The first ever Arab Food Festival kicks off in Haifa!

Arabic food festivalThe first ever Arab Food Festival will happen in Downtown Haifa, as part of the annual Holiday of Holidays Festival!

Spread over four days (December 8-11, 2015), A-sham, the official name of the Arab Food Festival, will take place within the framework of the Festival of Festivals, and celebrates the world of Arab cuisine (much of which features very largely in our list of the best of Israeli food), showcasing dishes which are fast disappearing from the local culinary landscape.

The word A-sham in Arabic refers to the geographic area known as the Levant, with its famous Arab cuisine, which stretches from Aleppo in the north through to the Negev in the south, in Lebanon and Trans-Jordan. The festival will focus on the interesting cultural context of the Levantine kitchen, looking at culinary interpretations of special life-style moments – for example cookies made with hilbe (fenugreek seeds) for the nursing mother to improve the quality of her milk.

Together, the chefs will bring back tastes that are slowly disappearing for reasons that include being too labor-intensive – such as habisa, a black and white pudding sweetened with carob juice that takes hours to prepare – and being associated with “poor” cuisine – such as haroumanieh, green lentils cooked with eggplant in pomegranate juice.

During the four-day festival, 25 selected chefs from around Israel will each cooperate with a downtown Haifa restaurant, creating at least one “festival dish” from the Levantine kitchen. The festival dish will cost no more than 35 shekels, and a map detailing all 25 restaurants, chefs and dishes will be available to festival-goers, allowing them to taste their way through the festival.

Local restaurants hosting the chefs in downtown Haifa include Jack VeHa’afunim, Angus, Jacko Seafood, Jotti, Dovrin 7, The Diner, Ha’Ogen pub, Ha’namal 24, HaMa’agan, the Pint Pub, Venya Bistro, Talpiot Hamara, Kula, Libira, Lahza, Ma’ayan Habira, Noventa Nova, Sangria, St. Etienne, Café Palmer, Hummus Fadi, Hummus Faraj, Café Sammy, Star restaurant, Kalman’s, Kielser’s, Spira bakery shop and Strudel cafe.

Other events to catch at the festival include:

  • A collective of Christian Orthodox Arab women from the village of Rameh near Karmiel will give workshops (every hour on the hour) on baking traditional cookies in advance of Christmas. All proceeds from the sale of the cookies go to needy families and student grants.
  • A pop-up shop for Sindyanna of Galilee, the leading fair trade association in Israel led by women seeking social change, will sell and offer tastings of award-winning olive oil, za’atar (hyssop), honey, almonds, carob syrup etc.
  • Panels and discussions (in Hebrew and Arabic) on issues relating to the Arab kitchen, open free of charge to the general public. These include, among others:
    • The Humus Wars, moderated by Israeli food journalist Ronit Vered and raising questions such as food identity, origins of humus, relating to the other via the culinary prism (8.12.15, 19:30);
    • The Role of the Woman in the Arab Kitchen, moderated by Arab Women in the Center founder Samah Saleimeh Ajbarieh, which will examine how the glory of food, a central component in Arab culture that is mainly prepared by women, has been handed over to the men (9.12.15, 19:30)
    • The New Arab Kitchen , moderated by Israeli journalists Hila Alpert looking at whether the implementation of new techniques and technologies threaten traditional Arab cuisine (10.12.15, 19:30);
  • Musical performances each evening, free to the public, by Arab musicians in downtown bars, with Israeli musician Dudu Tassa hosting Haifa-born Muslim Arab singer Nasreen Qadri in the closing event on Friday, 11 December.

The festival will be open from 8-10 December, 13:00 – 22:00 and on 11 December from 10:00 to 15:00.

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