There is so much to see and do in Israel. Within Israel, the most Northern section is called the Galilee. It is the wettest and coolest area of this desert country and thus, is Israel’s breadbasket. Where there’s a breadbasket, there’s usually good food and the Galilee is no exception. There is a fantastic variety of activities, ranging from the traditional to the modern. Coupled with great views and interesting people, its makes for a fascinating few days.
1. Goat and Sheep Milk Cheeses
There are a number of good quality producers in the Galilee, including Alto, at kibbutz Shomrat, Ein Camonim at the farm of the same name on route 85, Halav Im Ha’ruach at Yodfat, to name but a few. The one I would recommend most, however, is Machlavat HaNoked (The Rancher’s Dairy), at Gilon, just off route 85. Dannay Barzilay will give you a tour of the dairy and will explain how he makes the different cheeses. He specializes in hard mature cheeses and ripened cheeses. When you finish the tour you sit in the visitors centre, or if the weather is good, outside on the covered porch, overlooking fantastic views of Haifa bay and the Zvulun Valley whilst Rinat, Danny’s daughter fix’s you up with a very generous tasting platter.
I have to be careful here. It’s been said that Israel is a place where if you have 5 people, you have 6 opinions. This is abundantly evident when discussing the most authentic of Galilean dishes. A list of great hummus places will always include; Hamudi in “new” Akko, Sa’id, Souhella and Issa in the old city of Akko. Abu Adam in Kfar Yassif, Malachim in Dir-el-Assad, Abu Rami in Rameh and Hahumissia in Carmiel. It’s almost always made fresh to order, or 5 minutes before your order. No self respecting hummus joint makes hummus more than 5 minutes before it is to be consumed. Thus it is often served warm. If you find yourself in a hummus restaurant that is not busy and has their humus spread ready and standing around, make a polite excuse and find somewhere else. And if you think that it’s just chick-pea spread and they’re all the same, think again. Some are smooth and pasty, others course and chunky. They can be (relatively) light, or sit heavy in your stomach like concrete.
How much and what proportions of tehina, garlic and lemon will affect the end result. I would love to supply a recipe, but they are closely guarded secrets. My favourite? Issa in Akko is a whole in the wall, with 4 ricketty tables, but the humus is perfect. (Be warned: Humus restaurants serve only humus, in about 4 or 6 variations. French fries and a finely chopped fresh vegetable salad can usually be ordered as well. They also open early and close when they’ve finished the day’s produce, usually by mid afternoon.)
3. Wine Tasting
Over the past 10 years the Israeli wine industry has developed in leaps and bounds and produces wines of the highest qualities. There are a few wine growing areas in this small country and the Galilee is one of them. What makes a wine tour of the Galilee so interesting is the variety of growers in the area. You will find an organic winery at Lotem, where classical music is played 24 hours a day in the barrel room. Or Haganuz is an ultra-orthodox co-operative settlement producing quality wines. Three different producers make pomegranate dry wine. In The Arab village of Jish you will find Jascala and in the village of Kfar Yassif, Ashkar winery. Galil mountain winery and Dalton are relatively large producers, whilst Stern at Tuval and Luria at Kerem ben Zimra are the pick of the many boutique wineries.
4. Learn to cook authentic Galilean Arab food
Galileat runs half day cooking workshops in the homes of local Arabs in a variety of villages throughout the Galilee. The opportunity to meet and cook with a local Galilean Arab, in their home affords the participant an opportunity to not just learn about local food, but also about local customs and ways of life. The menu changes according to the season and to what’s available at market. Typically, you will learn to make vegetables and vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice, sinye (lamb kebabs cooked in tehina), stuffed pastries, frikkeh (smoked green wheat) and more. During the olive picking season in November, Galileat runs olive picking and pressing tours and late winter, wild greens foraging tours and cooking workshops.
5. Uri Buri
The Galilee has many restaurants dotted throughout its 600 square miles, ranging from local eateries to fine dining establishments and everything in between. There is one restaurant, however, that stands above the rest, and has done so for over 20 years. That is Uri Buri in Akko. Named after owner-chef Uri Yermias, it is regarded as amongst Israel’s top ten restaurants. It serves only the freshest, local seafood, bought daily from the local market, in a simple, rustic surrounding. Recommended firsts include the raw shrimps in soy sauce, white-fish ceviche and coconut milk infused seafood soup. My favorite is sea bream in yogurt and lemon, or crab meat cooked in cream and seaweed. The waiter will also recommend the catch of the day, but the best idea is to have an open-ended degustation menu. You will be served half portions until you’ve had enough. That way you get to taste a bit of everything.
Have you done something interesting in the galilee?
Paul is a local food expert who turned that knowledge into a business, operating culinary workshops and culinary tours in the Galilee. You can find out more about his activities at his website or his Facebook page.