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What has 800 thousand legs and enjoys food and drink? Tel Aviv's Ta'am Ha'ir festival, the country's largest annual gastronomical event, which will be held at the city's Exhibition Grounds over four nights starting Monday.
The format of Ta'am Ha'ir has not changed much over the past few years - it has just grown larger. With major corporate sponsorships, the event has swelled in size to last year's 400,000 visitors over three days - making it the second largest food festival in the world after Taste of Chicago, held annually at the end of June.
The inspiration for the Tel Aviv event came from Los Angeles, says Ofra Ganor, who conceived the idea of an Israeli food festival while her and her husband Avi lived in the US in the mid-1970s. Ganor, who owns the Manta Ray seafood restaurant located on the Alma Beach just before Jaffa, brought the idea to The Ha'Ir newspaper before the first Gulf War, but sponsorship was not in the cards back then, the restaurateur explains. Eventually the event was held for the first couple years on Ha'arba'ah Street, just near the Cinematheque and the restaurant row where some of the city's best eateries are located. The event had a real urban flair to it, Ganor recounts, though it attracted so many people from the start that it over-congested the area, forcing the move to Yarkon Park, conveniently located near the Tel Aviv University train station.
Participants this year include some of the best eateries in Tel Aviv: Nanuchka, Mina Tomei, Tandoori, Sakura and Kimel, to name just a very few.
Best of all, prices for the portions are set at only NIS 15-20 each, so that festival-givers can sample a variety of these establishments, which represent a wide range of culinary traditions.
Ta'am Ha'ir has also been a platform for new and exotic foodstuffs being introduced to the Israeli palette - from wine and beer to cheese and fresh herbs and also boutique chocolates and jams, olive oil, organics and specialty books. After all, this is the venue where Erez Komarovsky first introduced his gourmet breads preceding his successful chain of Lehem Erez.
Ta'am Ha'ir begins each night, from May 28 through 31, at 8 p.m. and continues past midnight. Located at Yarkon Park's Exhibition Grounds, admission is free. It's best to arrive via public transportation or bike due to the high volume of traffic caused by the sheer magnitude of the event.