I went out to Israel for work last year, where I happily stumbled upon a vibrant and growing micro brew scene. Though on my 1st night I only managed to try Goldstar, one of only a few mass produced beers in Israel. They had it on draft at Frank, a hot dog palace of some quality. The Goldstar was amber brown, had some dark malt flavours and was very cold. It obviously did the trick with my red hot, because I didn’t even get a picture of it before it was woofed down.
The next day it was as if some unknown force drew me along the beach to Jaffa Port Market, in the beautiful bustling seaside to the south of Tel Aviv. Once inside the market I was reminded of Granville Island in Vancouver, back in my native Canada. A buzzing modern space with restaurants, cafes and stalls selling all manner of consumables. I hadn’t gone more than 30 feet when there it was, my El Dorado. Occupying a prime corner space near an entrance stood Beer Market, one of only a handful of craft beer shops/bars in all of Israel. I felt giddy and exalted perusing the shelves of local brews.
To begin I sampled the 2 keg beers on offer: Dancing Camel IPA & Hamaka Harishona (First Punch) a Smoked Ale by HaDubim. The Dancing Camel was everything a modern style IPA should be, well hopped, fresh fruity & fully flavoured. HaDubim HH was subtle on the smokiness, had a good balance, overall a decent effort. Beers in hand I installed myself at the little bar attached to the shop, and blissfully spent the next five or so hours drinking beer, eating and talking to anyone who came near me.
After the draft beers I was getting peckish and was directed by the boys at Beer Market to the hummus stand about 8 feet to my right. The line wasn’t too long, but I waited for nearly 15 minutes because every transaction became a negotiation: more of this, less of that, give me a few of those, before finally the money was handed over. I was getting a lesson in culture while I cued! I got my traditional hummus and spicy Israeli salad. Now I just needed a something to drink… After some back and forth I settled on a Wheat Ale From Malka. Tucking into my grub & sipping the beer I fell into a sort of trance, the kind where the harmony of food and drink are completely in tune. The hummus was out of this world, as good as I have ever had; the sort of texture that bordered on the sensual. I was thankful for the bracing electrical chilli heat and citrus crunch of the cucumber tomato salad, as it kept my moaning with every bite to a minimum.
Personally I think wheat beers are a versatile match for lots of cuisines. Good examples like Malka have a fresh lemony acidity and herbaceousness to them, which cuts through richness and cleans the palate. At the same time they have a freshness which allows them to pair well with more delicate dishes as well.
I chatted some more with the guys and met Hadubim brewer Dagan while I sipped a draft pale ale from Shapiro, which was perfectly good.
I was getting hungry again and only had to go about 3 meters to a stall selling sandwiches, where I procured this rare roast beef beauty. The bread was as soft as velvet and biting into it, I felt a surge of endorphins as my pleasure center lit up. The flavours of that oh so tender beef balanced perfectly against the crunch of lettuce and sting of mustard. Of course another beer was needed so I returned to Dancing Camel and their very good APA. It had a lovely weight and richness, with a persistent but not overwhelming hop character. A superb match for the sandwich.
What struck me most as I sat watching men and woman of different ages come and go at Beer Market, was the genuine excitement that illuminated on so many faces as they saw or heard that all these beers were brewed in Israel. The country doesn’t have a brewing history as such and I felt as if I was glimpsing something at it’s very beginning.
My most vivid recollection was of three men in their late 50′s. Working lads with broad shoulders and calloused hands, one with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his short sleeve shirt. They were hunting the shelves, asking questions and making their individual selections with the all the care and focus of school boys in a candy or comic shop. Their purchases made; they stood at the till admiring their choices, smiling to each other, giggling here and there, their eyes glinting with mixture of mischief, anticipation and pride.
Time was getting on so I had to get back to my hotel and freshen up. But I wasn’t about to leave without a few souvenirs, so I bought a half dozen bottles and bid farewell to my very gracious hosts.
My gastronomic adventures did not end there though. That evening I went with a colleague to the heaving Port Sa’id for dinner. It was obviously a place very popular with the young and trendy set of Tel Aviv and we had to wait for a table. Once sat the menu arrived, all in Hebrew, so after some help from the waitress we ordered an array of dishes.
This smoky fruit Barkan Shiraz hit the right notes without being too in your face and paired well with our meal. Though the first thing I tasted wasn’t even ours, it belonged to the very friendly locals on the next table, who let me try this beautiful beetroot carpaccio with garlic yogurt while we waited for our food to arrive.
Now not having a menu to refer to I sadly I don’t have an exact recall each plate. But the flavours! I can still taste the unique spicing, texture and seasoning nearly a year on.
Things like Beans ‘Masabaha’ Salad, slow cooked beef, BBQ lamb and an astonishing roasted cabbage were all utterly delicious.
The menu changes daily depending on what the eclectic chefs are able to source, but Port Sa’id is a must for any foodie visiting Tel Aviv. A real gem.
Sadly I wasn’t able to see much more of the city during my short visit, due to my work commitment. I felt though that I’d gotten a small taste of this exceptional city, and it’s fascinating inhabitants. I came away with a greater appreciation and respect that I had not anticipated. For that I am truly grateful.