Israeli startup Bitemojo has developed an app for cellphones that provides travelers with guided food tours in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Rome and Barcelona with the aim of exposing them to the crème-de-la-crème of local cuisine.
Bitemojo offers customers guided tours of neighborhoods with stops at preselected restaurants. Eight tours are offered in Jerusalem, each highlighting a different aspect of the city’s culture and cuisine. The Jerusalem “Food Tour Between East and West” showcases the diversity of cuisine in the city, while the “Food, Artists and Craftsmen in the Old City” tour immerses Bitemojo travelers in an aesthetic as well as culinary experience.
Other cities have fewer options; Berlin has six tours, Tel Aviv has four, including the yuppie Florentin neighborhood, and the newer locations, Barcelona and Rome, each have two.
The app, which is free for download in iPhone and Android app stores, allows users to purchase a food tour from a variety of options in the cities it covers.
Each Bitemojo tour includes six stops at local restaurants and bars where travelers sample small plates, or “bites.” The Bitemojo team preselects the eateries and the food, and it is up to users to inquire about the restaurants’ ingredients if they have specific dietary or allergy requirements, like kosher, vegetarian, or anything else. There are some vegetarian/vegan tours offered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Users of the app follow a virtual route on a map, stopping at each restaurant to redeem bites through e-vouchers.
This reporter tested the app’s “Mahane Yehuda Market” tour last Wednesday afternoon. It was peak shopping hour, and the market was packed. Personal space is an unknown concept there: it takes a certain kind of skill to weave through the crowds and it is easy to become lost in in the sound of vendors calling out deals, the scent of mingled Middle Eastern spices, and the tempting sight of Israeli delicacies: fresh fruit, sugar-glazed pastries, steaming shakshuka — a spicy dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce.
Tourists travel to foreign countries to experience local cultures but often find upon their arrival that an authentic culinary experience is harder to achieve than they anticipated. Mahane Yehuda, for example, presents so many options that one could be overwhelmed by an abundance of choices, ending up eventually eating at the first falafel stand available.
Using the Bitemojo app eliminates this paradox of choice. The first stop on the Mahane Yehuda tour was Hachapuria, a hole-in-the-wall Georgian restaurant located on an alleyway behind the market that can easily be overlooked if not for Bitemojo. There, this reporter was offered a traditional Georgian pastry called an emroli, which is made out of oven-baked yeast dough and offered with a variety of toppings. The one with melted cheese was a mouthwatering twist on a classic grilled cheese sandwich.
“Bitemojo really provides an experience that was not available before,” said co-founder and CEO Michael Weiss. “It is a self-guided experience, it’s very flexible… you don’t have to find out what you should eat among hundreds of thousands of different options, because we are telling you what to eat in each location.”
Weiss and his wife Yael, founders of the culinary tourism company Yalla Basta, began work on a personalized app for culinary tourism in 2016. Their app, Bitemojo, took eight months to develop. Developers made “a lot of innovations with Google maps and e-commerce platforms,” Weiss said, in order to ensure that the entire experience — from the initial navigation to the final payment — would be contained within the Bitemojo app.
Bitemojo officially launched its first tour in Berlin in August 2016 before expanding to Jerusalem that November and Tel Aviv in January 2017. Tours in Barcelona and Rome launched in early summer 2017.
The app has been a commercial success from the start, said Weiss. Users pay Bitemojo directly for the tour, and Bitemojo then uses roughly 60 percent of that revenue to pay vendors for the bites they sell to its customers. This business model allowed the company to receive revenues “from the first customers,” said Weiss, and the app promises continued success, especially in “the millennial market.”
“We are unlike other ventures — we don’t have to reach hundreds of millions of users to sustain the business model,” said Weiss. “From the very first bite in Berlin in August we have seen revenues.”
Participating restaurants also see an increase in revenue from Bitemojo, as the app attracts tourists and new customers to local restaurants.
Nadav Allouche, the manager of Chiripom, a restaurant that is owned by Israeli “Master Chef” winner Avi Levy and is a stop on a Tel Aviv Bitemojo tour, said that Bitemojo attracts “lots of people” to the restaurant. If they initially come to try the app, “they look at the menu, and maybe they’ll come back,” said Allouche.
Mohammad Ikermawi, owner of the renowned family-run hummus restaurant Ikermawi, began working with Bitemojo as a part of its “Hummus, Tehina, and In Between” tour of Jerusalem a few months ago in order to attract more customers. Although Ikermawi has sold hummus since 1952, the restaurant’s location just across from Damascus Gate sees business slow down when tensions flare in Jerusalem, said the owner.
“The app has made people less scared of coming to this area,” said Ikermawi, and has shown “tourists and Israelis” alike that “it’s really secure here.”
Although Bitemojo tours usually feature small plates, Ikermawi said he likes to give customers the full experience.
“I don’t believe in small bites,” said Ikermawi, “so I give almost a complete meal to customers to keep them satisfied and happy.”
“Everyone wants to eat what the locals are eating, everyone wants to experience tourism through food,” said Weiss. But, Weiss added, most options for food tours “are quite expensive,” and many “require you as the traveler to… adapt yourself to a strict [tour] schedule that you cannot control.”
“In these places, Bitemojo prevails,” Weiss said. Bitemojo tours are relatively inexpensive, ranging from the all-inclusive prices of NIS 88 110 NIS ($25-$31) in Jerusalem and 120 NIS in Tel Aviv, and their self-guided nature allows travelers to decide when they want to sample each of the six bites, without having to rely on a strict schedule or time limit to complete the tour, which can be started on one day and completed another time.
“What makes us unique is that we go all the way from providing you information to providing you the experience,” said Weiss. “It is a very relaxing way to travel.”
Weiss said Bitemojo is working on expanding to three or four more European cities and adding new partnerships with local businesses and international corporations in the coming year.