Thousands of years ago the Nabateans acted as middle men in the spice trade between the Arabian Peninsula and Roman Empire, supervising the transport of goods across the Negev desert to the port of Gaza. At Shuk Levinsky, in Tel Aviv, the spice trade is still the center of life, with storefronts spilling out on to the already narrow sidewalk. Burlap bags filled with natural hues of gold, reds and browns decorate the store’s entrance, creating an atmosphere of an outdoor market and captivating the senses.
The string of shops on Levinsky Road offers mostly dry goods from spices, roots, tubers, coffee, teas, dried nuts and fruit. Individuals come to buy for their own families, chefs search for that special ingredient, and businessmen purchase sacks to resale in their own stores.
You would think that having so many spice stores in the same vicinity would put everyone out of business by driving the prices down. But instead of being a disadvantage, Levinsky has turned into a spice center, both for wholesale and retail.
When I walked into a spice store I noticed an old black and white photograph on the wall.
“Are they the previous owners? I asked
“Yes, they sold the store to me, they have all passed away”
Levinsky road was established in the 1920’s as a commercial center bordering the Florentine neighborhood. Immigrants, mainly Saloniki Greeks and Turkish immigrants settled in this area, later to be joined by others, making it a melting pot of nationalities. Greek and Turkish bakeries and delicatessens are still found in this area, but now intermingle with flavors from North Africa and Europe.
Spices are no longer worth their weight in gold as black pepper once was and camel caravans are a thing of the past. However the spice trade is still an important commodity as the bustling Shuk Levinsky illustrates.
Location: South Tel Aviv on Levinsky Road, between Herzl and Aliya Road, near the Central Bus Station and Florentine Neighborhood.
Read more on Shuk Levinsky at Cafe Liz