If Israel is the ‘vegan nation’, then Tel Aviv is its capital. Boasting hundreds of vegan restaurants, the city's animal-free food scene has blossomed, and it's consistently ranked as one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world. Recent surveys have shown that nearly 15% of Israelis are vegetarian and more than 5% are vegan, making this place home to the most vegans in the world per capita.
Why has veganism sprouted here? Well, Tel Aviv had a head start. Though veganism is an international trend now, the city's love for its hummus joints, falafel stalls and the fresh, locally grown produce at Carmel Market has much deeper roots. Plus, veganism fits well with the kosher diet. All of this available organic fruit and veg mixed with some of the finest chefs in the Middle East has created one of the most innovative foodie scenes on earth.
Influenced by the Iranian food of his childhood, chef Harel Zakaim’s passion for high-quality vegan cuisine led him to open Zakaim, in an alleyway off Allenby St. Zakaim changes the restaurant’s 100% vegan menu to fit the season, and highlights include its Persian-style rice with crunchy potatoes on top, cauliflower gondi served on a chickpea waffle, chargrilled aubergine and vegan pizzas for kids. The hand-torn fries served in a brown paper bag with homemade vegan mayonnaise are a revelation for lovers of chips, plus there’s Persian tea and non-dairy dark chocolate truffles for dessert.
416 is an ultra-cool New York-style diner with a vegan streak. The idea is to unashamedly serve up soul-food classics without harming animals, so diners can savour delicious dishes such as vegan shawarma served in Arabic pita bread and mushroom schnitzel sandwich with fries. But the signature dish is the shockingly meat-like seitan steak served in an iron pan with roast potatoes, fried onions and vegetables — it’s so juicy that you’ll need a steak knife!
Run by two chefs, Bana is a vegan restaurant that’s difficult to pigeonhole. Set on Nahmani St, it’s popular at lunchtimes with locals, thanks to its delicious vegan buffet and range of salads. The food here is experimental and unlike anything else in town: expect dishes such as purple sweet potato gnocchi with oyster mushrooms and the refreshing ‘smoothie bowl’ filled with kiwi fruit, different kinds of nuts and coconut tapioca.
Located in the quiet Neve Tzedek quarter, Meshek Barzilay is a vegetarian restaurant that started out as an organic farm on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. When the restaurant opened in the city centre a few years ago, its founder, Merav Barzilay, fulfilled her lifelong dream of serving completely organic food. It’s not hard to find a great veggie burger in Tel Aviv, but Meshek’s mushroom, tofu and lentil burger in a steamed roll reigns supreme. Meshek Barzilay is also famed for its ‘Royale’ brunch, which has frittatas, tapas, bread baskets and cocktails on the menu.
Simple, affordable vegan food is what Market TLV is all about. Situated on Dizengoff St, one of the main shopping stretches in town, Market TLV could be mistaken for a soup kitchen. The menu is limited, but you'll be tempted by the three big pots sitting on the counter, filled with steaming hot Moroccan stew, Indian stew or Thai stew. Mexican black beans, homemade couscous and a less spicy Indian dish for children are also available. Market TLV has another branch on King George St that has a slightly different selection.
Offering authentic Indian food with an Israeli twist, the no-frills Dosa Bar is not only vegan friendly but it's also gluten free and kosher. The main dishes here are the dosa, an Indian pancake that comes in orange (potato masala), green (spinach) and purple (beetroot) varieties, and the thali, served with small portions of chutney, rice and salad. The house salad, which includes finely chopped celery and quinoa with some delicious Indian dressing, is also fab, plus you can wash it down with an imported Kingfisher beer.
The story of Nanuchka is a unique one: formerly a Georgian restaurant that wouldn’t have been out of place in Tbilisi, it was transformed into one of Tel Aviv’s first vegan restaurants. Famous for its party atmosphere and live music at nights, Nanuchka also has an art gallery and patio garden. Classic Georgian dishes such as khinkali dumplings and baked khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) are prepared with vegetarian fillings such as spinach, tofu and spring onions. There’s also an extensive alcohol menu if you want to continue the party into the early hours at the bar.
More than a cafe, Anastasia is also a well-stocked vegan shop selling a range of organic products. Its leafy patio is popular with a young crowd enjoying vegan breakfasts with options like corn omelettes with hummus, sumptuous salads and sandwiches, and a wide selection of desserts, cakes and coffees. Don’t miss the hot almond milkshakes with cocoa and banana or the gluten-free tiramisu with coconut and chocolate mousse.
If you need a burst of energy, head to Jusa, which sells blends of freshly made fruit, nut and superfood juices in bottles. All the juices here are created using a hydraulic cold press to retain vitamins and nutrients. Flavours include nut milkshakes such as Nirvana (with cashew milk, dates, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper), as well as an array of green detox options and boosts such as aloe or turmeric. Not just for those on a diet, Jusa makes for a refreshing break for those sweltering hot days in Tel Aviv.