Friday, June 23, 2017

A Day of Deliciousness and Delights in Haifa Israel

My recent trip to Israel was an incredible edible experience. After a TBEX conference in Jerusalem and a few days exploring that magical city, nine of us headed north on a press trip on a four-day culinary tour of Northern Israel. 

From our base in Haifa at the cushy Dan Carmel Hotel, we explored the Western Galilee, Haifa, Nazareth and the Carmel region.

The Dan Carmel Hotel, our hosts on our trip up north is perfectly situated on a hill overlooking the city and one of the most famous gardens in the world.

Most of their swanky rooms have balconies to the back of the hotel overlooking the Port of Haifa. 

Snapchatress/Blogger Vicki Winters points the way

The second day of our Northern Culinary Tour in Israel scheduled a day in the city of Haifa that started with a four-hour walking food tour of the city. Nothing like jumping in with both feet. And our mouths.

Lovely foodie, US expat Jessica Halfin, and Haifa Street Food Tours owner greeted us as we convened at our first stop,  the Shany Bakery.  Jessica put together a fantastic and interesting itinerary showcasing local eateries to visit. As we settled in at an outdoor table pre-set for us at the bakery, little did we know what delicious surprises were in store for us.

Jessica greeted with the regional drink treat of the region, a Limonana, a delicious blend of fresh lemons and local spearmint in a refreshing and tasty slushy form. Once I found the recipe online, I swore it would be my go-to drink of this summer. 

The Shany Bakery is one of the oldest family-owned bakeries in Haifa. Started in 1964 by an Austrian immigrant, Shany serves Viennese and European style pastries.

Stepping inside the place felt like shopping in a bakery in Austria or Germany.

While perusing the impressive display of bread and pastries, we spent some time taking pictures of the beautiful goods. 

Shortly after we sat down, the plates of pastry started flying out of the place in our direction. We each were served a plate with Poppyseed cake, Cheesecake and chocolate rugelach. Three plates shared between the nine of us would have been sufficient. We were off to an impressive start. My favorite was the rugelach. 

The owner came out to answer some of our questions. Most of our queries were presented while our mouths were full. 

We also sampled the house special, Savarin, a
lso known as a Baba au rhumThis is a brioche that is baked until dry, then soaked in warm rum syrup, and topped with whipped cream. Yum is an understatement. 

After we said our goodbyes at Shany, we were off to Turkey. Well, in the culinary sense.

Borekas Bachar HaAgala is an eatery that migrated to a storefront from a street food cart. 

The signature dish here is the borekas, a variety of handcrafted savory pastries filled with a variety of goat cheese, salty Bulgarian cheese, mushrooms, and spinach.

The borekas are served with roasted eggs, pickles, olives with preserved lemon and zaatar spice.

So, of course, we had to taste each variety. Although the cheese was my favorite, all of them were just scrumptious.

Jessica then handed out what looked like juice pouches for kids. These were so not for kids. 

She explained the local company who made this Arnavim, a grape flavored arak purposely packed the drink to look like a kid's punch. I tasted the sample and packed my pouch up for future consumption.

It was time for a walk. We walked across the city while Jessica pointed out some interesting sites, some of the city's street art and shared a bit of the Haifa's history.

Our next stop was a fruit and vegetable market, Gan HaMelech- L’Pri V’Yerek in Paris Square. 

This deceptively unassuming little corner store housed a cornucopia of locally grown treasures, an Aladdin's cave of culinary delights. 

We were set ourselves loose in the place with our cameras while Jessica shopped on our behalf.

We were all mesmerized by the quality, colors, and varieties of the exotic edible wares on display. It was hard to tear us away from taking pictures.

I was intrigued by the repurposing of plastic bottles to sell locally produced olive oil.

Jessica had purchased a variety of local fruits, vegetables, and herbs for us to try.  We gathered outside in the square as she passed around selections of the following to sample: Mandarin oranges, strawberries, persimmon Fresh green almonds, loquat, yellow cherry tomatoes, Mediterranean spearmint, fresh zaatar, and lavender

As we nibbled and shared, Jessica explained what each of the items was, where it came from and how it is used in local cuisine. 

We all enjoyed this tasting and could have hung out in Paris Square longer but there were several places to visit and a lot more food to consume before the day was over.

We bravely forged on to our next stop, Meir’s Ptiliot.

Upon entering, we were greeted by large pans of a large selection of freshly cooking dishes greet customers. 

We were shown to our beautifully set table in this bright, cheerful establishment. Bonus: The table pattern was a perfect background for food photography.

Immediately the plates of food started to arrive.

The meatballs were terrific. We tasted both the chicken and beef varieties.

Beef dumplings, rice, green beans, tahini sauce, and assorted salads soon followed.

Jessica explained the owner is half Indian, half Romanian, and married into a Moroccan family. The restaurant showcases the Moroccan grandmother's recipes, but also incorporate food from other ethnic groups and nationalities that found in Israel. 

The food isn't heavy on spices, as they want everyone who eats there to feel at home, no matter what their background, as if they are entering their grandmother's kitchen on Shabbat.

The word "ptiliot" refers to the wick used in the kerosene oil that fuels the slow cookers.We capped our pleasant stay with these homemade cookies and home brewed chamomile tea.

Here's a thought. We had been at it for hours and hadn't had a bite of hummus so far that day.
Unheard of in Israel. Jessica soon remedied that. She herded us over to  Hummus Eliyahu.

The place and a fun hippie vibe. The friendly staff welcomed us warmly. From an open kitchen and with ready smiles they dished up the goods for us to taste. 

What it's like for your restaurant to be mobbed by food bloggers.

The snapchatress/blogger Vicki Winters looks like she is chilling, but don't let her fool you. She's always working those snapchat glasses.

We devoured delicious fresh made hummus with cooked chickpeas on the side, thick tasty tahini sauce, tasty mashed broad beans and salty black olives.

 I smooshed everything together and ate it with delicious warm pita bread. 

Were we done? Not yet. Three more places to visit. The only thing that saved us was walking all over town in between eatery visits.

Next stop was in Wadi Nisnas, the Arab quarter of the city. 

Large and airy with a generous seating area, Bakery Of the East serves up a fantastic array of traditional Arab and regional sweets.

After setting us loose to photograph the bakery's gorgeous assortment of goods, it was time to sample them.

We were offered assorted baklava, knafe, a sweet shredded wheat pastry with goat cheese and hHalva.

After consuming copious amounts of sweets, we thought we were done. 

What? We forgot the falafel. You know, the whole "When in Israel..." 

One again we took to the streets of Haifa to hike over to Falafel HaWadi Mishel.

Jessica explained this place specialized in green falafel made with the addition of parsley and cilantro making it extra tasty.

The super friendly staff put together generous plates for our group. 

In addition to the green falafel with tahini, we ate pickled baby eggplant and a variety of salads. 

At this point, I think we all needed a nap but it was time for a drink to cap the tour.

With bursting bellies, we trudged down to the port area to  Libira Brewpub, a local beer hall. 

Upon entering, we led past the beer vats and a wall mural with graphics depicting the fantasy animal logos of each of the brewery's offering.

The chic cavernous space had a large bar and plenty of seating.

Once seated, the owner joined us and explained the properties of each beer contained in the samplers they brought to the table. 

The samplers held Smoked Stout, Bitter Ale, Belgium Ale, Double Pils, and Weissbier. As we sipped away, I discovered my favorite of the bunch was the smoked stout. It was a like a meal in a glass. Not that I needed another meal. Ever.

Even though I was curious about their menu, Thank God no one put snacks on the table. I probably would have keeled over.

It was time for a break from food. Our perfect Haifa food ambassador, Jessica said goodbye and passed us over to the dynamic Vered Pashut from With Us for a private guided tour to some of the highlights of Haifa.  

Our first stop was a walk (or waddle at this point) over to the small German Colony section of Haifa.  As we explored the area, Vered explained the history and pointed out the architecture of the

Founded and developed by the German Templars, this German Protestant colony was an affluent presence in the city through two world wars.  During WWII, over 30% of the German were card-carrying members of the Nazi party flying the party's flag from their houses.

The Germans were eventually deported, leaving behind their stately homes that line the wide Ben-Gurion Boulevard that leads down to the port. 

This is not a cat, it's a Templar napkin which will be explained in a future post. 

Many of the homes have been restored to lively restaurants and boutique hotels. 

On the upper end of the street are the stunning Baha'i Gardens. We walked through the German Colony to the lower part of the gardens.

The gardens are comprised of 19 terraces. The inner section is open from 9 am until 12 pm. There are walking tours that a free of charge. 

We were too late to visit the inner gardens so we explored the lower part, then we bussed up to the top part (right below the Dan Carmel Hotel) which offered spectacular views of not only the gardens but also the Port of Haifa. 

We spent a good deal of time exploring and photographing the accessible parts of the marvelous Baha'i Gardens.

It was time for happy hour. Instead of a glass of wine at a cafe, why not take us to a whole dang winery for a tasting?

Vortman Winery, a boutique establishment was simply put,  an unexpected delight. Location. Location. Location. 

We arrived at a beautiful villa nestled into a mountain with stunning views of the water. This intimate setting showcased the winery's finest offerings. 

A small trio was playing music and a few patrons were gathered on the villa's patio, enjoying the incredible view and glasses of wine. It was like being a guest in a private home. 

The owner, Hai Vortman, poured us taste after taste of his award-winning offerings hand made from grapes grown in the Mount Carmel region. 

A reformed corporate warrior, Hai decided to leave his job and follow his passion for growing grapes and producing wine. Lucky for us.

We had no idea why but we were all feeling a bit peckish so we indulged in the delectable local cheese, olive oil and bread spread out before us. 

I would have loved to hang out and watch the sun go down from Hai's lovely terrace but it was Friday in Israel and we joined the throngs of people in the ritual rushing to get home by sundown. We had a Shabbat dinner to get to at the hotel. 

The Dan Carmel not only put out an incredible feast for Shabbat, the hotel contain a synagogue to attend services before eating. 

Our group showered and dressed and reconvened at a table in the hotel's dining room. After Vick Winters recited the Shabbat blessing over challah, we ate and chatted about the amazing day we had in Haifa. Many of us can't wait to return.  

Our Group in Haifa
Front from left to right: Vera, Vicki, Laura, Ajay
Middle From left to right: Veronika, yours truly, Sher, Leslie
Back from left to right: Andrew, TomKerwin
I grow fresh spearmint in my garden. I was inspired to and made sure to plant additional amount this year. When I whip up a limonana, the first sip brings me back to my fantastic trip to Israel. Especially to the fabulous food in the city of Haifa and the wonderful people we met there who are so passionate about the city, it's history and culinary scene. 

1 comment:

  1. Yum yum yum. I can't wait to try the limonade. Thanks for the great share :-)


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