TEL AVIV, Israel—
As the sun sets on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, a nearby Kabbalah Center wraps up its outdoor lecture series, boutiques and galleries close up for the night, and beachgoers still in their bikinis park at the bike-share station. Nearby, normcore-clad hipsters are descending on one of the city’s only barbecue joints. They come in hordes for cocktails and soul food, but mostly for something that, while unremarkable in most cosmopolitan cities, has long been viewed as forbidden fruit in Israel: pork.
At Truck De Luxe, you can while away the hours on a patio that stretches into the street, tucking into a cold beer and a soft pretzel with bacon jam, or its signature pancake tower, which is layered with pulled pork and slathered with maple syrup. In the past five years, Israelis’ passion for pork has blown up, says one of the restaurant’s owners, Ori Marmorstein. And since the pork industry is monopolized by only a few pig farms, mostly in Israel’s northern Arab-Christian area, demand has made pork prices skyrocket almost 100 percent, he says, with some cuts up to about $8 per pound.
Truck De Luxe’s pulled pork pancake, with creme fraiche and jalapeno. Photo: Afik Gabai
Marmorstein’s newest venture is Israel’s first American-style barbecue truck (actually, a truck parked inside a restaurant), inspired by the haunts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A stalwart atheist, he views the truck as part of a larger movement within Israel. He realizes that the hefty showing of pork on the menu repels some potential customers, who continue to see the food as taboo, but hopes that that will soon change. He blames Judaism, which forbids the consumption of pork, for the stark division between Tel Aviv, widely known as a secular “bubble,” and the rest of the country. “Religion ruins everything,” he says without much emotion.
Places like this are flashpoints in the long-brewing rivalry between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country. Many Israelis mock the cultural capital for being too millennial, too liberal, too globally minded—and, perhaps absurdly, given the tiny size and close-knit nature of the country—too disconnected from local realities. But at the truck, the staff is quintessentially Tel Aviv: beautiful, hedonistic, blasé, flirty young things who see good food and alcohol not as moments of gratification, but as a way of life. Ignoring the country’s loaded and increasingly depressing political scene is exactly the point, and pork is a means to that escape.