When you think of Israeli cuisine, you’re probably thinking grilled meats, fresh fish, and other carnivorous delights. But these days, Israel is going plant-based, and it has a new distinction to prove it: Last week, the Independent crowned Tel Aviv the vegan capital of the world.
“With 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens catering to most of Israel’s 200,000 vegans,” gushed the venerable newspaper, “going meat-free isn’t just easy, here; it’s a chance to sample the best food in town. Thanks to the sun-kissed climate, high quality fruit and veg is never too far – you can see it in the colour, taste it in the flavour and smell it in the aroma of what’s on your plate.”
Actually, make that 300,000 vegans, according to Vegan Friendly, a local association of happy herbivores celebrating their ascent. The number, they say, has been soaring non-stop since 2012, and shows no sign of stopping, giving Israeli vegans the kind of buying power that prompts entrepreneurs to take notice. There are now more than 3,000 certified vegan products available in Israel, including everything from leather-free shoes to egg-free treats, and more and more of the country’s politicians, athletes, and entertainers swear by the plant-based diet.
To celebrate Tel Aviv’s crowning achievement, then, and to help vegans plotting their next vacation, here are three of Israel’s finest plant-based eateries:
Nanuchka: Once upon a time, Tel Aviv’s trendiest gastro-pub took great pride in its owner’s Georgian heritage, which meant that meat and cheese were not only on the menu but were, more or less, the menu entire. But then the owner, Nana Schrier, went vegan, and took her kitchen vegan with her. These days, the drinks are still stellar, but the menu shines even brighter, with butternut squash dumplings, panko-crusted artichokes on a bed of whipped beets, or zucchini stuffed with quinoa and cranberries.
Meshek Barzilay: This beloved staple of Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek neighborhood started life on an organic farm, and moving to the big city did little to impact the organic, earthy vibe. Everything here is intensely fresh and wonderfully delicious, with an eclectic menu that brings together different vegan-friendly cuisines, from gnocchi with olives and walnut pate to hearty Indian dosas.
Bana: By far Tel Aviv’s hottest new restaurant, Bana looks like it belongs right on Venice Beach, with an airy California decor and a menu that believes vegetables are good enough in their own right and shouldn’t have to pretend that they’re bacon or cheese just to pass muster. From papaya avocado salad with watercress and cacao nibs to Steamed Spinach with cacao butter over toasted whole spelt baguette smeared with maple butter and ground Brazil nut, the menu here is everything a top notch restaurant in a top notch eating town should be.
To our plant-based friends, be’teavon. To the rest of you, what are you waiting for?