Trying to make a hardcore non-vegetarian person embrace the world of vegan eating is same as trying to introduce a cat to a cucumber--things go south real fast. I do like my greens with gusto but also am someone who can not imagine a life without meat. But had I been in Tel Aviv, maybe I'd be singing a different tune. And who wouldn't when there are hundreds of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the city? The locals for sure take pride in this because they do call their city the "vegan capital of the world". So when we say "it's easy to go meat-free in Tel Aviv", there's truth in there.
To those who are none too clear about what being a vegan really means, it's the zero percent consumption or use of animal products. Yes, not even use. The concept is different than that of being a vegetarian. To put it simply, there is a thin line between being a vegan and a vegetarian and that line is animal-based products. I like to imagine a scenario where there is a collective gasp of disbelief from non-vegetarians when the word "vegan" was introduced. But how did Tel Aviv reach the state of being the vegan capital of the world? Thanks to the suitable temperature all year round, it's possible for Tel Aviv to produce fresh vegetables anytime one wants.
The entire city is dotted with irresistible shuks (farmers' market) selling freshest of produce and most of the city's restaurants have their own kitchen gardens. Unavailability of fresh produce is unheard of in Tel Aviv. If it's not locally produced then it's from places far and wide like Greece, Morocco and even Japan, to name a few. Farmers' markets have their own charm--take for instance, Carmel Market--one of Israel's best known fruit and vegetable markets. Namal Food Market or "Israel's first covered market" is a place where you will find best of fresh and seasonal European produce. And if you are looking for hundred percent organic, Orbanic is your best bet. The produce are completely organic and fits perfectly when we say "from farm to mouth".
In Tel Aviv, you'll even find vegan coffee shops. Cafe Kaymak, Zakaim and Anastasia are just some of the very popular AND vegan coffee shops.
It's must not be too hard for Israel to churn out this many vegan or vegetarian places to eat when the most important part of their traditional meal, hummus and falafel are vegan.
I still shudder at the thought of my brush with a vegetarian "steak" somewhere in the hills of northern India. An experience that made me question my belief in food (for a very brief but painful period). Most people make the mistake of making something that's clearly a vegetable look like something that's identified as a carnivore's favourite--steak in this case. What's wrong with staying faithful to a plate of well-seasoned pan-fried fresh vegetables that one feels the need to mash those beautiful veggies and call it a veggie-steak. That's just plain disturbing. But I digress. In Tel Aviv, there is no pretense. They know their vegetables and find new ways to cook them.
If you are just visiting Tel Aviv then chances are you'll be more interested in places to eat. Take for example, Bana, a vegan restaurant that has delicious fares like fig-stuffed zucchini, almond milk pudding with poached pears. Meshek Barzilay is an organic vegetarian restaurant you need to consider for some serious fun with food. From their popular vegan breakfast to even an Indian thali, they've got you covered. You can even go for a vegan pizza at the Green Cat. This meat-free restaurant is no joke when it comes to pizza for they have cashew cheese to bank on. And it's delish! Zakaim, one of the best vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv is a delight for the eclectic soul. From food to decor, their belief in quirky is heartwarming and oh-so-tasty. Eat here and see how many ways you can turn your daily vegetables, fruits and herbs into something completely delicious and chic at the same time. Then there is 24 Rupee, a mostly vegan restaurant with an exception of dairy products here and there. If you crave for Indian in the land of hummus, then this is the place. A no-shoe policy once inside, here at 24 Rupee, you dine sitting on the floor and you dine on good Indian thali.
Tenat in southern Tel Aviv is an Ethiopian restaurant. And it's true, once you've gone Ethiopian, you've known good food. Here the food is not only vegan but also gluten free. Ethiopian cuisine is all about community dining and here at Tenat they bring the best of community dining with a large serving of guilt-free eating. Saving the best for the last of course, Anastasia, a pet-friendly vegan cafe which also has a shop selling vegan goodies. the restaurants serves one of the best vegan cheese dishes in Tel Aviv (though the city is marked for best vegan cheese in the world). Their mushroom dishes are widely popular, which, I must add, sounds divine with a drink of beer or two.
Tel Aviv sure makes vegan look like a tasty lifestyle choice that every one should make. Well, at least when you are visiting the city.
Next: Watch this space for our take on gluten-free food.