As a 30 year + veteran of being a vegetarian and having lived and travelled extensively abroad as well as in Israel, I can definitely say that Israel is a country where it is extremely easy to be a vegetarian. In addition, Israel is also famous as having the most vegans per capita in the world and it’s not hard to see why.
The delicious locally grown fruits and veg inspire rich and interesting salads and not your standard lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber as offered in Europe. From the vibrant café culture offering a wide array of veggie manna from salads to sophisticated concoctions, to the obvious ‘local’ dishes of hummus, falafel and Arabic salad, the variety of vegetarian food on offer honestly makes it a Vegetarian/Vegans heaven.
Because of the abundance of café and casual dining options in Israel and with most restaurants having at least a few vegetarian options on their menu’s, I decided to explore the more high-end restaurants in Tel Aviv to find a veggie heaven dining experience.
Topolopompo is an Asian restaurant from renowned Israel chef Avi Conforti who is also the brains behind Zepra and Zozobra – two more restaurants in the Asian style but offering a more casual dining experience. (Zozobra incidentally is a favorite in our house not only for the vegetarian options but also for their Gluten Free options).
The atmosphere as soon as you walk in is welcoming, fun and alive as any good restaurant should be. As we struggled to decide what to eat (as everything looked so delicious!) we were offered an intriguing option. We can tell them how much we want to spend on our meal and they will build a menu for us, bringing tasting dishes and full dishes until we reach the maximum we wanted to spend, or until we said ‘stop we’re full!’
We decided to let the experts take control and after filling them in on what we did/didn’t like/any allergies/dietary issues (vegetarian options only please!), each dish presented was a total surprise to us.
The dishes served were just amazing – from mushrooms in saffron, to blackened cauliflower, baby vegetable masala, corn and pumpkin creations, each plate was a delight to look at and more importantly each bite was bursting with taste and flavors. Simply delicious.
The desert, a lime tart with strawberry sorbet was I think the prettiest I have ever seen but more importantly the tastes were out of this world. Highly recommended.
Having opened 4 years ago, with a seasonally changing tastings menu only, I had high expectations for OCD. What intrigued me was that with their tasting menu they accommodate meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians (vegetarians that eat fish) together, so there is no feeling that as a vegetarian I was getting a poorer option. I took the purely vegetarian menu, and my husband took the pescatarian.
It goes without saying that each of the 17 dishes were beautifully presented and a treat for the eyes. Veggie highlights included a pumpkin and clementine granita, risotto made from Kohlrabi, carrots with a parsnip reduction, and truffle foam with burnt cabbage and horseradish. Most dishes used some type of molecular technique and you can only marvel at the cleverness, however personally I couldn’t help that feel that on occasion too many games were played with the ingredients.
As a staple on the Tel Aviv scene for more than 15 years now, surprisingly this was my first visit to Manta Ray. As one of the only high end restaurants located directly on the beach the setting could not be more beautiful. Best to come in the summer at sunset to enjoy this stunning al fresco dining experience with the waves lapping the shore and the view of old Jaffa.
As a renowned fish restaurant I was apprehensive about how much (or little) there would be for me to eat at Manta Ray. How wrong I was to worry!
As well as abundant fish, seafood and meat options on the main menu, they also have a full vegetarian/vegan menu. The meal begins with a selection of mezze dishes that they bring to your table for you to choose from. These change daily depending on the local produce available, with plenty of vegetarian/vegan dishes to choose from. Each of the 4 mezze dishes we sampled were fresh and tasty and a great opening to the meal.
My husband chose a whole baked Sea Bream which was cooked to perfection. Still delicate and juicy and not overcooked at all. I chose a mushroom risotto made from farro rice which was simply delicious. Lots of strong earthy character from the different mushrooms used and the garlic confit and manchego cheese giving an extra dash of flavor. We highly enjoyed the meal and it won’t be long till we return again.
As mentioned there are plenty of ‘local’ dishes which are vegan and vegetarian friendly. So to give you my top recommendations:
Hummus: In my humble opinion the best hummus place is Garger HaZahav (The golden grain) on Levinsky Street. Sometimes ordering a bowl of hummus can be a little heavy so the geniuses here give you a small bowl of hummus with 2 small side dishes of your choice (usually of different salads). It’s a much lighter and refreshing meal served this way.
Falafel: Ha Kosem (The Magician) on King George Street is well known among locals for its simple Israeli food, but its delicious falafel really stands out for me. The great option is you can order a half option if you just need a small fix, or even take a plate full of falafel, salad and hummus if you want to cut out on the carbs.
Sabich: When you see people queuing every day at lunchtime outside Sabich Frishman on Frishman Street, you know something good must be going on. Sabich, a sandwich bought over by the Iraqi Jews, is packed full of flavor which will make you want to come back again and again. Pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hummus, potato, egg and salads is simply delicious.
It’s true what they say – Tel Aviv is a veggie heaven!!! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our concierge service for more recommendations and restaurant bookings when you join us on an Israel tour.
By: Sam Phillips
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