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When I was growing up, my father used to take the family on trips around the country. We always felt that we knew about more places in Israel than the average Israeli. My father would even say to people who raved about their “amazing vacation” in Holland or Italy, “Yes, but have you been to the Gilboa? Spring is beautiful there.”
So when I heard about the food festival in the Yoav Yehuda region, I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t put my finger on exactly where that was. But a quick look at a map revealed that not only have I been there, but it’s only an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.
The area consists of, among other places, the Ella Valley, Kiryat Gat and a beautiful countryside that is abloom right now with anemones, cyclamens and almond trees.
The 10th Yoav Yehuda Food Festival is not your average food festival. It’s a unique celebration that fits its surroundings. You won’t find restaurants with special deals at this food fest. Rather, most meals are offered in people’s homes, creating a warm bonding experience between host and guest.
The festival’s main goals, conceived by festival organizer Efrat Eliasaf Gorfinkel, are to provide a venue for the enormous range of local cooks, to develop a means of livelihood for the area’s residents and to establish local restaurants, each offering delightful and varied styles of cooking.
The festival takes place in several areas and communities and allows for numerous culinary experiences, from ethnic foods served in people’s houses to walking with goats, to enjoying a cheese-based meal or purchasing homemade chocolates and olive oil.
For example, on Kibbutz Gat you can enjoy a meal and the wines of La Terra Promessa Winery. The winery is owned by Sandro Palegrini and Irit Eliyahu. They make superb wines and serve tasty Italian and Kuchin meals based on slow cooking.
Ella Beers is a local micro brewery that makes excellent beer and offers a tour and tastings.
You can also have Kurdish food on Moshav Agur or enjoy great sweets such as Hungarian dobos at Mimi’s in Givat Yeshayahu. You can take a trip to explore the beautiful flowers blossoming at Adulam Caves or shop at Roni’s quaint grocery store in Talmei Yehiel for Havat Naot cheeses. You can nosh on Aviv’s special leavened starter breads or enjoy the Indian food of the Garam Masala Women from Kiryat Gat.
“The festival’s products reflect the notion that the people and the environment in which they live combine to form a rich tapestry, while maintaining respect and mutual growth,” says Gorfinkel.
The festival also includes the many artists living in the area. As such, there is a wide range of special events that focus on the connection between food and art.
For example, Ella Artists’ Gallery on Moshav Yeshayahu hosts the Ethiopian Embroidery Cooperative. There you can enjoy not only the local artists’ works but also some traditional crafts and the bona ceremony – the traditional Ethiopian ceremony of preparing and drinking coffee. What’s more, many of the residents will be exhibiting local artists’ creations in their houses in addition to serving home-cooked meals.
According to Eliasaf Gorfinkel, the festival proves that food and rural tourism have combined to create a delightful tradition. “Tens of thousands of visitors attending the festival every year have made it into an opportunity to enjoy good food, fresh air, scenic beauty and tranquility for visitors and hosts alike.” The festival runs from February 18 to March 13. For more details, call (08) 850-2240 or visit touryoav.org.il