When I get an email that reads, “Come ready to eat!” I know that a good day awaits me. That’s how I set off for Inbal Baum’s Delicious Israel “Eat Tel Aviv” tour on a recent June Sunday.

Suspended orange tree in Jaffa

Suspended orange tree in Jaffa

Our group of seven adults and two children met Baum in Jaffa, at the port from which the export of Israel’s famous Jaffa oranges began, now a hip scene with old warehouses converted into cafés and bars.

As we sampled oranges—not the Jaffa variety, which do better for export—Baum shared their story and her own. The daughter of Israelis, Baum grew up in Rockville. She studied at UC Berkeley and went on to law school in New York, where she practiced law for a few years. Realizing that NYC lawyer life was not right, she left for Mexico, where she taught yoga, and ended up in Tel Aviv about five years ago.

Nostalgia for summers in Israel as a little girl, where “we would spend the days eating, going to the beach, coming home and eating and eating and eating some more” (I could completely relate!), coupled with scars from the demonization of Israel at Berkeley during the Second Intifada, led her to found Delicious Israel in 2011 “to offer personalized walking, travel and cooking experiences as a way of connecting foodies and culture-seekers with authentic Israeli lifestyle.”

In addition to Tel Aviv walking tours like the one I went on, Baum offers tours in Jerusalem, cooking workshops, dinners and winery tours, among others. Tours vary greatly based on the size, makeup and preferences of the group, so no two are the same, but all are guaranteed to be delicious.

From the port we proceeded through Jaffa to our first food stop: Abu Hassan (Ali Karavan), considered to be Israel’s best hummusiya (hummus shop). No place for red pepper or pesto hummus, Baum ordered Abu Hassan’s three classics: creamy hummus, masabacha (a chunky variation made of chickpeas cooked for 24 hours that is served warm) and ful (creamy hummus with fava bean puree and a spicy sauce on top). We sampled them the proper Israeli way: lenagev (to “wipe” the dish) with raw onion wedges and pieces of thick, chewy pita.

Creamy hummus, masabacha and ful at Abu Hassan

Creamy hummus, masabacha and ful at Abu Hassan

Full from Abu Hassan, where the hummus constitutes an entire meal, we took a break to walk around Jaffa’s old city and flea market, periodically stopping so Baum could share facts about Israeli history, the local food scene, past and present, and personal anecdotes about life in Tel Aviv, food-related and not.

This being a food tour, however, it wasn’t long before we found our next bite at Capitolina, a colorful ice cream shop with a sweet story about ice cream being made by ice fairies and a case of flavors like date-banana yogurt, lemon pie and, my favorite, Indian kulfi, a rich cream spiced with cardamom and coconut and dotted with pistachios.

On our way out of Jaffa, we stopped at the legendary Abouelafia Bakery, where we tried fresh-out-of-the-oven pita with za’atar and an Israeli bagel, which in no way resembles its American counterpart except for the hole in the middle. Sadly, Baum lamented Abouelafia’s decreased quality since franchising a few years ago.

A 15-or-so-minute walk led us to Shuk Levinsky (Levinsky Market), which is, in fact, a street lined with food shops, one more enticing than the next.

Our first stop was Levinsky 41, a street-facing kiosk where we found refreshment from the heat in the form of modernized versions of the retro Israeli beverage gazoz (syrup mixed with seltzer), made with homemade artisanal syrups and mix-ins like candied goji berries, beets, Persian limes and more.

Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel in front of Levinsky 41

Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel in front of Levinsky 41

We marched on to Yom Tov Delicatessen, where smiley brothers Yomi and Eitan Levi, with their mother Simcha, are preserving their Turkish grandfather’s delicious legacy. The 93-year-old patriarch, by the way, still rolls the stuffed grape leaves by hand. Along with those, we devoured their homemade olives and antipasti, like cheese-stuffed peppadew peppers, paper-thin fried eggplant slices and roasted garlic. I briefly considered abandoning the group at that point and staying at Yom Tov for the rest of the day.

Zigzagging from one side of Levinsky Street to the other, we tasted two kinds of cheese burekas (stuffed turnovers), one made with flaky puff pastry and another with a sturdier dough; sipped faludeh, a slushy Persian drink made with rosewater and rice vermicelli (yes, noodles—in a drink!); smelled za’atar and sumac at one of the local spice “institutions”; visited an urban garden and sampled malabi, a gelatinous milk pudding also made with rosewater and topped with a red fruit syrup and crushed peanuts.

After some five hours and 8,500 steps, according to my pedometer (thank goodness), we ended on a sweet note with goodbyes over knafe, a warm pastry made of cheese and vermicelli dough, and sesame halva and hugs and restaurant recommendations from Baum. What a delicious day.

Visit Delicious Israel’s website, email [email protected] or call +972-52-569-9499 for tasty tours and/or cooking experiences. 

Top photo: Spices at a shop in Levinsky Market