By: Gabrielle Donati
Nestled between the Carmel Market and the Mediterranean Sea, Kerem HaTeimanim (Yemenite Vineyard) is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Officially founded in 1904, “The Kerem,” as it’s known by locals, was established by Yemenite Jews who immigrated to Israel in the late 1800’s.
Though gentrification looms, the neighborhood still maintains much of the old world charm that has made it a beloved and enduring part of Tel Aviv’s culture, especially when it comes to food.
A stroll through The Kerem is a must for any hungry visitor, where a myriad of eateries welcome diners with a simple facade and open door. Many of them serve classic Yemenite dishes that have sustained families for generations, but here and there, you’ll find something uniquely its own. One definite common thread between them, however, is love — love for their food, love for their customers and love for their neighborhood and its culture.
Every Tel Avivian can name a favorite restaurant in The Kerem, but as any seasoned traveler will tell you, it’s best to seek advice from an insider. So in the spirit of discovery, we broke bread with some of The Kerem’s friendly neighborhood restaurant proprietors to get suggestions straight from the source.
After owning a Yemenite restaurant that kept her busy into the wee hours of the morning, single motherhood prompted Anat to rethink her life as restaurant proprietress, but as she puts it, “I love to cook and I love people.”
So she closed the Yemenite restaurant and opened Anat’s Kitchen, a charming dining nook at the foot of the Kerem, and though food preparation begins early in the morning, she’s now free to spend evenings and weekends with her son.
Switching things up from her previous menu, Anat’s Kitchen is all about home-cooking with a twist; it’s typical Israeli food but not typical ingredients, and you’ll find a variety of meat, vegetarian, and vegan options. While there are a few fan favorites she makes regularly, the menu changes daily based on what is available at the shuk (market) that morning, guaranteeing that everything is super-fresh, healthy, and always in-season.
One of her most popular dishes is hummus and eggplant, but the peppers stuffed with quinoa and black lentils are too intriguing to pass up, and her salmon patties are to die for.
Almost as impressive as her culinary skills are the familial relationships she creates with her customers.
“I come here so much that it feels a little bit like home. I just go into the kitchen and choose what I want,” says Ayal, a regular who’s been dining at Anat’s for almost five years. “People walk in expecting a restaurant, but here, you’re not in a restaurant, you’re in someone’s home – warm and welcome.”
Anat’s Kitchen scores extra points on the cool-factor scale; she’s one of the first restaurants in Israel to accept Bitcoin.
Where: 23 HaCarmel Alley, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Hours: Monday-Thursday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm; Friday from 8:00 am until Shabbat
Anat’s Recommendation: Shimshon
Born in 1949 to a Lebanese mother and an Iraqi father who both immigrated to Israel, Shimshon is a powerhouse of energy and a literal jack-of-all-trades who worked as a taxi dispatcher for twelve years before his friends and family talked him into opening a restaurant.
“I like to cook and I like to play music,” he says. “My musician friends would come over to play and they got hungry, so I fed them. After a while they started saying, ‘open a restaurant, open a restaurant.’
“It’s not easy to do, but I said I’d try. I started looking for a place and in 1993, the gods sent me here. The first time I took the lease for a short while, just to see how it worked – and it worked good, I tell you!”
Though he initially hired a chef, he now does everything himself: shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning, and for 24 years, he’s had the same vegetarian menu of bean and veggie soups, shakshuka, fish and veggie patties, majadera, bamiah (okra), ful, hummus, fried eggplant, malawach, and more. It’s the vegetarian version of Israeli home-cooking, exquisitely washed down with a glass of his fresh-squeezed orange juice.
“I know the food is good because people clean their plates with not even one speck left on the dish, so I know it’s good – and I make it with love,” he reflects.
Love is not off-topic to a man who spent his teens and twenties in the flower-child era of the 1960’s and 70’s. Posters of The Beatles and hippies adorn the walls alongside a collection of postcards he’s picked up on his many travels. That’s the only glitch with Shimshon – he loves to travel and when he goes, the restaurant closes until his return. Better get there while you can.
Where: 27 Yichye Kapach Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Hours: Sunday-Friday from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm (or until the bread runs out)
Shimshon’s Recommendation: Balienjera
One of the newest in the ‘hood, Balienjera has scored a lot of press due to the fame of it’s owners — a partnership between Shmuel, an Israeli-Ethiopian actor/filmmaker and Beru, an Israeli-Ethiopian model.
“I come from show business.” explains Shmuel. “We had an idea to do something special – to share cultures. There is a philosophy behind it, to share love, and we got the chance.
“One of the partners of the previous restaurant is a friend of mine. He suggested that I open a place…I thought about the idea… If you’re going to do something, write down what needs to be done, make a list, and do it. It’s not so sophisticated.”
Balienjera’s menu is also not so sophisticated, but packed with Ethiopian classics such as Wat (a spicy beef stew), Doro Wat (a chicken-based stew), Tibs (sautéed meat and vegetables), and injera, a gluten-free bread made of teff flour. The stews are traditionally eaten by scooping them up with the injera — no silverware needed — hence, the custom of washing your hands both before and after the meal.
Though Ethiopian meals are not typically served with a starter, they’ve been added to the menu to please the Israeli palette, each with a slight change in the recipe to lend a local touch, but the coffee, freshly ground on the premises, is strictly Ethiopian.
“We sell atmosphere, an experience,” Shmuel says. “People want to belong in a society and environment. The restaurant creates a good interaction between people. Food is very basic — before everything else, and common to all people in the world. It’s a way to create a dialog.”
Well, they’ve certainly got people talking….and eating.
Where: 4 Malan Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Hours: Sunday-Thursday from 12:00 to 11:00 pm; Friday from 12:00 to 2:00 pm; Saturday from after Shabbat
Shmuel’s Recommendation: Nechama
Walk past Etzel Nechama unknowingly, and you’d be hard-pressed to recognize it as a restaurant. A single room on an unlikely corner, look for the faded Hebrew menu hanging outside the building. and inside you’ll find a cozy arrangement of tables and chairs and owner Nechama, bustling among the diners.
The food is Yemenite “heavy”, meaning the focus is on dough-based favorites like jachnun, malawach, and fatut, with shakshuka and a handful of salads to balance out the selection. Opening hours are limited and Nechama likes to keep a low profile, so if you are interested in her story and recommendation, we suggest you broach the subject while diving into a steaming bowl of lentil soup and lachuch – a popular Yemenite flatbread.
Where: 10 Yishkon Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Hours: Wednesday-Thursday from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm; Friday from 7:00 am to 1:30 pm
About the author
Gabrielle Donati lives a life of relative ease in the great White City. She is a veteran writer, critic and all-in-all decent person, once you get to know her. A devout Pastafarian who puts an emphasis on living healthy and happy, she enjoys discovering and sharing the many little pleasures of the city.