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Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Do-it-yourself day trips in the land of milk and honey that will capture your heart and also satisfy your stomach.

By Jessica Halfin

Israel is blessed with endless options for interesting day trips. North, south or center, there is always a new hike, nature reserve or historical site to discover, and nothing is ever too far away. But as stomachs start to grumble, you have to consider what you’re going to eat and drink after the main event.

In our opinion, an artisan food-related item is always in order, especially after a difficult hike or long haul. So have fun, support local producers and create your own DIY day trips filled with sights, hikes and gourmet items that will entice you everywhere you roam.

Here are 10 paired suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

  1. Yechiam Fortress National Park and Buza Ice CreamUpper Galilee
Yechiam Fortress photo by Jessica Halfin

Yechiam Fortress photo by Jessica Halfin

Spend time at this preserved Crusader castle and fortress passed down through a series of Holy Land conquerors and used as a strategic battleground by Kibbutz Yechiam members in the 1948 war for Israel’s independence (bullet holes still remain in the stone walls). Watch the movie, wander around the site and take in the incredible 360-degree view overlooking the Upper Galilee coastal plain, more distant Acre and the Carmel Mountains.

Buza ice cream after an Upper Galilee hike. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Buza ice cream after an Upper Galilee hike. Photo by Jessica Halfin

What could be better after sightseeing than a mid-afternoon cone? Even better if it is a handmade cardamom or chocolate gelato treat from Buza’s famous original location in neighboring Maalot-Tarshiha (Buza is on the Tarshiha side). Buza (Arabic for “ice cream”) is a partnership between Jewish ice-cream fanatic Adam Ziv from Kibbutz Sasa and Arab restauranteur Alaa Sweetat of Tarshiha. It won a 2017 United Nations Flourish Prize for promoting coexistence in Israel.

2. Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve and Katlav Winery,Judean Hills

Soreq Stalactite Cave. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Soreq Stalactite Cave. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The 5,000-meter Soreq Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve was discovered in the 1960s purely by accident. A routine quarry explosion exposed the rare cave developing for millennia deep within the mountainous hillside. Soft limestone and rainwater mixed to create stunning geological formations beneath the bedrock. Today it is the only cave of its kind in Israel that can be visited, and it is quite an otherworldly site. The visitors’ center features an explanatory film. A guided tour, from which you are free to deviate, takes you along a planked path with railings. Colorful lights illuminate the natural structures.

Katlav Winery in Nes Harim. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

Katlav Winery in Nes Harim. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21c

A mere 10 minutes’ drive down the road will find you in idyllic Nes Harim at the doorstep of Katlav Winery. The venture was started by Yossef Yitach, who left his own prestigious architectural firm to become a boutique kosher winemaker. The winery was built on biblical-era soil overlooking the Judean hills and Jerusalem in the distance. Yitach has even dug five wine caves to let his wines develop and age with grace. Tasting the different varietals, while admiring the view, is the perfect way to honor the unique land on which the winery was built.

3. Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and Kfar Hanokdim Bedouin Hospitality, Dead Sea/Arad

A hike at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in the Dead Sea area is always a good choice because it is easy enough for the entire family to enjoy, yet close enough to nature that you could find yourself a finger’s length away from an ibex. But don’t be tempted to pet any of the wildlife. Instead, immerse yourself in nature by stopping to dip in the desert waterfalls and springs that line the trail.

Kfar HaNokdim photo by Jessica Halfin

Kfar HaNokdim photo by Jessica Halfin

Following your hike, head west toward the desert city of Arad and continue down the mountainous road past the shores of the Dead Sea, up through the Judean Hills to Kfar HaNokdim. There you can experience the desert in the comfort of a custom-built village that makes the famous hospitality of Bedouin desert-dwellers accessible to the general population. The camp provides various levels of comfortable accommodation, authentic Bedouin-style meals, camel and donkey rides, desert bike and jeep rides, and guided hikes in the surrounding canyons.

4. Lake Ram (Birkat Ram) and The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant, Golan Heights

Follow the witch-shaped signs along the route leading up to the Druze village of Majd El Shams at the southern base of Mount Hermon and eventually you will reach this restaurant in neighboring Nimrod. Even more intriguing than the view and the romantic wood-burning stove in the wintertime is the gaggle of witch dolls and decorations hanging from the ceiling as you dine on fine yet hearty dishes served in sizzling cast-iron skillets. The restaurant celebrates local specialties such as Golan-raised steaks, artisan cheeses, locally pickled olives and area boutique wines.

The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant near Lake Ram. Photo: courtesy

The Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant near Lake Ram. Photo: courtesy

Following your meal, drive down toward Lake Ram. Park in the lot and follow the Golan Trail to the water’s edge. Continue on the green trail to circle the lake, which according to Talmudic legend is a remnant from the biblical flood and is the product of an ancient volcanic eruption that caused a 10-meter-deep hole filled with rain and groundwater. Although swimming is not recommended, the lake makes a worthy backdrop for a lovely walk among the fruit trees that dot the area.

5. Snorkeling at Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve and Eilat Wines

This reserve along Israel’s Red Sea Gulf allows people of all ages and abilities to enjoy and help sustain the world’s most northern coral reef. Wading pools allow children to get close to the reef without entering the deeper waters, as do observation bridges, where one can admire the fish while remaining dry. Adventurous souls can rent snorkeling or diving gear on the beach.

Following a refreshing dip, Eilat Wines — the official southern outpost of the Golan Heights and Galil Mountain Wineries — is a must visit. Located in an industrial zone in the northern section of the city, it is a gourmet hotspot for wine and cheese lovers. Wines from all over the world are stocked here. On “free Fridays,” four wine tastings and accompanying gourmet snacks are offered. Any time you come, your purchases are tax-free due to Eilat’s special zoning status.

6. Shivta National Park  and “Path of Knowledge” at Ramat HaNegev Agricultural Research and Development Tour, Negev Highlands

Negev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Negev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Located 20 minutes northwest of Sde Boker, in the middle of the Negev Desert, is the Ramat HaNegev Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Call ahead to book a tour of the greenhouses to learn how the center has realized first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s promise to make the desert bloom. During the tour you will pick fruits and veggies fresh from the vine to sample and even receive a whole container to take with!

Also visit the attached memorial to a group of French soldiers who served in the Negev Brigade during Israel’s War of Independence. The hill on which the memorial sits gives a vantage point over the Megalim experimental solar power project across the street.

Shivta National Park photo by Jessica Halfin

Shivta National Park photo by Jessica Halfin

From New Age to ancient, off the road heading further west toward Nitzana, near Israel’s Gaza border, is the ancient Nabatean city of Shivta. Now a national park filled with spectacularly preserved ruins, it was once a largely populated town along the famous Nabatean spice trading route. Taken over by Byzantines and later by Muslim Crusaders, the site also features ancient churches and a mosque, and was a functional town all the way up until the mid-seventh century.

7. Amud Stream Nature Reserve and Ein Camonim dairy, Upper Galilee

If there ever was an Israeli hike meant to connect you to the ancient history and nature of the land, Nahal Amud (Pillar River), between Mount Meron and the Sea of Galilee, is it. In this one site you will find antique flour mills, the famous pillar for which the river is named, a blossoming orchard filled with the famous biblical fruit species, caves and freshwater pools and springs. The 4-kilometer trail takes three to four hours, and includes a steep incline or decline, as well as dipping pools, depending on which route you choose.

Fresh cheese at Ein Carmonim dairy. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Fresh cheese at Ein Carmonim dairy. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Found among the breathtaking hills of the Upper Galilee close by, the Ein Camonim goat farm and dairy is a tranquil outpost that produces and sells more than 30 varieties of cheese from the milk of its grass-fed, free-range herd. Step inside the shop to taste more than a few cheeses free of charge, as well as Ein Camonim signature wine produced for the farm by Haifa’s boutique Vortman Winery. Other specialty products include homemade fig and walnut jam, and single serving sorbets. For a more elaborate experience, dine in the outdoor restaurant next to the goats and treat yourself to an all-you-can-eat cheese platter accompanied by gourmet salads.

8. Hula Nature Reserve and Habayit Bektze HaNofUpper Galilee

Walking in the Hula Nature Reserve. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Walking in the Hula Nature Reserve. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Located in the Hula Valley in the Upper Galilee, Hula Lake serves as a natural rest stop for birds migrating to and from Europe, Asia and Africa. But the reserve is much more than just a world-class bird observatory site. A visitors’ center with a movie and museum explains the area’s remarkable ecosystem, and from the wooden plank trail around the lake and the covered wooden bridge you can observe the active wildlife in the water (gigantic catfish, freshwater turtles, frogs and beaver-like rodents) and surrounding wetlands.

Overlooking the Hula Valley, Habayit Bektze HaNof, or House on the Edge of the Landscape, is a rural restaurant at the edge of the Birya Forest. Floor-to-ceiling windows, observation points and a deck make it a prime spot for nestling in and chowing down, while appreciating an unobstructed view. A prime spot for anything from a quick bite to a wedding party, the light and fresh Galilean café fare make it ideal as a lunch stop for day trippers.

9. Mount Tabor Nature Reserve and National Park, Shaked Tavor Visitor’s Center and Tabor Winery, Kfar Tavor, Lower Galilee

Mount Tavor in the Lower Galilee. Photo by Tamir Peled

Mount Tavor in the Lower Galilee. Photo by Tamir Peled

Drive past the agricultural fields of the Jezreel Valley in the Lower Galilee, and you will notice Mount Tabor (Tavor) peeking out of the horizon. The perfectly round mountain is filled with green trees year-round, and can be climbed by foot or vehicle. Whatever path you choose, you will find more than just a beautiful view. The mountain is the location of several significant battles and events from biblical time and so is home to churches including the Church of the Transfiguration Franciscan monastery (open to visitors) and the Church of the Prophet Elijah.

In neighboring Kfar Tavor, you will find the culinary treats and surprises that make up the area’s livelihood — the valley’s much sought-after almonds and wines.

What was once referred to as the Marzipan Museum has since transformed into Shaked Tavor Visitors Center, a store selling the neighboring factory’s flavored marzipan and almond specialty products. The name “shaked” (pronounced shah-ked) is drawn from the almond trees that blossom with delicate pink and white flowers each spring at the mountain’s base. In the same complex, Tabor Winery welcomes visitors for a tasting, tour and other events such as Family Harvest Day each summer.

10. The Big Juba walk and Odem U-Pick fruit picking, Golan Heights

The Big Juba. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The Big Juba. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Drive through the Golan Heights and you may wonder how it came to be a raised platform, and the story behind the many volcanic rocks strewn about. Take an easy walk on the paved pathway through the Odem Forest at the Big Juba, and you will learn about some of the geological oddities of this unique forest habitat. For those looking for more than just a view of the crater, you can venture down into the hole. Expect a run-in with a grazing Golan cow or two, and know that the path is not officially marked.

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy

Odem U-Pick in the Golan Heights. Photo: courtesy

Continuing down the road into Moshav Odem, you will find a quaint family-run fruit orchard that allows you to pick your own in the summer months. In June it is a prime spot for cherry picking. July ushers in the season of the more rare raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries. Grab a cup of coffee, and buy jams, jellies, locally sourced olive oil and honey in the shop. With other jewels of the moshav such as the Odem Mountain Winery and the Deer Forest Petting Zoo and camping ground, there’s plenty to keep you busy in this historically significant Golan settlement in the off season as well.


    10 Perfect Days Out in Israel

    Café Levinksy

    Café Levinksy

    Enjoy ISRAEL21c's Bird’s-Eye-View of TelAviv’s Favorite Food Kiosks including Nordau Kiosk, Susu and Sons,  Café Levinksy, Malabi Dajani, Bayern Market,  We Like You, Too,  Ben-Gurion corner kiosk, and  Kiosk Est. 1920.

    Enjoy a Bird’s-Eye-View of TelAviv’s Favorite Food Kiosks


    Manta Ray is a local favorite in Tel Aviv. With its glass-walled interior and tables outside in the sea breezes, it capitalizes fully on its setting, a few yards from the Mediterranean. Manta Ray’s specialty is of course fish: sea bream, croaker, tuna, sea bass, calamari, shrimp, scallops, crab—you name it—served in any number of ways: in a risotto; with a fennel and kohlrabi salad; in a stew of coconut milk, lemongrass, and curry paste. 

    This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

    One item on the menu is called simply “Fish in a black cast-iron pot.” This pièce de la résistance is a cauldron brought to your table, overflowing with seafood claws and tails and emitting intoxicating whiffs of shallots, white wine, and the sea.

    Owner Ofra Ganor and chef Ronen Skinezes ensure Manta Ray is a “grabber”: it has the beach, the sunset, excellent food, and a comfortable feeling of home.

    But in fact, there are few restaurants in Israel that don’t feel homey—even the most elegant are warm and easy, with a lack of pretension that seems distinctly local. Some customers may dress for dinner, but others, inevitably, will show up in jeans and T-shirts.

    Food is the central focus—often served, it must be said, in huge quantities (we have learned to share portions whenever possible). There is a pervasive air of generosity, and a genuine desire on the part of the restaurant staff for you to sample and appreciate what they have to offer. (Echoes of the classic Jewish mother’s exhortation: “Eat!”)

    Manta Ray >

    Manta Ray restaurant. Photos by and courtesy Avi Ganor

    Enjoy the Best Beachside Dining at Manta Ray Restaurant

    An eclectic mix of old and new. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    An eclectic mix of old and new. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    The small urban neighborhood of Florentin is one of the hippest districts in Israel. Now this old-new community is in the midst of a transformation.

    By Nicky Blackburn

    It’s Thursday morning in Florentin. There are craftsmen trundling by with barrows of bedsteads and wood, old men with thick gray moustaches selling dried fruit and nuts, hipsters with black beards on bikes, and young bohemian women with piercings walking dogs — so many dogs.

    The trendy cafes, vegan kiosks and tattoo parlors are already doing bustling trade. There are shops selling pet toys, and others selling sex toys. And on every wall, every billboard and corner, there is eclectic graffiti, giving the area an exciting and unique energy.

    This tiny neighborhood, sandwiched between Jaffa and the center of Tel Aviv, is all about contrasts. Old and new, traditional and contemporary, rich and poor – this is a community that’s in the midst of gentrification and change.

    Derelict buildings stand next to smart new apartment blocks. Expensive furniture shops jostle alongside ancient wholesale businesses with rotting signs. There are pricey art galleries on one side of a road, and dilapidated warehouses where you can fix your furniture or your car on the other.

    There’s an industrial zone, a wholesale garment district, a thriving food market and a burgeoning art scene. And when day turns to night, Florentin transforms into one of the trendiest areas for pubs and clubs in Tel Aviv.

    It’s all about the dogs in Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    It’s all about the dogs in Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    In 2014, Thrillist voted Florentin the second hippest neighborhood on earth after Williamsburg in New York. The travel website wrote: “In a city already known for its Bauhaus-style architecture, inspired street art, and 24-hour nightlife, Florentin’s the go-to spot for artists, musicians, and people who dress like artists and musicians.”

    Florentin boasts other records, too; it’s got the most vegan restaurants per capita in the world, and Florentin Street has more dog owners per capita than anywhere else.

    A young vibe

    While there are some older families still living in Florentin, 60 percent of residents are under the age of 45, and 55% are under 35, according to Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir. As a whole, Tel Aviv is one of the youngest Western metropolises in the world.

    The unique character of Florentin lies in its roots. The neighborhood was founded in the 1930s and named after David Florentin, a Greek Jew who purchased the land in 1924 for the Salonika-Palestine Investment Company.

    It was originally planned as a simple and pretty neighborhood for working-class immigrants from Greece and Turkey, especially from Salonika. But as the years went on, the immigrants gradually abandoned Florentin, and like much of the rest of southern Tel Aviv, it became increasingly neglected and impoverished.

    It was only in the late 1990s, when an eponymous Israeli TV drama brought attention to this rundown neighborhood, that it began gradually to revive. Students and artists were attracted to the cheap rents, large loft-style apartments and were ready to ignore the grittiness and dirt.

    As they moved in, turning dingy apartments into trendy live-work spaces, so did new cafes, nightclubs, music venues and shops.

    One of the most significant signs of Florentin’s revival is that a new elementary school has opened, currently serving about 150 pupils in first and second grade, and is designed for 600.

    “It’s the first school we have needed in Florentin for decades,” says Zamir. “ In the last five to seven years the population has grown older. It used to be people in their 20s; now people are still living here in their 30s. They are having families and they are staying. The hipster neighborhood is settling down.”

    Florentin food

    Many things make Florentin unique. It has a different feel than the rest of Tel Aviv because the buildings – many of which are Bauhaus – are crammed up against each another. The sidewalks are narrow and there are virtually no green spaces. “This creates a very dense urban atmosphere,” says Zamir.

    The food culture is also unusual. Levinsky Market, founded in the 1930s, is the beating culinary heart of this neighborhood, and it still sells the traditional Turkish, Greek and Romanian specialties that dominated the market when it first opened. Today, it’s a gourmand’s paradise.

    “Levinsky still looks the same as it did 50 or 60 years ago,” says Aaron Gertz, a 32-year-old tour guide who lives in Florentin.

    There are many great shops in the market, some of them unique. Take Yom Tov deli, for instance. The deli was founded in 1947 and named after the founder, Yom Tov, which means “good day” in English. Today the deli still sells items like hibiscus flowers stuffed with cheese, and is run by Yom Tov’s grandson and namesake. The stuffed vine leaves on sale in the shop are still rolled by the original Yom Tov, now 93.

    “This is really traditional Sephardic food,” says Gertz.

    In a sign of the times, Yom Tov has expanded and opened a sandwich bar and a vegan ice cream parlor nearby.

    Other great places to visit in the market include the Har Sinai Nut Shop, founded more than 38 years ago; Baklava Mahrum, which sells Middle Eastern desserts and sweets; and Chaim Raphael, which sells gourmet cheeses, cured olives and meats, all prepared using traditional methods.

    Florentin also abounds with trendy cafes, restaurants and bars, like Bugsy, Café Casbah, Diwan, a Bedouin café, Hoodna and Perla.

    Street-art paradise

    The most obvious thing that stands out in Florentin, however, is the graffiti. You can find graffiti all over Israel, but nowhere does it come to life quite so much as in Florentin, where the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. Here, street art is an active daily dialogue.

    “Every day I come out there’s something new,” says Gertz, who often takes people on graffiti tours through the neighborhood. “You never know what to expect. There is so much art all over the place. ”

    Some of the most common graffiti artists include Mr. Leaf, who creates tiny people out of beads; Adi Sened, an architect who creates box people; EPK who paints eggplants – everywhere; Kis-Lev, and Murielle Street Art, who frames her work with window and door frames.

    There’s even vegan graffiti – you’ll see “269” stenciled all over the walls to represent cow number 269, who was released by vegans into the wild and is now happy and free, or so the story goes.

    As a result of all this artistic activity on the street, it’s no surprise that a number of galleries have emerged in the last few years, including Urban Secret Gallery (formerly Street Art Gallery), Under 1000, Tiny Tiny and Meshuna.

    A place where people can be themselves

    The question that bothers many Florentin residents today is how the neighborhood will develop in the years ahead.

    Its near neighbor, Neve Tzedek, was once as rundown as Florentin. Today, it’s one of the most expensive places to live in Tel Aviv. The houses have all been renovated, and the shops sell expensive designer brands. Does the same fate await Florentin, which is already going through a significant building boom?

    Zamir is sanguine. “It will always be different,” he says. “Florentin is the only closed neighborhood in Tel Aviv that involves all four elements of urban life. It’s residential and commercial, it has a lively leisure market – with a good nightlife and lots of restaurants — but it also has a light industrial area. That creates a very interesting mélange of people, with different requirements, but it also creates urban chaos. It’s hard to clear four waste cycles a day, and as a result it can be hard to keep the area clean, and this is what kept rents low for so many years.”

     The municipality does plan, however, to demolish the rundown industrial warehouses of the Volovelsky zone and replace them with buildings like 4 Florentin, a project of four nine-story apartment blocks designed by architect Ilan Pivko. With commercial space, a swimming pool, a gym and a spa, it’s hardly the kind of development that attracts young people or young families.

    Though Volovelsky isn’t expected to disappear any time soon – Zamir says it could take up to 20 years – the new apartment blocks that replace it will transform the character of the neighborhood in a significant way.

    I ask Gertz whether he thinks Florentin will one day become like its rich, yuppy neighbor. He looks alarmed. “I hope not,” he says. “I love it here. It’s really authentic. You never know who or what you will see. This is a place where people can really be themselves.”

    The new development of 4 Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    The new development of 4 Florentin. Photo by Guy Yechiely, Tel Aviv Municipality

    Article courtesy of

    Article courtesy of

    Say Hello to TelAviv’s Most Eclectic and Exciting Quarter—Florentin

    HaNamal 24's Instagram feed

    HaNamal 24's Instagram feed

    HaNamal 24 is located on Haifa’s hopping street of the same name. Chef Ran Rosh, a graduate of Paul Bocuse’s culinary institute in Lyon, brings a classic French approach to many of his dishes here, with bold dashes of “molecular cuisine” techniques and a healthy reliance on local ingredients. His rich and generously portioned dishes offer unexpected combinations of flavors: scallops with olive polenta and a creamy sauce with just a touch of vanilla; beef carpaccio with sea salt and a whiff of violet balsamic; a mullet fillet with slightly sweet risotto and a pear stuffed with goat cheese, cardamom, and saffron.

    Our idea was to position ourselves at the peak of fine dining in Haifa and the North.
    — Guy Avital

    HaNamal 24’s interior, a labyrinth of rooms big and small, was designed by architect Nathan Faibish to recall rustic Tuscany—indeed, Faibish imported wooden flooring and window frames from Italy and repurposed them here as part of the restaurant’s furnishings. The décor and the food at HaNamal 24 add up to a truly extraordinary experience. As co-owner Guy Avital puts it: “Our idea was to position ourselves at the peak of fine dining in Haifa and the North.” They seem to be well on their way.

    HaNamal 24 > 


    HaNamal 24’s Molecular Cuisine

    Uri Buri: Fish and Seafood cookbook published by Uri Buri Publishing

    There is one place in Akko that you are sure to have regular reveries about, long after you return home from Israel. The fish restaurant Uri Buri sits next to the port, in a crumbling Ottoman stone building with high, vaulted ceilings. Each dish at Uri Buri relies on the daily catch and the offerings at the nearby market. Flavors seem to be enhanced when dishes are presented beautifully—but without too much primping—as they are here. While chef Uri Jeremias creates many elaborate dishes with great flair, he clearly likes simplicity best: fresh anchovies, grilled with just a touch of potent olive oil; barramundi pan-cooked in butter with a few sage leaves and a squeeze of lemon; raw crabmeat, carefully removed from its shell and served without any garnish whatsoever.

    Uri’s preference is to speak to his guests and get to know them a little—what they like and don’t—and then send out dish after dish from the kitchen, building an evening’s experience for them.

    Although the restaurant of course has a menu, Uri’s preference is to speak to his guests and get to know them a little—what they like and don’t—and then send out dish after dish from the kitchen, prescribing and building an evening’s experience for them, generally moving from the lightest flavors to the richest. Many of Uri’s dishes draw on his imagination—paper-thin sashimi with an explosive green wasabi sorbet; sea-wolf with chestnut-pumpkin purée; baby tilapia (known here as musht, or St. Peter’s fish) on cubes of red beet and caramel; a dreamy seafood-and-coconut-milk soup laced with ginger, curry, basil, and cilantro—the list goes on.

    Making a comprehensive listing of The Great Restaurants of Israel would be like trying to grasp the tail of a beautiful bird in flight. The point we want to make here is that Israel has come to a new understanding about food, offering the best of its many hybrid culinary traditions and—in the hands of great talents like Uri Jeremias, Duhul Safdi, Rama Ben-Zvi, Erez Komarovsky,  and others—brilliant gastronomic innovation.

    Uri Buri >

    Akko’s Uri Buri: Fish Directly from the Sea

    Erez Komarovsky in a still from the film The New Cuisine of Israel.

    Erez Komarovsky is a man who naturally brings together all the best aspects of food. Erez built his reputation as a baker; he is credited with instigating Israel’s “bread revolution” some twenty years ago. Bakers tend to be a finicky and exacting breed, but on the afternoon we spent in his kitchen, few ingredients were measured out: dishes were tossed together by hand, tasted frequently, thoroughly enjoyed, and lightning bolts of inspiration were accepted as a matter of course. In the film The New Cuisine of Israel you will get to visit him at his beautiful home at Mitzpe Matat in the Upper Galilee, overlooking Israel’s border with Lebanon. We had the privilege of visiting him there to cook and eat, but our day with Erez began early, at the marketplace in Akko.

    Erez brings a spirit of improvisation, integrity, and exuberance to the experience of food.

    We met for breakfast at the busy Sa’id hummus shop, where the waiters  clearly knew Erez and gave him a perfunctory nod. From there, we strolled over to the market fishmongers, who glanced at Erez askance as he inspected their wares, seeking out the brightest eyes and scales, the bluest claws, the perfect aroma—that is, a slightly salty non-aroma in the case of the freshest fish. He spoke with them in Arabic, asking (it was clear) what other fish they had in the back, then examining that secret stock with a raised eyebrow and haggling like the pro he is, and finally coming away with a couple of pounds of blue-silver calamari and a weighty, sparkling sea bass, which he hefted matter-of-factly into an ice cooler in the back of his truck.

    About an hour’s drive to the north, Erez showed us around his beautiful, somewhat chaotic stone home. We wandered the tiers of his vegetable patches, carrying baskets and filling them with dark-red cherry tomatoes, kale, Thai basil, scary-looking tiny hot peppers, Jerusalem artichokes, and more.

    Working with whatever he has at hand, Erez riffs like a brilliant jazzman. His kitchen is light and open and well stocked, although like many cooks, he mostly uses only a few favorite tools. The mortar and pestle are indispensable (everything from basil and garlic to peppercorns is purposefully smashed), as are a couple of good, super-sharp knives.

    Just before the bass, onions, tomatoes, kohlrabi, basil, and crushed salt and pepper were flung in the taboon, they received a liberal drizzling of honey from the hives of the beekeeper down the road and olive oil from a neighbor’s press. Sometime later, greens, vegetables, and fish were piled into a gorgeous knoll on a platter, and we sat down to a truly unforgettable meal.

    Erez brings a spirit of improvisation, integrity, and exuberance to the experience of food. We think that is the finest way to cook and to eat.

    Sa’id Hummus >

    Stills from the film The New Cuisine of Israel, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.

    The Culinary Improvisations of Erez Komarovsky

    Druze town of Daliyat el-Carmel. Photo by Ron Almog, courtesy Creative Commons

    The population of Daliyat el-Carmel, near Haifa, is predominantly Druze. One of the more popular restaurants in the town is HaOrchim (“The Guests”), graciously extends the hospitality that its name implies. The meal starts with mezze: salads, roasted cauliflower bathed in creamy, parsley-flecked tahini, tabouleh with pomegranate seeds, lemony stuffed grape leaves wrapped tight and thin as a pencil, a dish of snowy, tart labneh sprinkled with a fragrant zaatar spice mixture, and a mound of hummus with a crater in the middle filled with tahini and a green pool of fresh olive oil, to be consumed with fresh pita bread, warm from the oven. Then on to sinyeh: lamb patties grilled and then baked with tahini; sambusak filled with a spicy combination of potatoes, onions, and green peppers; mushrooms and chickpeas in a blazing-hot pepper sauce, and so on.

    The meal starts with mezze: salads, roasted cauliflower bathed in creamy, parsley-flecked tahini, tabouleh with pomegranate seeds, lemony stuffed grape leaves wrapped tight and thin as a pencil.

    Many dishes revolve around meat; in Druze and Arab cuisine, the more meat served, the more luxurious the meal is considered, and the more respect shown to the guest. For dessert, if the traditional sweet aish el-saraia is on offer, it must be tried: cream, honey, and orange-blossom and rose waters cooked down until thick and garnished with ground pistachios—sublime. At the end of the meal, you may be served Arab coffee poured from a finjan, a long-handled metal pot. A joggle of caffeine and you will find the wherewithal to head out to the world again.

    HaOrchim Restaurant
    Daliyat el-Carmel

    Druze Hospitality and Cuisine at HaOrchim Restaurant

    Arab-Israeli-run Abouelafia bakery in Jaffa. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy Creative Commons

    The legendary Abouelafia bakery, an Arab-Israeli-run establishment that has been in operation since 1879 on Beit Eshel Street in Jaffa. Open twenty-four hours a day, it offers long bagels, many kinds of pita, sambusak stuffed with cheese, and savory sesame-studded bourekas.

    Abouelafia bakery, open twenty-four hours a day, knows the good that can come of mixing peoples.

    Located as it is on one of the busiest streets in Jaffa, streaming with tourists and locals, Abouelafia knows the good that can come of mixing peoples. (In the summer of 2014, as violence raged in Gaza, bakery workers wore T-shirts that read in Hebrew, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and gave the shirts out free to anyone who came by.)

    7 Yefet Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo

    Jaffa’s Abouelafia Bakery: Peace through Bourekas

    Uri Jeremias of Uri Buri restaurant and Efendi Hotel, Akko. Photo by and © Vision Studio

    Uri Jermias (owner of Uri Buri restaurant and the Efendi Hotel , both in Akko) is a formidable figure: tall, broad, white haired, with a benevolent face and a white beard that reaches to his waist. Uri is nearly always visible at his restaurant, moving pots and pans in the kitchen with the assurance of a masterly orchestra conductor, or strolling among the tables advising guests about how to structure their meal.

    Uri Jeremias is nearly always visible at his restaurant, moving pots and pans in the kitchen with the assurance of a masterly orchestra conductor.

    Like Erez Komarovsky, Uri is a consummate and resourceful extemporizer. His chief collaborator is the sea. Like all great cooks, Uri knows when a perfect ingredient should be allowed to shine on its own: “Simple fish made in the most basic manner,” he says, “can be enjoyed no less, and perhaps even more, than Black Sea caviar, or a blowfish arriving on a direct flight from Tokyo (flying business class, of course).”

    We keep Uri Jeremias’s Uri Buri cookbook at hand in our own kitchens—partly because of Uri’s culinary philosophy. Yes, there are recipes in the book, but more than half of it deals with how to think about food—fish in particular—once you know some basic rules, how to be discriminating, respectful, and inventive in the kitchen. Like love, these things come through in the dishes you serve.

    Uri’s interest in ad-libbing started early. He tells a story:

    When I was young, I hitchhiked around Europe, and I decided not to have any plans. When someone asked me: ‘Where are you going?’ I’d say: ‘Wherever you’re going.’ I traveled to different cities, met lots of people, and so on. After a few months, I came home, and friends asked me, ‘Did you see Mont St. Michel?’ or ‘Did you see this or that?’ I said no. My way of traveling was completely different. It was not about seeing the wonders of the world. It was to meet life.

    It is with this same sense of adventure that Uri cooks—and we, his lucky guests, get to be his fellow travelers.

    Uri Buri >

    Efendi Hotel >

    Hotelier and Restaurateur Uri Jeremias

    Happy customers at the Sa’id hummus shop, Akko. Photo by and © Vision Studio 

    At Sa’id hummus shop in Akko, there is always a line to get in, but things move quickly, as the establishment specializes in only three perfect dishes, which are always ready for the table: hummus, foul (a rough mash of warm fava beans and spices), and mashawsha (a still rougher mash of warm chickpeas and spices), served in small hillocks on the plate and liberally drizzled with rich, dark olive oil, along with pickles, onions, vegetables, and a hot pile of freshly baked pita.

    Sa’id specializes in only three perfect dishes, which are always ready for the table: hummus, foul, and mashawsha.

    Guests sit at shared tables, eat quickly, and watch the process in the kitchen: vast pots of chickpeas and favas being systematically cooked, drained, mashed, spiced, and served. At Sa’id, the daily service ends abruptly when they run out of hummus, which is often in the early afternoon.

    Sa’id Hummus >


    Akko's Sa’id Hummus Shop

    Wadi Nisnas, Haifa. Photo by Dany Sternfeld, courtesy Creative Commons

    The neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas (nisnas means “mongoose”) is a concentrated hodgepodge of Arab homes and businesses clinging to the Haifa hillside. Here, many say, you can find the much-sought-after Truly Best Falafel in All of Israel—perfectly crunchy and light—at Falafel HaZkenim. Or shop at the bustling Wadi Nisnas open-air market, where there are all sorts of indigenous seasonal greens featured in Arab cooking, from cyclamen, hubeizeh (mallow), and ellet (chicory) to mustard stems for pickling, beet greens, and much more. There are also fresh herbs and olives, just-roasted coffee beans (scented with a bit of cardamom), fresh meats, and excellent baklava and other Arab pastries (try Abdelhadi Sweets).

    Save room, at the end of a satisfying and savory Arab meal, for deliciously smooth halvah ice cream.

    Haifa’s Ben-Gurion boulevard cuts through the old German Colony (built, like Sarona, by the Templers in the late nineteenth century), where many interesting restaurants have been opened within the nicely restored historic buildings. Among these is Fattoush, where you are advised to save room, at the end of a satisfying and savory Arab meal, for deliciously smooth halvah ice cream.

    And Bistro Venya and Cula, new gastronomic neighbors in Haifa’s port, share a distinctively young and exuberant spirit in their menus as well as in their clientele.

    Abdelhadi Sweets
    3 Wadi Street, Haifa

    Falafel HaZkenim
    18 Wadi Street, Haifa

    Wadi Nisnas open-air market
    Between Zionut Boulevard, Shabtai Street, and Yud Lamed Peretz Street, Haifa

    38 Sderot Ben Gurion, Haifa

    Treasure Hunting in Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas

    Vista of Haifa’s port from the top of the Baha’i Gardens. Photo by and © Vision Studio 

    Haifa, built on the slope of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean, has all the beauties and the maritime industrial operations that go with life in a seaport city. The famed terraced Baha’i Gardens run down Mount Carmel into the downtown: a long, impeccable carpet of green and gold forming a magnificent centerpiece for the bustling metropolis. The gardens lead to the Baha’i Universal House of Justice—the central seat of the governing body for this deeply peaceful monotheist faith, whose followers believe in unity of religion, unity of humanity, and unity in diversity. In the distance, by the water, the chug of bending marine cranes gives a regular rhythm to the cityscape.

    Haifa has long been known as a place of relative harmony among its Jewish, Muslim, and Christian residents.

    Haifa has long been known as a place of relative harmony among its Jewish,
    Muslim, and Christian residents; the heterogeneous mix also incorporates a large group
    of Russian immigrants and a core group of Baha’i. As elsewhere in Israel, the varied demographic makes for interesting culinary possibilities. Haifa is also an increasingly young city: the cafés, nightclubs, pubs, and restaurants are filled with so many young hipsters that a new term has recently been coined: “Haifsters.” This group brings a taste for innovation to the city’s food scene.

    Baha’i Gardens >


    Harmonious Haifa, “Haifsters” and All

    A chef chops meat for kebabs at the Diana restaurant, Nazareth. Photo by and © Vision Studio

    The predominantly Arab city of Nazareth is home to the celebrated Diana restaurant, headed by chef Duhul Safdi. Its main room is enormous—set up, clearly, for large groups of diners anticipating Safdi’s wondrous local Palestinian fare.

    A meal at Diana always begins with fresh pita and enough mezze for a dozen people (even if you are only two).

    One wall holds a vast window looking into the bright kitchen; positioned directly on the other side is a chef’s station where guests can watch the preparation of the meat for Safdi’s famous kebabs. Moving at the speed of light, the chef rocks a massive sickle-shaped knife along a mix of fresh lamb, onion, spices, pine nuts, and herbs, then regroups it and chops it again until its consistency is just right. It is a dizzying show, well worth watching.

    A meal at Diana always begins with fresh pita and enough mezze for a dozen people (even if you are only two): Technicolor-bright vegetable salads, tahini, roasted eggplant, labneh, and more—the small dishes of delicious tastings nearly cover the table. These may be followed by wild spinach or okra with lamb or chicken, or a rice dish with mulukhiyah (jute) and perfumed with lemony beef stock, or safiha (a pastry stuffed with meat and seasoned with yogurt and harissa), or Safdi’s legendary kebabs, which are sometimes cooked and served on cinnamon sticks, giving off a lovely sweet and savory aroma. If you have room at the end (perhaps unlikely), there is knafeh and Arab coffee—black, hot, sweet, fragrant with coriander, and powerful: the perfect closing note to an amazing meal.

    Diana >