Before the days of Covid, walking through the bustling Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv you’dr hear Persian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, French, Arabic, Hebrew and English being spoken all around. But it’s the tastes and smells that you’ll remember from wandering through the delightful “Shuk Levinsky.”
This sizzling melting pot, located on the southern end of the city, combines flavors from the east, west and everywhere in between. This colorful melding of cultures and flavors is the result of multicultural immigration that brought new shopkeepers into Levinsky, creating a refreshing blend of old country and modern sophistication.
A favorite is Nuts by Moshe and Sons, a family-owned and operated business specializing in roasting nuts, dried fruits and spices. If you manage to pass through the crowd of customers jostling for position inside the small space, you may hear the owner, Moshe Har Sinai, helping a customer or supervising his four sons who are working with him in the shop. “Give this lady the best Medjool that we have,” Moshe said, instructing his sons to deliver their famous Israeli dates. “She is coming here for the last 40 years, and we don’t neglect our friends.”
Moshe inherited the shop from his father, who emigrated from Iran to Tel Aviv 50 years ago after a long career growing pistachios. “While my dad tried his luck in different businesses in the beginning, his heart was always in the dry fruit business,” Moshe said. “So 40 years ago he decided to bring Persia to Tel Aviv and opened his shop. When you come here, you get a glimpse of the grand bazaar of Tehran,” or at least how Moshe’s father remembered it.
At the other end of the market, you’ll find yourself in Istanbul with the scents emanating from Bourekas Panso. Yocahi Panso, the fourth generation of bakers in his family, has just taken some scrumptious-looking bourekas out of the oven. “In the past, bourekas were thought of as ‘food of the poor,’ but in the last few years, bourekas have become a gourmet food that is now praised all over the world,” he said.
“My family came from Istanbul, and making bourekas is what made our family so famous in Turkey. Even if you go today, in the old quarters of Istanbul, and asked the elders about the best bourekas they ate, they will probably say Bourekas Panso. When you ask them what kind of bourekas they were, they will probably say bourekas with Bulgarian cheese and kashkaval. It’s a trademark of the Panso family.”
A few yards from Bourekas Panso is the Yom Tov Delicatessen. Inside the shop, it’s as if you’ve entered another time, back to the days when the patriarch of the Yom Tov family ran his deli in Istanbul. Today the shop is run by Yomi and Eitan Yom Tov, the founder’s sons; their mother Ruth helps on the weekends, when the deli is at its busiest.
“Even in Istanbul, this shop was more than just a delicatessen,” Ruth told From The Grapevine. In the old shop, Ruth’s husband “was like a psychologist to the customers. The great food they tasted opened not only their taste buds but also their hearts. It’s what still happens in our tiny shop today.”
A confectionary bright spot in the Levinsky Market is Konditoria Albert. Established in 1935, the Greek bakery brings its signature meringue kisses (aka bizet) to life. “When I was young, I didn’t know that I would do this all my life,” Yehuda Yaakov, whose father Albert opened the bakery, told From The Grapevine. “My dad was a baker in Greece, and when he came here he decided to open this shop so the customers he had from there could have a taste of the old Greece they knew. It’s all handmade, so you can figure out how much work I put in for every kiss I make.”
“I’m 75 years old and I’m not getting younger,” Yaakov said. “While I can [still] wake up in the morning and make my kisses, I will definitely [continue to] do so.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in FromTheGrapevine.com and was published in 2014.