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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

    EAT_MantaRay_smallplates_AviGanor.jpg

    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

    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

    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

    A guestroom at the Pina Barosh inn, Rosh Pina. Photo © and courtesy Cookie West 

    The building that houses the Pina Barosh inn, perched on Rosh Pina’s HaKhalutzim Street, has been in the Friedman family since the 1870s; today, six generations along, the family continues here. Nili Friedman, who now owns and runs the inn, is a warm, effusive, and very welcoming hostess—she is, like many others in Rosh Pina, also an artist, and some of her paintings can be seen hanging on the walls of Pina Barosh’s seven charming guest rooms, most of which look out onto the broad green-and-gold Hula Valley. Some rooms have private outdoor hot tubs, in which guests can loll indulgently with a glass of wine and gaze out all the way across the valley to Mount Hermon.

    Mornings at Pina Barosh will likely find you sitting at the inn’s wide, stone-columned outdoor dining room, overlooking the Hula Valley.

    Mornings at Pina Barosh will likely find you sitting at the inn’s wide, stone-columned outdoor dining room—warmed in cooler months with a blazing fire in a central fireplace—and looking out at this astonishing view. Here are served magnificent, many-dish breakfasts, including homemade cheeses, fig jam, breads, tapenades, tahini, fresh eggs and yogurts, and the requisite Israeli salads—such a satisfying, nourishing, and gorgeous way to start the day. Nili’s daughter, Shiri, trained as a chef in France and New York, and runs the excellent Shiri Bistro here that also serves lunch and dinner, applying her refined culinary approach to the bounty of local produce and other ingredients.

    Pina Barosh >

    Reviving the Spirit at Pina Barosh Inn

    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

    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 >

     

    Nazareth's Celebrated Diana Restaurant

     Fine meals and Ingredients at Ran Shmueli's Claro, Sarona, Tel Aviv. Photos courtesy Claro

    After decades working as one of Tel Aviv’s most successful caterers, chef Ran Shmueli purchased one of the oldest buildings in the Sarona neighborhood of Tel Aviv and oversaw its meticulous restoration, with a view to opening a restaurant. Today, Ran’s restaurant, called Claro, receives rave reviews from all corners. The cavernous central space has an open kitchen at its hub, surrounded by contented diners. It is a true farm-to-table establishment: Ran works with organic growers all over Israel, and Claro collaborates with local wineries to create special house blends for the restaurant.

    I won’t serve anything that is flown in. I don’t think any country should import things.
    — Ran Shmueli, chef

    The chef explains, “I won’t serve oysters here. Nothing that is flown in—I don’t believe in that anymore. Oysters are beautiful in Normandy, with a great Chablis. Here in Israel, it has to be different. I don’t think any country should import things. Every community has its own things, and that’s how the world should go.”

    The idea is to also relate to the farmers, to know them and work with them. People appreciate it if they have a name tag on every cheese or tomato. You know who made it, you know who grew it.

    This is the new mindset of food people in Israel, as in many pockets in the rest of the world. Food is best when it is fresh and local: best in terms of responsible ecology and sustainable economics, and most immediately in terms of the profound gustatory satisfaction it brings to the people eating it.

    Claro >

    Claro Instagram > 

     Ran Shmueli's Claro, Sarona, Tel Aviv

     

    Claro: A Locavore Restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Sarona

    Lush, living facade of Eucalyptus Restaurant. Photo by Christina Garofalo, courtesy Creative Commons

    Offering a fascinating opportunity to sample truly ancient-style Israeli cuisine, Jerusalem’s Eucalyptus restaurant is housed in a nineteenth-century stone building near the Old City walls. Devised by chef-owner Moshe Basson, the menu here is inspired by the agriculture and foods mentioned in the Bible, and includes only meats and produce from the region. From the “King Solomon couscous” to an extraordinary “mallow cooked with wild spices, reminiscent of the siege” (that is, the siege of Jerusalem, when the starving city residents subsisted on this wild edible), and the “Jacob and Esau special” (red lentil stew), the food at Eucalyptus reminds us of the extraordinary histories that surround us in this city.

    A fascinating opportunity to sample truly ancient-style Israeli cuisine.

    As celebrated Israeli chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi put it, Jerusalem is “a city with four thousand years of history, that has changed hands endlessly, and that now stands as the center of three massive faiths, and is occupied by residents of such utter diversity it puts the old tower of Babylon to shame.” A city with that kind of jumbled history and demographics—and there is only one—will naturally be a place of inspiring foods.

    Eucalyptus >