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When winter comes to Tel Aviv, the coastal Mediterranean city turns surprisingly frigid (although 15 degrees is an enviable mean temperature by most standards). Rain storms whip the jacaranda trees that line the central pedestrian walkways of the city’s handsome boulevards. The waves along the city’s 14-kilometer beach promenade turn gray, frothy, and fearsome.
Israel’s answer to hot chocolate: sachlav
Thirsty locals, bundled to the throat in puffer jackets and wool beanies, head out in search of some warm liquid comfort. And there is no better tipple for these cool temperatures than sachlav.
This is the Middle East’s answer to hot chocolate, traditionally made from a powder of dried ground orchid tubers and milk. The result is thick and milky and deliciously floral. It is often sweetened with rosewater and traditionally doused with cinnamon, nuts, and raisins. Modern sachlav is often made with cornstarch instead of the much pricier orchid powder, but in all its incarnations, it brings warm and fuzzy comfort to any cold day.
A Middle-Eastern favourite from Istanbul to Tel Aviv
Sachlav is central to a few different cultures: Israelis call it sachlav (pronounced “sock-lahv”), Turks call it salep, and Lebanese call it sahleb. The beverage has been consumed in the region since the Roman ages, and when it’s made with actual orchids, it’s considered an aphrodisiac. Thanks to trade routes and colonialism, it even made its way briefly to Europe and the Americans, although it was quickly eclipsed there by tea, coffee, and hot cocoa. In the Middle East, however, it remains utterly beloved.
“Sachlav is the perfect non-coffee drink,” explains Keren Brown, a Tel Aviv food writer. “The warm soothing milk and the cinnamon and nuts really embody the culture. Simplicity and comfort all in one.”
In Tel Aviv, sachlav holds almost mythical status, appearing on menus only when the mercury drops in December and vanishing just as quickly as the warm weather returns in the early spring. Bid farewell to winter and step out for a warm mug of Tel Aviv’s best.
4 best sachlavs in Tel Aviv
HaMalabiya (28 Gedera) has four locations across the city and stellar sachlav at each. This malabi-centric café is an excellent example of the city’s best source of authentic food and drink: tiny street vendors.
Malabi Dajani (Sderot Yerushalayim 94) is a no-frills dessert shop in the oldest and most southern tip of Tel Aviv. The Levi family has been whipping up perfect sachlav and its sweet after-dinner cousin malabi, a rosewater-scented dessert, for 60 years.
Abouelafia Bakery (Yefet 7 at Clock Tower Square) is just down the road. A 24/7 point of pilgrimage, tourists queue up for what is arguably the most authentic sachlav in the city.
Aroma (Jabotinsky 7) is the ubiquitous Israeli coffee chain with many locations throughout the city. This location in Ramat Gan is just a short walk from the Hotel Indigo Tel Aviv – Diamond District. Here, the thick and creamy sachlav is garnished with coconut, walnuts, and cinnamon and served in a big glass mug. It’s just perfect for warming your cold hands.