Food is always a highlight of any trip to Israel; the country has delicious locally created dishes and many international imports brought to the Holy Land by immigrants. Wine has been produced in Israel since Biblical times and the rich soil and varied terrains provide nourishing earth for the local vineyards. If you are lucky enough to be in Israel during one of these food and beverage festivals then you will have the opportunity to sample some of the country’s best cuisine.
Chefs for Peace Food Event
This festival was established by a group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish chefs who want to promote peace by bringing people together over a meal. Using food as a common language they hold events throughout the country and sometimes internationally. At these events you can taste dishes prepared by the chefs and help support their worthy cause. The aim of the Chefs for Peace is to promote understanding and coexistence between the different cultures in the region and hopefully reduce conflict. The chefs see food as the universal means of encountering new cultures. In the past Chefs for Peace events have been held in many countries like Norway, Canada, Italy and most often in Israel. Check out their list of upcoming events on the Chefs for Peace website.
So French, So Good, February
For the fourth year running So French, So Good is putting the spotlight on French cuisine with the help of 28 restaurants and 4 bakeries from around the country. This culinary festival is presented by Israeli chefs and bakeries in collaboration with French chefs to create French/Israeli fusion dishes. The festival is run by the French Embassy in Israel and is held at the beginning of February (February 8-10, 2016). For the 2016 festival one of the participants was Chef Laurent Azoulay, a Michelin-star chef from L’Ekrin restaurant in Meribel, ski resort in the French Alps who joined Meir Adoni of the BlueSky restaurant and judge on one of Israel’s cooking reality shows. Other chefs who have joined together for the festival are Chef Michel Sarran (Michelin rated) from Toulouse who worked together with Israeli Chef Moran Yanai who has his restaurant in Hotel Montefiore. By pairing up French chefs with Israeli chefs many amazing new creations are produced. The ideas and culinary customs of the French and Israeli culture come together to create a unique food. In the 2016 festival chefs came from Acre, Tiberias, Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv. While the international side of the equation was filled in by chefs like Ridha Khadher of the Au Paradis du Gourmand in Paris, Guillaume Gomez, head chef of the Presidential Palace Elysee and Stephane Leger of Archange restaurant in Saint Raphael. The festival will be held in restaurants across the country where the specially created menus will be on offer. In addition to the French culinary delights there are also screenings of food-related films at the French Institute in Tel Aviv, cookery classes at the Sheraton Tel Aviv and French alcohol tasting.
Shokoland Chocolate Festival, February
Tel Aviv’s chocolate festival is held for three days at the historic Old Station complex – HaTachana. The country’s top chocolatiers come together to present a huge range of chocolates At the festival there are also cooking demonstrations, chocolate making demonstrations, chocolate displays, chocolate tastings, chocolate ice-creams, chocolate sculptures, chocolate fondue and even chocolate beer. The countries chocolate boutique stores will treating you to delicious chocolate in all shapes, flavors and colors.
Diner en Blanc, June
The concept behind this culinary event is to bring people together across a table to share a meal. The dinner is held the night before Tel Aviv’s famous Tel Aviv White Nights when the city’s restaurants, clubs and some stores stay open until the early hours of the morning. 2016 will be the 3rd annual Diner en Blanc event and about 500 people will take part. The location of this pop-up event is only announced an hour before the dinner to people who have previously registered online. Participants need to bring their own white table, white chairs and picnic basket full of delicious food. Dinner in White is an elegant and sophisticated event held in up to 60 locations around the world. The whole event is decorated in white with white table cloths, decorations and balloons. The participants are asked to attend wearing only white clothes. While eating their dinner there is live entertainment and dancing. The event is quiet exclusive with “friends bring friends” so you can’t really get an invitation unless you know someone who is already involved. There are also quite a lot of rules about etiquette and decorum at the event.
Taste of Tel Aviv Food Festival, June
Tel Aviv has literally thousands of restaurants from gourmet fine dining establishments to hole-in-the-wall humus places. You won’t be able to sample all that the city’s restaurants have to offer but you can do pretty well if you attend this festival held in the spring. Some of Israel’s most renowned chefs participate as well as many restaurants from the city. Each restaurant sets up a stall in the festival and offers a selection of food from their menu all at a drastically reduced price. The idea is to bring gourmet food to the general public at affordable prices. The festival is the largest food festival in the country and is visited by over a million people each year (making a profit of over a million dollars). Restaurants offer a tasting menu for a set discount price. Dates for the next festival have yet to be announced but it is usually held in Ganei Yehoshua (HaYarkon Park), Tel Aviv.
Herzliya Marina Beer Festival, July
The Herzliya marina is a great place to visit even if you miss the festival; a large up-market mall faces the marina where yachts are docked along the edge of a wide expansive deck and plaza. This is where the festival is held, out in the open on long summer nights. The festival presents a wide variety of beers as well as a beer-brewing competition. While sipping beer and enjoying the sea breeze visitors are entertained by live performances by top Israeli artists.
Chef, Eat! July
Unlike other food festivals this one does not have one location or even one date; it is held in several restaurants across Jerusalem a number of times a year. Participating restaurants offer a two course meal at a discount price. Guests get a starter and main course for under 100ILS plus they can add a few extra shekels for dessert.
Jerusalem Wine Festival, August
2016 was the 13th year for this annual festival. It is Israel’s largest wine festival and features wine tastings, food stalls, workshops and live musical performances. The Israel Museum hosts this beverage event which feels a lot more cultural because of its surroundings than other alcohol festivals do. The event is held in the grounds of the museum where there are several sculptures and works of art. The festival celebrates Israeli wines and snacks are on offer while live music plays in the background. Approximately 60 Israeli wineries are represented offering over 100 different types of wine. In 2016 20,000 people are expected to attend. At the festival you can buy bottles of the Israeli wines to take home.
Jerusalem Beer Festival, August
This is perhaps the biggest and most important annual beer event in Israel. Over the course of two days the festival is open from sundown until midnight and sees about 20,000 guests. 2016 will be the 11th year for the annual festival. In the past it has been held in the historic Old Train Station complex and at Gan HaAtzmut. At the event Israeli breweries set up stalls offering a taste of their brew. There are over 150 beers offered each year from large and micro-breweries including international labels. You have the opportunity to sample beer from Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Japan and more. There are even some unusual beers like banana infused beer. In addition to the beer guests will be entertained by live musical performances and the beer is accompanied by a great selection of food. There will also be beer making demonstrations and an arts and craft market. In 2015 tickets cost 40ILS.
Around the World in Rishon LeZion, August
The world food fair (Yarid Colinari, Ta’am Olami) offers a taste of cuisine from countries around the globe and entrance is free. The festival is held in the 140 dunam Shikma Park along the avenue of palm trees and on the lawns of the park. Ten zones of the world are created featuring large models of the country’s landmarks; the country or region’s traditional foods as well as other cultural elements like national costume, traditional folk dancing and the local music. On the lawns of the park will be a Greek-style tavern selling beers, cocktails and wine from around the world. In the same area here will be a special section for cheeses from around the world and those entering the area where alcohol is sold will have to show ID to prove they are over 18. In the past the countries represented were America, France, Italy, Lebanon, China, Morocco, Greece, Russia and India.
The Kosher Taste of the City, August
Israeli cuisine faces the unique challenge of contending with kosher law – no mixing of meat and milk; no seafood; no fish without scales and fins; meat must be from specific animals, slaughtered in a specific manner and prepared in a specific way. This is one of the rare festivals where kosher-observant Jews can enjoy the food on offer. The event is held on the Hof Argmon promenade in Natanya where kosher restaurants present their dishes for a small price (usually under 80ILS). Kitchenware is sold at the festival and there are a number of activities including kid’s entertainment and life musical performances. The festival lasts 10 days and about 50 kosher gourmet restaurants participate.
Taste of the Galilee Food Festival, September/October
This annual event is held in the Galilee region of northern Israel at Montfort Lake Park and select locations in the region usually during the Sukkot holidays. The festival features music, workshops, shows, children’s activities and foods produced and grown in the Galilee region. Cafes, restaurants and kibbutzim will be participating and presenting themed menus. The festival highlights the culinary world of northern Israel, the rich farm produce and cottage industry food products as well as the Galilee’s famous wines. Entrance is free to Montfort Lake Park where you can relax on the lawns between meals, rent pedal boats on the lake and enjoy the live performances in the evening. The festival opens in the park at noon and continues until sundown when the shows begin.
Taybeh Oktoberfest, October
Taybeh is a small Christian village in Palestine’s West Bank surrounded by the majority Muslim communities. Although the Muslim majority prohibits alcohol for religious reasons the Christians of Taybeh have managed to keep one of the oldest trades in the Holy Land alive. Here the municipality has collaborated with the local brewery since 2005 in holding the West Banks only beer festival. The festival has gone from strength to strength and draws in approximately 16,000 visitors each year for the two day festival. The event boosts the local economy and has put the small village of Taybeh on the international map. The Taybeh Brewing Company’s beer is drunk in countries around the world and they have recently added wine to their product list. The wine is called “Nadim” and is produced in the company’s new winery which is beneath a boutique hotel built specifically to accommodate visitors to the brewery, winery and festival.
Visiting the festival supports local businesses and helps to bring stability to this area of the country where life always seems to be in flux. The festival is usually held on the first Saturday and Sunday of October but exact dates for 2016 have not yet been announced. At the festival local music groups perform as well as international guest artists. Performances are in several venues and there are also local arts and crafts on sale as well as village tours, a small museum, a Taybeh beer tour and exhibitions held at the Society for the Preservation of Christian Heritage Historical Center of Taybeh. At past festivals there have been street hockey games, Henna body painting, prayer services in the three local churches, folklore dancing performances, stand-up comedy performances, a children’s program, karate demonstrations and a lottery. You can also buy local products like olive oil and honey. The festival helps to promote a different side of Palestine to that perceived on the international news.
A-Sham, Arab Food Festival of Haifa, December
2016 was the first year for Israel’s Arab Food Festival. The festival looks to become an annual event and features 25 chefs, Jewish, Christian and Muslim from across the country. Arabic delicacies are created by chefs of all faiths in Israel, there are no borders or political conflict when it comes to Israel’s culinary community. Haifa is the perfect city to host this festival as citizens of all faiths share the city and mostly live in harmony side-by-side. The Holiday of Holidays is an annual event when Hanukah, Christmas and Eid al-Fitr are celebrated together by events held throughout the city. The Arab Food Festival is now a part of the annual Holiday of Holidays events. The festival was the idea of Arab Israeli chef Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the winner of Israel’s 2014 reality show Master Chef (and also a microbiologist). The festival highlights traditional Arabic cuisine which is fast disappearing from the local culinary landscape. The Levantine kitchen is presented in a number of variations to show the cultural context of these dishes and the traditional lifestyles. Many of the traditional Arabic dishes are very labor intensive and many are associated with specific events like religious festivals, weddings and celebrating a new born. Among the traditional Arabic foods on offer there is hilbe, commonly eaten by Yemeni Jews and made out of fenugreek seeds; habisa, a black and white dessert sweetened with carob juice and haroumanieh, eggplant and green lentils prepared in pomegranate juice. Those wanting to enjoy the amazing Arabic foods on offer only need to pay 35ILS (2015 price); you then receive a map of 25 restaurants offering the festival dishes and you can set off to taste them at the various eateries. There are a number of additional festival events including a workshop given by Christian Orthodox Arab women of how to prepare traditional Christmas cookies; tastings of Galilee olive oil, honey, almonds and carob syrup and panel discussions.