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.”)
The drain on Jerusalem’s natural resources from religious tourism is finally acknowledged as an ecological dilemma. The Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, which took place earlier this week, hopes to address it.
The brainchild of Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Naomi Tsur, the mission is to bring religious leaders together in cooperation to help pilgrims “leave a green footprint” as they pass through Jerusalem and holy sites everywhere on the planet.
At the eco-focused event, eight local chefs competed for the city’s “greenest” dish. Well, perhaps competed is a generous term. The white-jacketed chefs assembling on the stone patio of the YMCA greeted each other with the big hugs and the macho kiss on each cheek that Israeli guys exchange to show affectionate respect.
In the background, sous chefs opened plastic containers, pulled out knives, and mixed sauces. Pungent herbal odors rose from bunches of sage, basil, and za’atar piled on a rough wooden chopping block. With the prep done, the chefs deftly created the dishes that resonate with “green cuisine,” placing a square of organic carrot here, painting a swab of turmeric sauce there, lightly dropping delicate green and black sprouts exactly on the right spot.
I scream, you scream… In Israel, it was the Israeli business daily Calcalist screaming this week about just how much ice cream Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been licking on the people’s dime (sorry, shekel). The paper reported that Bibi had asked for and received a NIS 10,000 ($2,700) budget from the government to keep his residence supplied with high-end ice cream at every hour of the day and night.
Having depleted an NIS 3,000 ($813) budget for frozen treats by May last year, this time around the prime minister’s residence made sure to ask for a whole lot more cash to fund Bibi’s habit. The official request repeatedly mentioned that the money was for ice cream “on the personal taste and desire of the prime minister,” from a gelateria located near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood.
“Good coffee” in Jerusalem. “It’s sort of a misnomer,” says Jerusalem resident and former barista Emunah Weisberg “People think Israel has a great coffee culture because Israelis are always sitting in cafes. But people are actually just drinking Nescafe and poorly pulled shots of espresso.”
The Wisconsin native launched At Home Café, a weekly pop-up café that she runs outside of her home in the funky Jerusalem neighborhood Nachlaot, after enduring two years without quality coffee since moving from the U.S.
The area, which is located next to the city’s Mahaneh Yehudah market and is known for its eclectic houses filled with artists and students, has become host to a vibrant underground food scene lately.
From pop-up cafes, microbreweries and a communal living room — Nachlaot is shaping up to be a microcosm of artisan foodies, bridging the gap between good food and community. Like Weisberg, many of these businesses were founded by individuals who simply wanted to provide quality products that they couldn’t find themselves.
A new season means a new crop of cookbooks, and this fall’s set to be spectacular. Eater recently put up a two-part post with their top picks. From fresh spins on Jewish deli fare to Middle Eastern comfort food to new books by big names like Mark Bittman and Jacques Pepin, there’s plenty of volumes we can’t wait to tuck into. What books are you excited to add to your kitchen shelf? Tell us in the comments.
“The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamentaschen“
by Noah and Rae Bernamoff
Save yourself the trip to New York and recreate the nouveau-Jewish takes on classics from blintzes to tzimmes at home with the first book from the masterminds behind Mile End. For the extra-ambitious (or hungry) the book also breaks down the process for pickling, preserving, and smoking delicatessen staples.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Just like the city itself, “Jerusalem” brings together a melting pot of cultures and tastes. In a beautifully-photographed collection, the authors mix their east- and west-side heritages to create colorful vegetarian dishes, rich, sweet desserts, and more.
“The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook“ by Deb Perelman Award-winning blogger and perennial fan favorite Deb Perelman puts out her debut collection at last. With the same eye for bright, appealing photographs and ear for friendly, encouraging instructions that made her website a hit, Perelman dishes up recipes for everything from cocktails to chocolate crepe cake.
“Jewish Cookery Book: On Principles of Economy” by Esther Levy and Joan Nathan This reissue of the classic, historical cookbook now comes with an introduction by Jewish culinary expert Joan Nathan. Originally published in 1871, the book covers maintaining a household, following Jewish dietary laws, and a variety of medicinal recipes in a kind of Jewish primer for immigrants living in America before the turn of the century.
It’s the ultimate big bucks breakfast. “You are invited to a photo opportunity and breakfast roundtable with Governor Mitt Romney,” reads the bold blue print on the invitation sent to a select few. Then comes the price: $50,000 per couple.
Politics aside what about the two questions that are really on all our minds: what is on the menu, and what’s the profit on each plate?
The breakfast will be at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where an insider tells the Forward that around 40 people will attend. The menu will include croissants, coffee, cheeses, eggs, salads and shakshuka, an Israeli dish consisting of poached eggs in tomato sauce. It will be served in one of the smart banqueting rooms.
As you may have noticed, the menu isn’t different to the breakfast you get in most Israeli hotels, or to the King David’s standard breakfast, which costs 128 shekels, around $30. This means that the Romney campaign should make at least $998,800 from the event.
Home-cooked meals in citrus-tree-lined gardens, glasses of wine overlooking rolling green hills, and fresh cheeses a stone’s throw from the grassy pastures — what better reason to go touring the Judean hills outside Jerusalem?
This March marks the 12th annual Mateh Yehuda rural food festival, which pulls together artisans from three dozen communities within the Mateh Yehuda regional council.
The bucolic Judean hills are home to a few towns, the largest of which is Beit Shemesh, and dozens of smaller communities, many of which are connected to the outside world via winding roads and no more than a few buses a day. While the area does have some relatively new occupants drawn to the rural lifestyle, many residents are immigrants who have been living there since they left countries including Morocco and Iraq 50 years ago.
New visitors to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, or shuk, may not find it noteworthy that an upscale cocktail bar called Casino de Paris has recently popped up amidst its labyrinthine alleys. Seeing the boutiques and artisanal food products that now accompany the traditional butchers, fishmongers and produce vendors, newbies may not realize that just a decade ago, the future of Mahane Yehuda was not so bright. But this bar, along with the hundreds of young Jerusalemites that flock to it each evening, tells the story of the shuk’s revitalization.
“Ten years ago [the market] almost vanished,” explains Eli Mizrahi, the former head of the Mahane Yehuda merchants association and the man credited with launching the shuk renaissance. A third generation shuk vendor, Mizrahi was unable to stand the thought of the market’s demise. So he took a risk and in 2000 opened the upscale Café Mizrahi in the center of it, serving cappuccinos and fresh pasta, camembert sandwiches and shakshuka. “It was kind of craziness,” he recalls. But word spread through the media and it brought people back, breathing new life into Mahane Yehuda.
When most of us go to an Israeli market or shuk, we experience a colorful hustle and bustle, and plenty of shoving and shouting going on around us. Nir Avieli, on the other hand, stands among the fish mongers, vegetable sellers and spice merchants and sees a precise order in all of this chaos.
Avieli, an affable and outspoken professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, studies food and culture. “My main interest is food as a cultural artifact – how food reflects and sometimes even produces culture,” he explained. He spent three years in a town in central Vietnam studying its food ways, exploring its marketplace, and discovering how food and power can be closely related.
Back in Israel, Avieli has focused his research and teaching on issues of food and power, and has once again turned his attention toward markets. On his own and with his students, he has explored the markets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva, and has come up with some unique findings. I recently sat down with Avieli and asked him how anthropologists work methodically amid the tumult of a crowded shuk, and whether his years of observing Vietnamese markets helped him understand Israeli ones.
Less than a week after the devastating bombing outside the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, the city came together to celebrate one thing that has the potential to truly unite us all: food. The Old City Food Festival, which spanned March 27-31, was conceived as a culinary tourism event that would encompass all four quarters of the Old City and celebrate its diversity. In Jerusalem, however, even food is highly politicized and the city’s Rabbinate spoke out against the inclusion of non-kosher foods and restaurants.
The event, sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality, marks the first food festival within the walls of the Old City. “Jerusalem is a breathtaking mosaic of cultures that came into being thanks to the singular, wonderful human variety that characterizes the city’s population,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat remarked in a statement. As such, the festival was meant to showcase the culinary traditions of all the inhabitants of the Old City with food markets, workshops, tours and live music set up throughout.
Jerusalem may be the epicenter of all that is holy in the Holy Land, but it has also quietly evolved into a food lover’s paradise. While its younger sister — flashy, trendy Tel Aviv — gets most of the attention in the culinary media, Jerusalem is content without the hubbub (there’s enough of that around the Temple Mount). Hidden amongst alleyways in old stone structures, Jerusalem’s restaurants represent some of the best, and least known, the country has to offer.
The history and politics of Jerusalem have had a clear impact on its food. As a city that has been ruled, conquered, torn down, and rebuilt by the Hebrews, Babylonians, Greek, Egyptians, Syrians, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Mongols, Turks, British, and Jordanians there is a rich tapestry of culinary traditions to draw on. Additionally, Jerusalem is a city of immigrants — since 1948, millions of people have settled there and brought their various cuisines with them. Today in Jerusalem you can easily enjoy Ashkenazi, Bulgarian, Turkish, North African, Iraqi, Iranian, Arab, and Russian cuisines plus the recently developed modern Israeli style that is a hybrid of all of these traditions.
For those who keep kosher, a sojourn in Jerusalem is like being a kid in a candy store. With the vast majority of options being kosher, diners can afford to be more discerning in their selections than anywhere else.
From expensive fine dining to quick, cheap eats, there is something for every palate and mood in Jerusalem. In addition to the few places listed here, be open to exploring. Even the most random, hole in the wall restaurants typically serve excellent, fresh food and often turning down a side street will yield the best discoveries.