Food can bring people together, regardless of who you are, what you do, or where you come from. That’s the guiding principle behind the Tel Aviv i-team’s launch of an international food market in the city’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, which attracted more than 20,000 visitors over a two-weekend trial period beginning late last month.
Once a neglected area best known for its abandoned bus station, Neve Sha’anan has shifted in recent decades from traditional Jewish Israeli community to a home to a large community of Asian and African immigrants and asylum seekers who’ve brought with them rich flavors from their birth countries. Despite its great culinary offerings, few visit this area. The i-team saw this problem as an opportunity.
“Local restaurants in the neighborhood only serve communities of immigrants and in their own languages,” said Tel Aviv i-team project manager Noam Bar-levy. “They are very traditionally oriented and [the i-team] thought it was a shame that [all of the residents of] Tel Aviv did not know about this scene at all.”
Looking for ways to promote inclusion and community within Tel Aviv’s increasingly diverse population is a key goal for the i-team, and using food as a means to that goal seemed like a promising approach. After the i-team came up with the idea of opening an international food market, they partnered with two young Israeli entrepreneurs who helped them develop the concept and open a market in Neve Sha’anan. After a year of planning and recruiting local and immigrant businesses that were interested in the idea, the market opened on Tel Aviv’s “White Night,” an all-night celebration of the city’s culture that attracts visitors from throughout the country. The i-team placed a bet that a commodity locals took for granted — their native cuisines — could make a downtrodden area attractive to potential visitors. It worked.
“We were shocked,” Bar-levy said of the public’s response to the market. “This showed us that people are interested in tasting food and don’t have a problem coming to this neighborhood.” About 30 percent of the vendors featured common food found in Neve Sha’anan — including Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Thai delicacies — while the other stands offered more international dishes.
Tel Aviv is now considering turning this concept into an ongoing project to further their work in improving the quality of life in Neve Sha’anan.