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SURPRISING REVELATIONS - ISRAEL \'S GOURMET SCENE
 
(2013 - Fall Issue)

Writer: CASSANDRA KRIVY



I had been to Israel several times, sometimes as a student, and last autumn to visit two of my adult children who now reside there.

However my spring 2013 visit pursued culinary and cultural interests, experiencing Israel in ways I’d never imagined that left lasting impressions on both my taste buds and my consciousness.

Culinary Delights

At the Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem, established 18 years ago by Ezra Kedem, one of Israel’s top chefs, we were treated to a full range of his creativity.

All ingredients here are local and organic, a movement that is quickly growing in Israel. Starter dishes—such as grey grouper tartar mingled with dill and capers, beets cooked to their natural sweetness and topped with goat cheese, and risotto with green vegetables from the restaurant’s garden—awakened our sleepy palates. From the Golan Heights’ Binyamina vineyards, a fruity Chardonnay was paired with the starters while a rich ruby Syrah beautifully complemented a slow-cooked baby lamb stew with root vegetables; Mediterranean mixed grilled seafood tossed with tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, garlic, parsley and capers; and seared filet of sea bass with garden vegetables. Our meals ended with Arcadia’s signature rich truffle mocha.

At the ultra-modern Mamilla Hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, we sampled kosher wine at the hotel’s Mirror Bar. Our sommelier explained that religious Jewish laws governing kosher wine in Israel mandate that the land must lie fallow every seven years. Jews who strictly adhere to these laws do not drink anything grown during those years.

We poured a dry 2011 Carmel Riesling, its crisp taste perfect for a hot day. Next came a smoky, smooth, almost sweet 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from the Bazelet Ha Golan winery and, finally, a Recanati Syrah of 2009 vintage. Somewhat spicy, with a tart, slightly sharp arrival on the tongue, this wine originates in the Judean Hills.

Alongside, Mamilla’s chef Cobi Bachar served us dishes such as bone marrow with olives and Jerusalem artichokes, followed by veal brain with white truffle oil. I would never have believed such delicacies would find their way to my plate.

On our second night at the hotel, we enjoyed a cocktail at the rooftop bar, which overlooks the walls of the Old City, the Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David. All of Jerusalem sparkled below. On a clear night in this ancient city, there is nothing like it.

A Blend of Old and New

While walking is the ideal way to tour Jerusalem, this millennia-old city now sports a new light rail system, which has operated since 2011 and features 23 city stops. Only in the last 140 years have buildings sprung up outside the city’s walls. Connecting Jerusalem to its thriving suburbs, the transport system offers a view of the city’s architectural contrasts. Besides a long-existing and efficient bus system, citizens now benefit from a city-to-city rail system.

 Entering the Old City through the Damascus Gate, we strolled through the Arab shuk (market), an olfactory smorgasbord of spice, meat, fruit and vegetable stands, as well as useful household merchandise. Commerce filled the air with the constant thrum of bargaining, acceptance and satisfaction. Although this market had plenty to tempt tourists, it’s essentially a local market for the Arab Jerusalemites.

Later, we visited Machane Yehuda, a thriving 130-year-old outdoor/indoor marketplace, which now includes 250 restaurants, cafés, pottery shops, juice bars and trendy clothing stores. The stands, flush with fresh produce, baked goods, spice, cheese, meat and fish, have long relied on local farmers. Merchants generously offer samples and call out their prices to passersby.

Our market guide, chef Uri Navon, treated us to a menu that changes daily at his eponymous restaurant, Mahane Yehuda. A wraparound balcony spilling over with greenery and bins of local fresh fruits and vegetables reminds diners of the fresh, local content in his dishes.

A Pioneering Community

From Akko, we travelled up to Rosh Pina, the cultural centre of the north nestled in the Upper Galilee and established in 1878 by Baron Rothschild. The day we arrived, 78 Galil and Golan region wineries had gathered to pour and sell their spirits. At the wine festival, under plentiful shade trees, I tasted a Galil Mountain Viognier that offered up notes of lavender and rose while my second taste yielded apples. I was in heaven. Another white I enjoyed for its cool sweetness was the Lueria winery’s 2012 Gewurtzraminer from 100 per cent Gewurtzraminer grapes grown in the Upper Galilee. In fact, I toted a bottle to savour at home so I could relive Rosh Pina’s wine festival.

Rosh Pina is small, yet rich in its array of restaurants, galleries and bed-and-breakfast lodgings. We settled into the charming Hotel Spa Mizpe Hayamim, which, literally translated, means “overlook of the seas.” The spa’s broad terrace overlooks the Hermon Mountains (Israel’s highest peaks), the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee.

Mizpe Hayamim is a proud pioneer in ecotourism and sustainable organic farming. Adi Taubenhaus, the manager, led us through gardens growing wild with pesticide-free herbs, fruits and flowers, all mingled to keep the profusion of invading insects away. As we toured the dairy farm, we soon learned these 14 abundant hectares supplied the establishment’s restaurant, Muscat, as well as its farm shop, which sells organic baked goods, cheese, jams, liqueur, olive oil and tehina (sesame) products. Much like the kosher vineyards, the acreage gets a yearlong sabbatical every seven years to ensure productivity.

Jaffa and Tel Aviv

Our last days in Israel were a juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary cities. At the Kalamata Restaurant in ancient, rejuvenated Jaffa, we dined seaside at sunset on achingly delicious Arab-style ceviche, fresh seafood with pasta, and country-style Greek salad sweetened with heirloom cherry tomatoes, creamy feta and caramelized onions, all paired with a 2012 Carmel wine expertly made from Rousanne, Viognier, Colombard and Gewurtzraminer grapes. As the world’s oldest port, dating back to the second dynasty of the pharaohs, Jaffa’s bustling flea market and vibrant restaurant culture give it its pulse.

Tel Aviv, Israel’s youngest city, is not built upon the ancient foundations of other cities. Known as the “White City” for its Bauhaus architecture, which goes back to the 1920s and lines the lush, tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv comes alive at night with clubs, restaurants and bars rivalling the most cosmopolitan western cities.

Along trendy Lilienblum Street, we visited Nanuchka, Lima Lima, Rothschild 12 and Layla Morad, among many other establishments in the district, sampling cocktails and dancing to the music. Decor ranged from Georgian to contemporary to jungle-themed settings and the clientele were gay and straight.

Our last day in Israel began with an hour’s walk from our comfortable seaside Dan Hotel along the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade. Running along the Mediterranean Sea, it is dotted with cafés and restaurants, making it ideal for people-watching.

At the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, we admired the collection of modern and old paintings by Israeli and foreign artists. Following a stroll through the Shuk Ha’Karmel (the Carmel Market), Tel Aviv’s largest food and veggies marketplace, we enjoyed our last Israeli meal at Habasta, dining under the jacaranda trees long past twilight before boarding the van for our departure from Israel.

If you’ve never been, everything about Israel—from the energetic warmth of its citizens and resplendent views to the pungent aromas and sounds of everyday commerce within ancient city walls—will erase your preconceptions. And if you’ve been to Israel before and feel the urge to go back, as many do, your senses will always be richly rewarded.

Travel Planner

EL AL offers non-stop service from Toronto to Tel Aviv and works in conjunction with WestJet to offer convenient connections from other Canadian gateways.

For more information on Israel visit: Israel Ministry of Tourism: goisrael.com

Arcadia Restaurant: arcadiarest.com

Dan Hotel: danhotels.com

EL AL: elal.co.il/ELAL/English/States/Canada

Kalamata: kalamata.co.il

Machane Yehuda Market:: machne.co.il/en

Mamilla Hotel: MamillaHotel.com

Mizpe Hayamim Hotel, Spa and Organic Farm: mizpe-hayamim.com

 
 
 
 
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