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Manta Ray is a local favorite in Tel Aviv. With its glass-walled interior and tables outside in the sea breezes, it capitalizes fully on its setting, a few yards from the Mediterranean. Manta Ray’s specialty is of course fish: sea bream, croaker, tuna, sea bass, calamari, shrimp, scallops, crab—you name it—served in any number of ways: in a risotto; with a fennel and kohlrabi salad; in a stew of coconut milk, lemongrass, and curry paste. 

This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

One item on the menu is called simply “Fish in a black cast-iron pot.” This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

Owner Ofra Ganor and chef Ronen Skinezes ensure Manta Ray is a “grabber”: it has the beach, the sunset, excellent food, and a comfortable feeling of home.

But in fact, there are few restaurants in Israel that don’t feel homey—even the most elegant are warm and easy, with a lack of pretension that seems distinctly local. Some customers may dress for dinner, but others, inevitably, will show up in jeans and T-shirts.

Food is the central focus—often served, it must be said, in huge quantities (we have learned to share portions whenever possible). There is a pervasive air of generosity, and a genuine desire on the part of the restaurant staff for you to sample and appreciate what they have to offer. (Echoes of the classic Jewish mother’s exhortation: “Eat!”)

Manta Ray >

Manta Ray restaurant. Photos by and courtesy Avi Ganor

Enjoy the Best Beachside Dining at Manta Ray Restaurant

Updated . Photo by and courtesy Avi Ganor

Respected restaurateur Ofra Ganor is the brain behind Manta Ray, the venerable and hugely successful bastion of beachside dining in Tel Aviv. With Ofra at its helm, Manta Ray is sunny, gorgeous, runs like clockwork, and serves superb food (under the watch of head chef Ronen Skinezes).

From the start, my motto was: no deep-fried fish, no hummus. And no fries. I wanted another kind of restaurant.
— Ofra Ganor

While she is not a professional cook herself, Ofra has over the years opened several other well-respected eateries in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and she says: “I’ve done my homework.” She understands food extremely well, as does everyone who works at her restaurants. Ofra notes: “From the start, my motto was: no deep-fried fish, no hummus. And no fries. I wanted another kind of restaurant.”

Manta Ray > 

Manta Ray restaurant. Photos courtesy Avi Ganor.


Restaurateur and Locavore Ofra Ganor

Morning on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv–Yafo. Photo by and © Vision Studio

We are on well-cushioned bicycles, rented from Tel Aviv–Yafo’s new bike-share system, heading south on the sleek boardwalk that lines the Namal, or waterfront, from Tel Aviv into Jaffa. Although it’s pretty early, the sun beams down on the water—as ever—and we pedal along, rarely picking up much speed, but occasionally stopping to catch our breath and look out at the sparkling shifts of the sea. It is early morning, and the water is dotted with swimmers of all shapes and sizes, out for their daily ablutions.

As ever in Israel, the old and the new, myth, faith, and contemporary reality are mingled together.

We will ride for miles here, on the sturdy wooden boardwalk that dips and rises, mimicking the swelling of beach dunes. Designed by husband-and-wife architect team Udi Kassif and Ganit Mayslits Kassif, the handsome wide walkway won them the award for outstanding landscape architecture at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in 2010. It meanders through the Tel Aviv Port, which is packed with boutiques, cafés, and food markets; already visitors are heading here for their morning coffee, enjoying the proximity of the water. At night, the port glitters with the lights of restaurants, nightclubs, and performance spaces, and hums with the chatter of crowds and the jangle of street music.

Our ride takes us through upscale neighborhoods of stark white hotels and stylish beachside cafés shaded with gigantic, colorful parasols, an area where refreshing arak-and-grapefruit-juice cocktails are delivered by natty waiters to your place on a rented beach chair. Here, if you close your eyes, you can try to count the languages being spoken within earshot: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and a few others that you might not be able to identify.

We pass funkier areas where beachgoers bring their own sandwiches and umbrellas, where children flop into shallow waves followed by slightly worried mothers, and elderly men are not shy to reveal ample naked bellies, bronzed from decades of basking in the Mediterranean sun. Out beyond the shore, a group of youngsters is trying to catch enough wave-swell to surf. We see a group of schoolgirls, buttoned up in traditional Orthodox tzniut outfits—elbows and knees modestly covered by their simple uniforms—as a gazelle-like male jogger, sporting only a black Speedo, sneakers, and reflective sunglasses, hurtles by them.

We ride by the Tel Aviv Port’s farmers’ market, already beginning to pulse with curious tourists, knowledgeable foodies, businesslike housewives. Inside this warehouse-sized space are vendors selling meats, fish, cheeses, wines, olive-oil products, cooking accessories, and more, as well as coffee shops where you can enjoy an espresso in the midst of the throng. This morning, happy shoppers are exiting the building with bags filled with fresh, ripe strawberries and savory bourekas, which many will tote down to the beach for snacking.

As ever in Israel, the old and the new, myth, faith, and contemporary reality are mingled together. As we continue toward Jaffa, our path winds through more harbor-like terrain. Fishermen lean on a wall above the plashing waves, waiting for their dinner to tug at the lines: fish that live nowhere else, with exotic nicknames like spinefoot and guitarfish. Against the old walls opposite sit ancient street monarchs, fully focused on games of backgammon and chess. Some distance into the water, a boulder juts upward: Andromeda’s Rock, named for the princess of Greek mythology who, it is said, was chained here as an offering to a sea monster, but was saved from its jaws by Perseus. A shapely rollerblader in a top hat weaves through the crowd, adroitly sipping pomegranate juice through a straw as she sails by. Buskers play a Middle Eastern hybrid of klezmer and bluegrass, a battered banjo case on the sidewalk filling up with shekels from appreciative passersby.

As we ride into Jaffa, we pass old warehouses now spiffed up into chic, cavernous restaurants, gallery spaces, organic-coffee shops, and bookstores. It’s almost impossible to imagine that just a few decades ago this area was so dilapidated that major parts of it were an environmental hazard. What was once a fifty-acre landfill of rubble by the shore has recently been cleaned out, smoothed, and made green and useable as Midron Yafo Park, or Jaffa Seaside Park (also known, less poetically, as Jaffa Landfill Park). The shoreline was reclaimed by the Municipality of Tel Aviv–Yafo, which removed and recycled the detritus and built a promenade along the shore with links to the port, the Givat Aliyah Beach, and the Bat-Yam area. The park, designed by Tel Aviv’s Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture, rolls with green lawns (irrigated with desalinated seawater) and neat paths, and is studded with playgrounds, shaded benches facing the sea, an amphitheater, and the bike lane along which we are riding. Its success is clear: on this beautiful day, the park is thronged with visitors from the city’s full spectrum of people.

Nearby, down Kedem Street, is the stunning striated box of a building that is the Peres Center for Peace, founded by Shimon Peres as headquarters for peace-building initiatives between Israel and its neighbors, and between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Here, we veer inland, onto the cobbled lanes of Jaffa’s alleyways, in search of hummus. As the streets narrow, we gingerly disembark, return our bicycles to their rental spot, and walk, slowly regaining our land legs after ten or so kilometers of riding, which have taken us in one morning through so many layers of history and the vivid reality of the present.

Tel Aviv Port >

 Tel Aviv Port Farmers’ Market >

Tel-o-Fun Bicycle Rentals > 

Peres Center for Peace >

Bicycling Tel Aviv to Jaffa

 Israeli & Arab Soccer Coaches from  Peres Center for Peace Soccer. Photo by WrenB, courtesy Creative Commons 

If matkot is Israel’s unofficial national sport, soccer is the game that gets the most prime-time attention. In Israel as in many other countries, it’s a hugely popular activity across communities and ethnicities; Jews, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else grows up watching soccer, knowing the rules, and likely playing the game at some point or another.

In Israel as in many other countries, soccer is a hugely popular activity across communities and ethnicities.

It is a popular notion that soccer transcends politics—certainly it brings people together on a field to play—but in fact passions run high, and hotheadedness in this notoriously dramatic sport can quickly lead to skirmishes both on the field and in the stands. (This is as true in Manchester as in Tel Aviv, but in Israel the subject of debate can move from a foul play to foul politics in no time.) Still, fans of most Israeli teams cut through all sectors of society, and many club teams include both Jewish and Muslim players such as those at Peres Center For Peace. And, as in the rest of the world, in Israel this is no longer a sport for men only: professional women’s soccer is growing quickly. 

Although the scores are low in soccer, the action doesn’t let up. Stop into any wharf bar in Jaffa or Tel Aviv during soccer season and you’ll find a crowd of fans, riveted to the television screen, hoping that their team—whichever team that may be—will get a goal.

Peres Center for Peace > 

Israeli Soccer: Creating a Level Playing Field @perescenter4peace

Arab-Israeli-run Abouelafia bakery in Jaffa. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy Creative Commons

The legendary Abouelafia bakery, an Arab-Israeli-run establishment that has been in operation since 1879 on Beit Eshel Street in Jaffa. Open twenty-four hours a day, it offers long bagels, many kinds of pita, sambusak stuffed with cheese, and savory sesame-studded bourekas.

Abouelafia bakery, open twenty-four hours a day, knows the good that can come of mixing peoples.

Located as it is on one of the busiest streets in Jaffa, streaming with tourists and locals, Abouelafia knows the good that can come of mixing peoples. (In the summer of 2014, as violence raged in Gaza, bakery workers wore T-shirts that read in Hebrew, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and gave the shirts out free to anyone who came by.)

7 Yefet Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo

Jaffa’s Abouelafia Bakery: Peace through Bourekas

Restaurant in a shuk. Photo by and © Vision Studio

Just about any taste can be satisfied at the Jaffa market.

Jaffa’s massive, twisty marketplace Shuk HaPishpeshim is punctuated with eating and drinking places and caters to all tastes, from the ubiquitous quick-falafel shop to posh European-style wine bars and cafés such as Sola, or the downright funky Puaa. Classic Italian food at Italkiya; American-style barbecue at Pundak Deluxe; snacks at a gastropub that may win the prize for the best name in town: Gibberish. Just about any taste can be satisfied at the Jaffa market which lies between Jerusalem Blvd. and Yeffet Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Shuk HaPishpeshim flea market >

Puaa >

HaItalkiya >

Pundak Deluxe >

14 Ami’ad Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo

Jaffa's Shuk HaPishpeshim

Shakshuka sizzles in a skillet. Photo by and © Vision Studio

Shakshuka is an Israeli staple that is now showing up on menus around the world—eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, often spicily cooked up with onions, hot peppers, cumin, and any number of other ingredients, from spinach to wild mushrooms, and served piping hot in individual skillets, with (absolutely necessary) hunks of good bread for sopping. Like many things in this region, the dish’s origins are a subject of impassioned debate: shakshuka may come from an Arabic slang word for “mixed up,” or from chakchouka, a Berber vegetable ragout. The dish may come from Morocco, Libya, or Tunisia, or perhaps from Turkey—some food historians date its origins to the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, spicily cooked up with onions, peppers, cumin, and any number of other ingredients, and served piping hot, with hunks of good bread for sopping.

Many agree, however, that the best place for the dish in Israel is located in the heart of Jaffa, at an eatery unambiguously named Dr. Shakshuka on Beit Eshel Street. It is distinguished by the smell of fiery-hot peppers sizzling, its abrupt but friendly waiters, and the old copper kerosene stoves dangling from the high stone ceiling. The kitchen at Dr. Shakshuka is worth a look: there, dozens of small skillets are lined up, awaiting their turn to be filled with rich tomato sauce and clattered onto the fire, and pallets of eggs are ready to be poached in the hot red medium. Shakshuka: wherever the word comes from, to many happy guests it means “I am in Israel.”

Dr. Shakshuka > 


Shakshuka: An Israeli Staple