Jewish Journal

From Maryland to ‘Delicious Israel’

Authoritatively positioned behind a counter at Burekas Panso in the heart of Tel Aviv’s historic Levinsky Market, Inbal Baum cuts up a plate of luscious savory pastries crafted with flaky dough and fillings that include potato and spinach. She hands out samples for a group of strangers to taste while kibitzing with the operators of the community institution of 70-plus years. 

The shops in this market mostly are operated by multiple generations of largely Turkish, Greek and Iranian owners, and visitors come here to sign up for Baum’s Delicious Israel culinary adventures. 

An American-born-and-raised child of Israelis, Baum founded Delicious Israel in 2011 when there was a burgeoning interest in all things food and drink, and a growing awareness of Israel’s endlessly rich food landscape. Baum and her team of 16 (and counting) offer other food-centric gatherings, including Shabbat dinners, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem open-air market walking tours and hands-on cooking classes with private chefs throughout the country. 

“I grew up with a very strong connection to Israel because my experience here was [on] family vacations,” she said. “You’d wake up and eat. You’d go to the beach and eat. The whole day [would be] filled with food, love, family and all the good things.” 

Baum, 37, was raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. She went to college at UC Berkeley, where she encountered a climate of anti-Israeli sentiment. 

After taking time off to travel, she became “a very unhappy lawyer” in New York and pivoted to teaching yoga near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Baum eventually decided it was time to make good on her longtime desire to live in Israel. She made aliyah nine years ago and found a job with a tech startup, but it wasn’t long before she began asking herself hard questions to figure out a new, more satisfying professional path.

Baum spends her days nurturing relationships with chefs, farmers and vendors, and engaging with all aspects of Israel’s complex food culture, then sharing her insights with eager audiences. 

Soul-searching and market research helped crystalize the answer: “A food tourism company was the perfect collaboration of all the things I loved being around,” she said, smiling. 

Baum spends her days nurturing relationships with chefs, farmers and vendors, and engaging with all aspects of Israel’s complex food culture, then sharing her insights with eager audiences. 

A few hours of exploring Levinsky’s timeworn storefronts with Baum’s guidance is filling and fulfilling. We absorb Jewish Diaspora history and flavors, with fresh meringue “kisses” and other almond-laced Greek treats at Konditoria Albert, a Mediterranean mezze platter from Turkish Yom Tov delicatessen, and smoked and cured fish specialties at Lupo fish delicatessen. They all taste amazing and come with added context and Baum’s interpersonal connections to the people behind the foods. 

Baum always leaves ample time for a group to savor Benny Briga’s gazoz beverage creations at the outdoor Café Levinsky 41, the most Instagramable moment of the tour’s stops. Our group — some of whom are first-time visitors to Israel while others have a deep familiarity with the country — pepper the silver-haired Briga with questions about the meticulously sourced ingredients he uses for his famous natural carbonated drink. The photogenic profusion of colorful ingredients typically includes seasonal fruits, floral garnishes and even alfalfa sprouts that together taste like sweet spring in a glass.

“[Israel’s] not an easy country to live in, by any stretch,” Baum said. But, she added, “The advocacy is important to me,” referring to the benefits of her role as a cross-cultural and culinary connector. 

Her words are a reminder that food can be a powerful ambassador. n