Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Taste of Bulgaria in Tel Aviv

The ancient port city of Yafo (Jaffa), mentioned in the Bible and conquered by Alexander the Great, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and Napolean, joined Tel Aviv as part of the same municipality, in 1950.

When the State of Israel was established in 1948, Yafo was a predominantly Arab city, but most of its 100,000 residents fled. Their place was taken by waves of new immigrants from Libya, Morocco, and other countries.

Nearly all of Bulgaria's Jewish community, which had survived the Holocaust intact, came to Israel in those years as well. Many of them made their homes in Yafo.

As part of our culinary tours of Tel Aviv, we had previously visited the Levinsky Street Market and the Yemenite Quarter, each with its own delicacies. This time, we took to the streets of Yafo. We particularly enjoyed the tastes of Bulgaria in Tel Aviv, as it brought back many fond memories of the two years we lived in Sofia.

The iconic clock tower of Yafo

The tour of Yafo was part of a course run by Zman Eshkol, the leading operator of leisure studies in Israel, and our guide was again Or Rein.

Our tour did not focus exclusively on Bulgarian cuisine, as we also had a chance to eat food that originated in North Africa as well as the hummus on sale at Abu Hassan Hummus, possibly the best in the entire country (as could be judged by the long lines of customers standing outside its doors). But for us, the most memorable parts were when we tasted dishes that had originated in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian barbershop, not far from Yafo's clock tower

One of the early arrivals from Sofia was Savta Julie, who in 1948 brought filo dough from her home country. Julie's handmade dough was the first of its kind in the country. According to information posted on the Maafe Leon bakery website, Julie would get up every morning in her Yafo home, turn the beds upside down, and use their frames to stretch the filo dough. People began coming from all over the country to purchase Savta Julie's filo dough.

Scrumptious spinach bureka, made from filo dough originating in Bulgaria

We walked along Shderot Yerushalayim, one of the main streets in the older section of Yafo. While there is no Bulgarian quarter in the neighborhood, many of the Bulgarian restaurants and stores are located in the same area. One of the buildings houses the Bulgarian Immigrants Association. This building was formerly a famous hotel, and in 1930, it hosted Umm Kulthum, the internationally famous Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress when she visited Palestine.

Bulgarian Immigrants Association

At 70 Shderot Yerushalayim we came to Avner and Rami's Delicatessan. They specialize in Bulgarian food. We stood outside on the street and tasted some of the shop's specialties. The delicatessen offers, among other products, egg noodles, pickled lakerda fish, and pepper sauce.

What did we taste? We ate leek patties dipped in lutenitza sauce, which is a condiment made from tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Getting a taste of Bulgaria on the streets of Yafo

And we also drank rakia, Bulgaria's traditional alcoholic drink. Rakia can be made from grapes, plums, apricots, pears, or quinces. We drank Kehlibar grape brandy, an amber-colored drink made from carefully selected superb mellow grapes grown in vineyards in the Karnobat region in southeastern Bulgaria. Homemade rakia is even more potent, but this rakia was itself very strong.

Rakia is a very potent Bulgarian drink

 We undoubtedly will make our way one day soon to Yafo's Bulgarian restaurants, because our appetites were certainly whetted by what we tasted on the city streets.

Shderot Yerushalayim in Yafo

Related articles:

Bulgarian Cuisine, Nutritious and Delicious 

The Tastes and Colors of South Tel Aviv

Tasting the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv

A Day at the Beach in Tel Aviv


  1. Thank you for your wonderful post. I enjoyed it very much. I visited Jaffa six years ago and I still remember the lines of people waiting outside favorite restaurants!

    1. You can tell where the sell the best hummus in Jaffa by the length of the line outside!

  2. Bulgarian food in Tel Aviv! I'm surprised to see that, but it looks like Bulgarian cuisine has so much to offer. I wouldn't mind having some spinach burekas for my lunch! :)

  3. I shouldn't read wonderful food blog posts like this when it's almost dinner time. The images of spinach bureka and leek patties make me feel hungry!

    1. I can tell you that writing this article made me very, very hungry.

  4. READING the article made me hungry. I'm waiting for dinner. In my novel I write about food too, and then I need to make French toast!

    Enjoying the blog. Take care Ellis.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I definitely think that food needs to play an important role in fiction = after all, the characters have to eat!