimi also serve up favorite Persian dishes, such as gundi (chicken meatball soup). Meanwhile, the owners of Charkhi Deli gladly sell a spice blend they call “Grandma’s Remedy,” which they recommend with hot water for sore throats.