Monday, January 13, 2014

Tasting the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv

Kerem Hateimanim, literally the Yemenite Vineyard, is an old neighborhood in central Tel Aviv, just off the busy Carmel Market. Once one of the city's poorest areas, Tel Aviv's Yemenite quarter is today enjoying a real estate boom; its picturesque streets are home to tasty Yemenite restaurants and even a boutique hotel.

My wife and I toured the Yemenite quarter on a course run by Zman Eshkol, the leading operator of leisure studies in Israel. Our guide is Or Rein.

The Carmel Market is an open air market where you can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, household accessories, clothing, paper goods, music, candy, freshly baked bread and pastries, flowers, and much more. The market is particularly crowded on Fridays when shoppers are stocking up for Shabbat.

Shuk Hacarmel

On a parallel, less crowded street, we enter Kerem Hateimanim itself. We walk along Rabbi Meir Street and learn that in the original 1947 UN Partition Plan, this street was to be the border between Tel Aviv in the Jewish state, and Jaffa in the Arab state. The War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel changed all that, uniting Tel Aviv and Jaffa as one city.

Turkish burekas, at the entrance of the Carmel Market

After stopping for burekas, our next tasting stop is at Hummus Shlomo and Doron, a restaurant established in the 1930s. We learn that Egyptian falafel is different from Israeli falafel. In Egypt, the dish is made of fava beans (ful). Credit is given to Yemenite residents of Tel Aviv for first making falafel with hummus (chick pea), which has become the standard in Israel. We meet Shlomo, the restaurant's proprietor, who has just became a great grandfather.

A little history about the Yemenite Jews in Israel. 2,500 Yemenites came as early as 1882; some of them went to the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem, while others settled here. Kerem Hateimanim was set up as a "road stop" on the way from Jaffa across the dunes to the Jewish Trumpledor cemetery following a cholera epidemic in 1902. Tel Aviv was established in 1909. Following riots in 1921, most Jews left Jaffa for good to move to the Jewish city of Tel Aviv. This led to the establishment of the Levinsky Street and Carmel Markets.

Street scene in Kerem Hateimanim

Nearly the entire community of Yemenite Jews, some 49,000 people, immigrated to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet (1949–1950), more widely known as Operation On Wings of Eagles (Kanfei Nesharim in Hebrew).

We stop at Nehama's restaurant, a small place offering a range of Yemenite dishes. The menu includes jahnun, malawach, hilba, and semna. We are treated to a taste of a lachooch (ch as in loch), a sort of Yemenite pita filled here with an omelet and served with tomato paste and schug, a hot pepper-based paste. Unbelievably delicious!

Nehama at work

We walk along Rehov Yom Tov, the spice street of the Carmel Market. The Teva HaCarmel shop has natural tea fusions, medicinal herbs, spices, and mixes. We drink Louisa herbal tea.


On Haim Street we see one of the most unique structures of the entire neighborhood. The shell-covered house, Beit Hatzadafim, is the home of Tov Hai and Shoshana Tiram. Tov Hai was a member of Lechi, the Jewish underground group that was based in the neighborhood during the days of the British Mandate. Legend says that in the walls of many of the neighborhood's houses one can still find caches of hidden gold coins, explosive materials, and guns. Tov Hai decorated his home with creative patterns and motifs made of sea shells.

One of the most unusual stops on our tour is at Coffee Cohen. Owner Shlomo Cohen, who made aliyah from Yemen, studied Ashkenazi cantorial music. While we drink black coffee ground from beans on the spot, Shlomo entertains us with his deep voice.

We finish our tour of the Yemenite quarter and make our way back to the main street of the Carmel Market. We are treated to two very different fruit drinks. The sweet white almond drink is called Rosetta. The dark date-based drink is called Tamarini. Both are very tasty and a great way to end our visit.

Related articles:

The Tastes and Colors of South Tel Aviv

A Taste of Bulgaria in Tel Aviv

A Day at the Beach in Tel Aviv

Yemen, So Close Yet a World Away