Oct 26, 2010

More than just Borsht: Eastern European Restaurants in Tel Aviv

By Laura Goldstein
One of the first things that I noticed when I came to Tel Aviv, Israel the first time a few years ago was the ever-present Cyrillic in store windows and the incredible amount of Russian spoken on the street. After the fall of the Soviet Union over 1 million ex-Soviets immigrated to Israel. In recent years the flow of ex-Soviets has died down but is still steady. According to the Jewish Agency 1,381 olim arrived from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) from January to March 2010 alone. These immigrants changing the culture of Israel and bringing with them their unique cuisine.

I have always had an interest and a certain affinity for Russian culture. Most of my family immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the beginning of the 20th century and from an early age my mom would tell me bubbemiesas (old wives tales-Yiddish) about the “Old Country” and talk about how my grandpa loved his borsht. My connection to my family’s Russian past has always been strongest through traditional Ashkenazi food from the Pale of Russia. My grandma preserved the family recipes for blinzes and mondel bread and passed them down to my mom and I. This is why, when I returned to Tel Aviv to live, I was excited to explore the food-ways from the explosion of recent Eastern European immigrants.

My first taste of Russian influenced Tel Aviv Restaurants was one called Ayeka, located seaside at the corner of Herbert Samuel and Allenby. They serve traditional Jewish cuisine from different parts of Eastern Europe. I went to see my friend Olga, from Russia herself, perform there as a belly dancer. I was amazed at my friend’s skills as she danced gracefully around the restaurant. She even drew a crowd outside the restaurant who were looking in the door from the sidewalk! Check her out at Ayeka on Thursdays and Saturdays from 18:00-20:00.
Olga dancing at Ayeka- Courtesy of Lauren Eisen

Before Olga performed, my roommate and I had an early supper. I ordered a hearty soup with meat dumplings that filled me up for the rest of the night. Happy with the soulful food and eager to see Olga perform again I will definitely return to Ayeka sometime in the near future!

Another Russian restaurant I have been dying to go to is Baba Yaga. It is located at HaYarkan 12, behind the Yemenite Quarter near the beach. What first attracted me is the name. When I was little, the story of Baba Yaga was one of my favorites. My mom used to read it to me from the big book of Russian fairytales that we so loved. Baba Yaga is a witch who lives in the forest in a house on chicken feet surrounded a fence made of human bones. The story scared me to death when I was little but that is probably why I loved it so much!

Besides the intriguing name, Baba Yaga offers Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Seafood. They also have live jazz and other types of international musical performances regularly. It is one Tel Aviv restaurant that I can’t wait to check out.I will write a blog post when I do!

Stay tuned for more about my culinary explorations of different ethnic groups in Tel Aviv!


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