We celebrate Hanukkah – the festival of lights – with the team from Carmel – Israeli Street Food.

Here on Auckland’s France St, victory is sweet for the punter who pounces on a packet of pita with triumph. She knows this is the chewiest, pillow-iest, most billowy version possible and it’s to be found at Carmel – Israeli Street Food, a jewel of a food find in a most unlikely part of Auckland’s inner city Eden Terrace, where the neighbours are industrial or residential.

It’s not only pita that’s the prize. Consider some of the other contenders: the babka cakes, the gviniot (cheesecake Danish pastries), the cocoa, nutella and cinnamon rugelach. You want perfectly filled, outrageously plump and flavoursome pita or challah to sit and savour on site? Carmel has three, or sometimes four, versions awaiting your order. And a quinoa tabbouleh salad to boot.

We can thank Carmel Davidovitch and her partner Tomer Shabo for this spot, grown largely out of nostalgia. Kiwi-born, Israel-raised Carmel found that, on returning to New Zealand after three decades away, she missed the flavours and culture around the Israeli food scene she’d grown up with.

“The whole city of Tel Aviv is the size of the [Auckland] CBD and there are more people there. It’s buzzy and all the pavements are full of people and I just missed the vibe of it, more than anything,” says Carmel. Thus, she and Tomer decided to create a community around what they do through their food and flavours.

“When you walk in here, it’s buzzy and vibrant – sometimes a bit loud. People are spilling outside onto the pavement and finding a place to put their bottom and eat their pita.”

Clearly, Carmel is no longer the city’s best-kept secret. The word is well and truly out. What you get is a little bit of fusion, with falafel and coffee and pastries all on one site. You can sit and stay or you can – like our victorious pita purchaser – grab a bag and go.

A string of pop-ups led to this France St fixture, which opened just over a year ago, but it wasn’t meant to be this way. The site was originally chosen for storage, but it quickly became apparent that a permanent address was needed to keep the customers satisfied.

Taking into account some serious Level 4 pivoting (Carmel was meant to open a week before Auckland went into lockdown in August 2021), it has developed a following that sees the punters happily queue for their favourites on the three days a week that Carmel is open.

And after the first birthday comes Hanukkah. Carmel has selected some traditional dishes for these pages which not only invite home experimentation but also a reflection on the traditions behind the eight-day festival of lights. “Due to the miracle of the oil and the light told in the Hanukkah story, oil is a big component of our holiday cooking,” says Carmel.

That’s why you’ll find the likes of latkes and doughnuts in this lineup; the falafel is deep-fried too.

By the time you read this, Carmel and Tomer will be preparing to return to Israel. The visit is partly for inspiration, says Carmel. “We like to eat at new places and check out new tastes,” she notes, adding that they have not seen Israel, family and friends for four long years. Fear not: they’ve got a return ticket booked. GERALDINE JOHNS