May We Recommend: Gazoz
Gazoz at Cafe Levinsky 41 in Tel Aviv
Gazoz, which simply described is sparkling water that is sweetened, has been around the Middle East for centuries. In the decades before and after the founding of the State of Israel, gazoz was a ubiquitous treat. Back in the 1970s, I remember falling in love with seltzer mixed with “meetz petel,” a thick, blood-colored raspberry syrup. You could mix it yourself for a super sweet, punch like drink or add in just a touch of it for a mildly flavored cold glass of flavored seltzer.
And then it disappeared. I rarely saw the syrup, I never was offered a drink with it, I moved on to drinking icy water flavored with fresh mint or to glasses of Soda Stream seltzer. But then, six and a half years ago, Benny Briga opened Cafe Levinsky 41 in the Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv, planning to serve sandwiches and espresso. But the shop and his offerings evolved, and he managed to lift gazoz out of the collective memory and into the twenty-first century Israeli food scene.
“In Tel Aviv,” explained cookbook author Adeena Sussman, “when you drink an espresso you get a chaser of seltzer with it. Benny started putting little pieces of herbs and flowers into the seltzer glass. A lightbulb went off for him. He is very interested in nature and the connection between nature and what he’s serving.” His gazoz started there.
“A lot of time with trends, it’s about taking something that once upon a time was artisanal and had become mass produced and then taking it back to its roots,” explained Sussman, who is working on a book with Benny about gazoz. “Benny is a fascinating example of taking something that was manufactured and artificial and actually creating something new. The culture of gazoz in Tel Aviv always consisted of people drinking artificially flavored and colored syrup in a glass of sparkling water. Benny is creating something organic and original.”
As opposed to the soft drinks that Americans slurp down, like Coca Cola or ginger ale, Benny’s drinks are made from the bounty of Israel, and no two are alike. He combines sparkling water with macerated and fermented fruit, syrups, spices and herbs. The ingredients he uses are tied to the season: Expect pomegranate in the gazoz you get in September and citrus during the winter months when oranges, grapefruits and lemons are abundant. When I visited his shop in January, I was served a mixture of sparkling water flavored with lemon leaves, white pepper, passion fruit and rose petals.
In 2018, Bon Appetit magazine proclaimed that gazoz was a trend. Is that true?
“Zero proof drinking is definitely a trend,” said Sussman. “Gazoz is connected to that. Gazoz feels celebratory and festive and complex without feeling like you are over indulging.
Gazoz is in the eye of the maker and the drinker. It’s not one thing. The common denominator is fizz.”
In addition to Benny’s shop, gazoz is offered at restaurants and kiosks around Tel Aviv, as well as in other parts of Israel. Here in the States, James Beard award winning restaurateur and author, Michael Solomonov, has recipes for “Fruit Sodas” in his cookbook, Israeli Soul. Erez Komarovsky’s restaurant, Mint Kitchen, which opened on University Place in Manhattan in 2019, has a choice of four types of gazoz on his menu: pomegranate, blood orange, peach and hibiscus.
In honor of Israeli Independence Day, if you would like to make your own, you need sparkling water and your imagination. Just as no two glasses of Benny Briga’s gazoz are ever the same, so too for yours. Some recipes to start you on your journey.