Although Tel Aviv’s Shuk Levinsky, or Levinsky Market, spans a modest six blocks, the food-filled street is the ultimate intro to authentic Israel. Far from your sterile grocery shopping experience, the immigrant-owned mom and pop stores that line Levinsky are void of rules and politesse. If you’re too shy to ask for a small-spoon-sample at your local ice cream shop, Levinsky will turn your timid world upside down. The spice sacks, the tubs of dried fruit and nuts, the mountains of olives and pickled vegetables, the trays of fresh out of the oven kanafeh; each is an invitation to lean in, smell, touch, and taste.
Aside from recognizing it as a foodie’s fantasy, we at Delicious Israel love to take travelers to Shuk Levinsky in order to tear down the tourist barrier and uncover what this country is all about. For starters, the location itself is an integral representation of the Israeli story. Nestled in the continually shifting neighborhood of Florentin, Levinsky showcases the contrast between Israel’s history and its rapid modernization. You’ll quickly learn this as you stand in line next to an 85-year-old man who has frequented the same spice vendor for 30 years and shortly afterwards find yourself peaking into the neighboring hole-in-the-wall café spilling onto the street with Tel Aviv’s hot hipsters.
Mirroring Levinsky’s dichotomy of the old and the new are immigrant stories waiting to be told behind each cashier’s counter. Established primarily by Turkish and Greek Jews, the street is a patchwork of ethnic diversity. As we taste Turkish dolma (stuffed, grape leaves) followed by marzipan at a Greek pastry shop down the block, Delicious Israel’s favorite question swims to the surface: What is ‘Israeli’ food? And what does it even mean to be ‘Israeli’? The answer, although seemingly subjective, is that the Israeli identity is a total hybrid. With Jews who immigrated, and continue to immigrate, from anywhere between Argentina and Australia, this country is as multi-flavored as the hodge podge of spices sold on Levinsky.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, we at Delicious Israel love Levinsky because it symbolizes family. From the mother and two sons who run a Turkish deli together every day, to the store owner who encourages you to taste a dried date just as your grandfather would, to the way a tea merchant intrusively asks you about your bowel movements before tossing you a homeopathic concoction, Levinsky represents Israel because Levinsky represents home. Some say pushy and some say too close for comfort. We say family. We say warmth. And, of course, we say…Delicious!