I suppose I am one of those weird people who enjoy grocery shopping. I like wandering through them, relishing the produce, ogling the olives. I find it relaxing to plan meals as I stroll the store. So before my husband I moved to Israel from Brownstone Brooklyn nearly two years ago, one of the big questions on my mind was where I would shop. Would I be able to find my staples like miso, rice paper, and quinoa? And what about organic? Despite the fact that we weren’t the classic new immigrants — confused, languageless, with almost no one to turn to — Israel was still half a world away from the familiarity of our beloved Park Slope Food Coop where we did most of our shopping, and Trader Joes, where we did most of the rest.
I’d visited Israel before and had been in the standard supermarkets. These options are pretty comparable to any grocery store in the USA, with the major difference being that they’re stocked with Israeli favorites instead of American favorites — things like tahini, hummus, shachar (chocolate spread), and the ubiquitous frozen corn schnitzel. Also, since Israel tends to be a more traditional society, there are fewer pre-made and frozen meals floating around.
These grocery stores are sufficient. I can find brown rice, plenty of packaged legumes, maybe even some miso; I can get by. But there is also a lack of aesthetic in them, a grittiness brought on by linoleum tiles, fluorescent lighting, and the sickly sweet smell of cleaning products. They offer a sort of lobotomized shopping experience.
My Israeli sister-in-law, also someone who thinks about healthy eating and quality food, assured me that there were more options. Israelis value home cooking and freshness and are quite interested in healthy alternatives (although organic is still viewed suspiciously by many here). She pointed us in the direction of a health food store not far from where we live in Ra’anana. Although small, they had good prices, a small (and slightly sad) organic produce section, many “specialty” items, big bulk containers, and lots of organic options. I bought many products there and supplemented them with fruits and veggies from the green grocer or the shuk (which is where Israelis tend to buy their produce anyway). More than once though, I returned a bag of bulk grain to them after discovering it had bugs in it. Not the worst thing to ever happen, but a disappointment nonetheless.
After a bit of time, we learned about another supermarket called Eden Teva. We were told they carried many organic as well as international items, and we heard their tagline “Like any other supermarket, but healthy!” on the radio. Funny, yes, but also intriguing. We visited the branch closest to us, in Kfar Saba (there are about a dozen in the country). And, while I know this sounds hyperbolic, it was such a happy day for me, and one of the first moments since moving to Israel when I felt like this enigmatic Mediterranean country really could become home.
Although nothing like the fun, organized chaos of the Park Slope Food Coop, Eden Teva is reminiscent of Whole Foods. Large and spacious with an eye for aesthetics, it is colorful and varied. With attractive bins full of bulk grains and legumes, pre-made spice blends for rice or couscous, dozens of self-serve options for loose teas, dried fruits, nuts, spicy Asian snacks, tubs flowing granola, as well as a “halva bar,” and large olive bar, it’s the kind of market that keeps grocery shopping fun. There is also a body and vitamin department with organic and natural body care products, a wine department, a bakery (with unbelievably fluffy whole wheat pita), a (kosher) meat counter, a fish counter, a dairy counter, and a lunch counter serving up fare like soups, schnitzel, and grilled organic meats along with fantastic, fresh hummus (trust me, we’re discerning hummus eaters). While most of the produce is not organic, there is an area sectioned off solely for organic fruits and veggies coming from names like Kibbutz Harduf (Israel’s leading organic producer) and Adama. The selection is good and is far fresher than the other organic options I’ve seen around. Eden Teva is also the place where I can find high quality Israeli products — olives from Neot Smadar (an ecological kibbutz outside of Eilat) and creamy buffalo milk yogurt from a southern moshav — alongside international products like tamari, Thai curry pastes, and Finnish crackers.
While the prices are a slightly higher than a standard supermarket in Israel, I don’t mind paying a bit extra for higher quality food. Even more, the higher prices are a small price to pay for the added boost in quality of life that the store gives me. While Eden Teva still has a ways to go in terms of becoming more ecologically sound, they encourage bringing a sack to carry groceries home in, offer numerous eco-friendly cleaning products, and publish a cute “life-style” magazine that includes healthy recipes, articles on nutrition and exercise, as well as sustainable living.
While not quite entirely “mainstream” yet, the chain is indeed catching on. One time, while chowing down on some hummus at the lunch counter, we overheard one Israeli businessman say to another that he never would have come to a place “like this” on his own, but his wife brought him once, and now he gets his lunch here all the time.
Cindy Katz recently moved from Brooklyn to Israel. Her husband, Gili, works for an organic farm.