Not that we ever need a reason to take a trip to the Mateh Yehuda region, but the food festival is a great incentive. This annual food festival, which has become somewhat of a regional tradition after 19 years, will take place there the first four weekends of March (ending March 23). It will feature amateur women cooks who are offering visitors tastes from dishes cooked in their home kitchens. Lots of oil has been poured into pots over the years as more and more women join the program. Participating in the festival is a great way to become acquainted with different dishes from around the world, including Moroccan, Kurdish, Cochin and Arab cuisines.
In addition to being a great way to enjoy a variety of authentic cuisines, the food festival is also a unique opportunity to be invited into people’s homes and hear their stories about how they chose to join that community. Of course, this is also the perfect time of year to squeeze in a nature hike and enjoy the abundance of seasonal flowers, such as anemones, daffodils and lupines, and streams that are flowing heavily with recent rainwater.
We began our tour of the Mateh Yehuda Region at the Containers House in Moshav Luzit. This unique house, which overlooks the Jerusalem Hills, was built by owners Sigal and Ilya out of shipping containers. On Friday, March 15, the couple will be opening their home to visitors for a special Kabbalat Shabbat evening of live music.
You can see that the house where Ilya and Sigal live with their three children was literally built from containers. Sigal is a tour guide who has led groups on adventures all over the world and has even written a book about them. Ilya, whom she met 12 years ago, was born in the US and also has a very interesting life story that has taken him across continents, which he loves to tell visitors at Friday gatherings. In honor of the food festival, Ilya has joined forces with Niri Damski (Ilya plays a number of different instruments and Niri sings Shabbat melodies and Eretz Yisrael songs). Light refreshments, tea, coffee, cookies and dates will also be served in the family’s garden.
Time: First session at 11 a.m.; second session at 1:30 p.m. Price: NIS 50.
Location: 650 Ha’eshel Street, Luzit (extension)
Pre-registration required: 052-889-5906.
The next stop is Srigim Brewery, which has an inviting visitor center and eclectic beer garden, where people from all over the country and wide range of ages gather to enjoy refreshing beer. Srigim, founded by Ofer Ronen and Ohad Eilon – both former hi-techies – is one of Israel’s most successful boutique breweries. Both Ronen and Eilon had been brewing beer separately at home and only decided to join forces to open up the Srigim Brewery in 2011. Each of them focuses on different types of beer, but both of them have created award-winning beers. The first line of beer, called Emek Ha’ela, includes classic European-style beers, whereas the second line, called Ronen, is more similar to American-style boutique beers.
Although both of their lines were inspired by foreign beers, they built their brewery on a beautiful hill in the natural surroundings of Mateh Yehuda, next to Tel Azeka, where remains of beer that are 2,700 years old have been uncovered. Visitors to the brewery can enjoy a cold brew and tasty food at large, heavy tables (so that you can get to know other people sharing your table) situated in their lovely beer garden on Friday or Saturdays.
If you’d like to stretch your legs and get a little walk in before you continue on to your next scrumptious meal, I recommend scooting over to the B’nai Brit Cave in the Martyrs’ Forest. This National Park has six million trees in memory of the Jews who died in the Holocaust, and the floor of the forest is currently carpeted with colorful spring flowers.
There’s a lovely 500-meter circular trail in the forest that’s perfect for a quick nature outing. The trail starts and ends in the parking area near the B’nai Brit Cave, which is a karstic cave located near Nahal Kisalon, a seasonal stream that for the meantime is still flowing from the winter rains. The natural cave was expanded and paved with stones by KKL-JNF in order to create a communal gathering place to commemorate Jews who perished in the Holocaust. As you walk alongside the stream, you’ll see signs with names inscribed on them of Jewish communities that were destroyed in the Holocaust, as well as the Anne Frank Memorial, which was designed to recreate the room she hid in, and the chestnut tree she would look out upon lovingly.
Directions: From Highway 1, exit onto Route 38 at Sha’ar Hagai Intersection. Drive until you reach Eshtaol Intersection and then continue onto Road 395. When you see the sign for Flam Winery, turn left and drive until you reach the cave parking area.
Beth and Dan, a couple who moved to Moshav Kisalon from the Sharon area, decided to open their house (and their hearts) to travelers. Beth, an architect and jewelry designer, and Dan, who worked as a manager, serve hot soups and freshly baked bread in their home, which overlooks the pastoral moshav. On clear days, you can see all the way to Ashdod. The two of them love to tell stories about their lives and experiences – especially at their quaint Friday night dinners.
During the festival, Beth and Dan will be offering soups, breads, wine or beer, and guests can also browse through the assortment of jewelry handmade by Beth. If you want to spend more time in the area, you can stay in the couple’s lovely zimmer for NIS 380 a night, including breakfast.
Date: Saturdays during the festival.
Price: NIS 50 per person.
Location: Moshav Kisalon, house #55. Details: 054-466-6799.
The last visit of the day is an experience that combines nature and food.
Executive chef Nadav Malin, of Luiza Catering, and director of Slow Food Jerusalem, together with Avivit Juti Berkowitz, founder of the Professional Gathering Center and author of the book The Taste of Nature, will be conducting a unique gathering workshop, at the end of which they will enjoy a meal together.
Malin first came across Slow Food while working as a caterer and he became so interested in the concept that he completed a bachelor’s degree at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. He later became acquainted with Berkowitz, who after years of working in hi-tech began researching plants that grow in Israel.
During the festival, both of these amazing people can be found at Kaima Organic Farm, a farm that employs teenagers who do not attend regular public schools. At the Kaima Farm, residents grow a variety of different vegetables but also let wildflowers and plants grow there, too. Visitors can join Berkowitz for a tour around the farm, during which they’ll learn about herbs and their properties, or Malin for a cooking workshop. Afterward, everyone is welcome to join a slow food workshop, after which they will be invited to partake in a scrumptious and healthy meal. Date: Saturday, March 16, starting at 9:30.
Price: NIS 300 per person (includes tour, cooking workshop and 10-course meal + unlimited wine). Location: Kaima Organic Farm, Beit Zait.
KAIMA ORGANIC Farm in Beit Zait, employing teenagers who don’t attend standard public schools.
ENJOY FRESHLY baked bread with Beth and Dan in Moshav Kisalon. LEFT: TAKE part in a cooking workshop at the farm.
ILYA STRUMMING in his Moshav Luzit home – literally built from containers.
A FLOWER IN Martyrs’ Forest.