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Smashing The Vegan Myths

Vegan tour guide Eviatar Gover: “We go to the places you wouldn’t normally go”. Photos by Carol Novis

"I'm going to tell you five myths about vegan food," said Eviatar Gover, at the start of the Vegan Tour of Tel Aviv which he runs as owner of TLVEG TOURS.

"First, vegans eat mostly lettuce. Secondly, vegan food isn't available at a sophisticated culinary level. Third, you won't find much to eat on a vegan menu and fourth, you won't be full at the end of the meal. Finally, there are no good vegan desserts. On this tour, you'll see that none of those myths are true."

Though I had my doubts - I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, and I know next to nothing about the local vegan scene - I was game. At my daughter's invitation, I joined her on the tour which lasts three hours and takes in four restaurants, a deli stand and an ice cream shop in south Tel Aviv. By the end of the tour, I had to agree with Eviatar – mostly. The food was surprisingly innovative, varied, delicious and filling, but as for the dessert, well, in my opinion, Ben and Jerry don't have to worry too much about the competition.

Eviatar's tours, which include pub crawls, market and graffiti tours as well as vegan tours, are designed to be "off-stream, not mainstream. We go to the places you wouldn't normally go," he says. He himself is not totally vegan, but he avoids products made by firms that use animal experimentation. And while he doesn't proselytize, he did fill us in on some details of how animals are reared for food, how unhealthy hormone-packed milk and meat can be, and how bad for the planet a dependence on meat can be. It would have taken my appetite away if I hadn't been eating vegetables.

First surprise was the extent of the vegan food available in Tel Aviv. According to Eviatar, about 3% of Israel's population is now vegan, as well as the 12% who are vegetarian.The trend dates from the 1960's when Black Hebrews immigrated to Israel from the US and opened a vegan restaurant, in keeping with their beliefs. Today, many restaurants in Tel Aviv post "vegan friendly" stickers on their windows, even if they aren't totally vegan.Apparently, we have one of the highest proportions of vegans in the world. Who knew?

Our first stop was at Zaka'im, at 20 Simtat Beit Hashoeva (near 98 Allenby). In keeping with its ecological zeitgeist, the crockery, tables and chairs are all oddly assorted and look like they've been bought at a flea market; the décor relies heavily on baskets of vegetables; and the whole thing has a hippy vibe. But the food is amazing. The owners are from Iran and that influence can be seen in the menu, particularly in the refreshing Persian iced tea we were offered. That was followed by potato skin chips served in paper bags with lemony "mayonnaise", fresh bread and a spicy Egyptian "ful" dish, plus a glass of arak. Zaka'im is pricy for an unpretentious vegan restaurant, but the business lunch, served from noon to 5pm, is good value at NIS55 – NIS85. I would definitely go there again. In fact, I can hardly wait.

Next was Nanuchka, at 30 Lilienblum. There's a story here: the place was a famous and popular atmospheric Georgian restaurant and bar, heavy on the meat, until owner Nana Schreier made the astonishing decision a few years ago to turn it into "the first 100% vegan Georgian restaurant in Tel Aviv and the world." Surprisingly, it lost none of its popularity in the change. We ate hot Georgian bread with ... well, I'm not quite sure what it was called, but it was a tasty casserole of "meatballs", vegetables and rice served in its own pot. The menu offers Georgian specialties such as khinkali dumplings and baked khachapuri (whatever they are) and Nanuchka also offers a business lunch. Worth it for the atmosphere alone: the place is gorgeous. 

Tasty ... food from Buddhaburger

On to Buddhaburgers, at 21 Yehuda Halevy, where the motto is "live and let live".The three branches of this cheap and cheerful eateryin Haifa, Tel Aviv and Yokneam, serve tasty fast food that even Health Minister Yaakov Litzman would approve of, including "hamburgers" of seitan or lentils, "pizza" with soya cheese and smoothies based on vegetables, fruit or soy milk.

The final restaurant we visited was Café Kaymak, at 49 Levinsky, which serves an eclectic blend of Indian, Turkish and other ethnic foods. The décor can best be described as hole-in-the-wall mishmash, but the atmosphere is friendly and homey. I didn't see a menu, but I would imagine the prices are low.

The tour also included a stop at Maadanit Ben Tov(43 Levinsky), a family-run deli in the Levinskyshukwhich boasts that it has been in business since 1947- first in Turkey and then in Tel Aviv. The family members cure their own olives and also import olives from all over the world. They sell many other delicacies, including hand-rolled stuffed grape leaves and cherry tomatoes and hibiscus flowers in syrup.

Finally, we stopped for ice cream, or a vegan version thereof, at Gela, 47 Levinsky. Made from soy or almond milk, the flavors were intense and the texture silky. To tell the truth though, I think that some things should be left alone, and ice cream from real cream is one of them.

Could I be vegan? I had never seriously considered the possibility before, but after experiencing this tour, I saw that I probably could, quite happily, preferably if someone else did the cooking. And then I thought again. Give up meat? No problem. But give up great cheese? Hmm. Maybe I could be a vegacheesetarian?

TLVEG Tours, call EviatarGover at 0526458779. Also on Facebook. Vegan tours of Tel Aviv cost NIS190 per person – in English or Hebrew. They are run on Mondays and Wednesdays, but are soon to be expanded to other days as well. You can also arrange private tours and events. Places visited change from time to time. 



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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