The Jew And The Carrot

Israel's First Food Truck Hits the Streets

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Tal Shahar
Dinner Time: AutoOchel stops at one of 25 different places around Jerusalem where locals can feast on food from chef Assaf Granit.

Food trucks seem to be ubiquitous these days — but not in Jerusalem. Until last week, a food truck had never rolled into the Holy City or into any city in Israel. But on July 17 a truck with a giant steaming pot sculpture on top and a chalkboard menu on its side, pulled opened its doors to feed hundreds of Jerusalemites.

Part public art and part performance the “AutoOchel” (food vehicle), which is captained by local celebrity chef Assaf Granit, is about much more than just food. For 25 days this summer (July 17-August 12), the truck will stop in a different neighborhood and serve a different dish each day. The locations and dishes are closely matched, and reflect the personal connections that 25 well-known local personalities have to the city. Each day, one of these participating celebrities will ride along with Granit and help him prepare and serve their special dish to the public.

The “AutoOchel” was conceived as a major event in the third annual Jerusalem Season of Culture, a summer showcase of Jerusalem’s flourishing arts scene and contemporary cultural treasures. Granit cooked up the idea with JSOC artistic director Itay Mautner. The two worked together closely on every aspect of this carefully choreographed “FoodTrip,” (as JSOC has translated “AutoOchel.”)

Yael Ilan
Local kids watch the scene that gathers around the AutoOchel in the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem.

While visiting Israel, I couldn’t wait to see the truck in action. I made sure to be on hand on Sunday at 5pm as it pulled in to a parking lot on Haneviim Street in central Jerusalem, opposite Ethiopia Street. The special guest helping Granit serve customers through the truck’s window that day was Dana Weiss, a Channel 2 news presenter who grew up on Ethiopia Street. She asked Granit to prepare Gado-Gado, an Indonesian noodle, chicken and vegetable dish with a peanut sauce that her Dutch grandmother learned to cook while living in Indonesia.

When Weiss was growing up, Ethiopia Street was part of a diverse neighborhood. Smells wafting from kitchens weren’t always that of frying schnitzel. “In my childhood, I saw a lot of different people arriving to Jerusalem,” she told The FoodTrip blog. “There was a special atmosphere of multiculturalism and acceptance of others.”

Regardless of whether they were aware of Weiss’ backstory, customers were enjoying the Gado-Gado served up in Chinese takeout boxes stamped with the AutoOchel logo. “This is excellent,” said Paz Ben-Nun as she ate together with her friend Dan Eran. “This is a great way to taste new food and meet new people. I will definitely go to some of the other stops coming up.”

Meira Weiss and Michael Jacobs, who live nearby, made sure to arrive 15 minutes early. “We heard it was going to be mobbed,” Weiss said. Indeed, a line had formed before service began, and the scene in front of the truck (where some informal seating was set up) was buzzing for the two-and-a-half hours it took to serve the 300 portions Granit and staff from his Machneyuda restaurant had prepared (all of the food is kosher and halal).

Granit has been pleasantly surprised at how easy and pleasant it has been to work with the various public figures, including broadcaster and comedian Jackie Levy, Ladino singer Yasmin Levy, ex-basketball player Pepe Turgeman, noted East Jerusalem chef Kamal Hashelmon, and Women of the Wall’s Anat Hoffman. “They all have great ideas and wonderful food memories,” he told The Jew and the Carrot. He is especially glad that egos have not gotten in the way of his creating his own interpretations of their suggested dishes.

Granit has left a few recipes untouched, like Azura chef and slow food aficionado Elran Shreffler’s meatball and green bean stew with rice, which was served on July 17 in the working class Katamonim neighborhood. “But I’m doing my own interpretation of about 90% of the dishes,” Granit said. In most cases, it has a lot to do with creative presentation. He plans on serving a tomato and eggplant stew in bowls made of small challah loaves, and embellishing a traditional Russian potato quiche with a shot glass of borscht set in its center.

Yael Ilan
Chef Assaf Granit serves up his take on Jersualemite’s favorite foods outside of the city’s famed Machaneh Yehudah.

The aesthetics go beyond the presentation of the food to the truck itself. Everything from the disposable serving dishes and containers to the staff’s t-shirts to the garbage cans is decorated with the “AutoOchel” logo. And then, there’s also the huge steaming pot sculpture on the truck’s roof, festive lights framing the serving window, an LCD message board above the driver’s cab, and a blaring sound system.

The truck’s extreme pop-up nature adds to the artistic sensibility. The public finds out where the truck’s next stop will be merely a day in advance. People can either sign up to be notified by text or email, or they can check the “AutoOchel” website. It is only then that they find out not only where the truck will stop, but also who the special guest of the day will be. “The slow reveal creates a secret, a surprise. There is a hidden meaning to be uncovered,” Mautner explained, perhaps alluding to the Holy City’s many ethnic and cultural layers that give it its unique flavor.

Plans are in the works to take the journey even further — all the way to a Jerusalem cookbook, which is expected to be out around Passover 2014.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: kosher food jerusalem, jerusalem season of culture, jerusalem, food truck israel, autoochel, assaf granit

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.