If there's anything Israelis love more than food, it's more food. Given that tried and tested axiom, it's not surprising that events like the forthcoming Taam Ha'ir food festival bring the crowds in - in droves.
Next week's gastronomic extravaganza (this Monday through Thursday at Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, from 6 p.m. to midnight each night) is expected to attract around 400,000 Israelis over the four days. The event organizer, Ofra Ganor, says there will be something for everyone regardless of their culinary credo. "If there's one thing I've found that characterizes Israelis' eating habits it's that they go for all kinds of food," she says. "We love to try out different dishes. I think we are adventurous eaters."
Next week's food and beverage spread includes all manner of cheeses, exotic fruits, homemade bread, spices, smoked meat, jams and spices. Meat is a mainstay of the event, but vegetarians will have plenty to salivate over too. "There will be lots of interesting stuff for vegetarians at the Taam Ha'ir," Ganor promises. "When you get there it's like walking into a wonderland of food. You get the feeling there really is no limit to what can be done with food."
Budding cooks looking for some culinary tips should also come away from the four-day event with a new arsenal of recipes to try out on family and friends. In between the mountains of food there will be cook books on sale to whet the appetite even further. Eating and looking at food can be thirsty work, so liquids from fruit juices to wines, cocktails and exotic beverages with an alcoholic punch will be on sale as well.
Ganor got the idea for Taam Ha'ir (meaning "Taste of the City") after visiting similar food events in the States, and says Israelis have lots to be proud of. "I saw events like this in Los Angeles and other places in the States. Taam Ha'ir certainly ranks with them, and maybe even be the biggest of its kind in the world." Considering its scale, it comes as no surprise that Taam Ha'ir has a positive effect on the local eatery scene. "I often see restaurants in Tel Aviv trying out new dishes the owners have come across at Taam Ha'ir," Ganor says. "That's got to be a positive thing for everyone - the restaurateurs and the customers." That influence has also affected the way many restaurants try to drum up business by offering inexpensive meals. "It's not that there weren't attractively priced business lunches and that sort of thing before Taam Ha'ir, but I think the phenomenon is far more widespread now," Ganor notes. "With the economic decline we've had here over the past few years that has been a popular trend."
Ganor says that, over the years, Taam Ha'ir has extended its appeal far beyond the confines of Tel Aviv. "I don't know if it's because of the development of train links, but we get a lot more people coming in from the periphery. We gets lots of young people, and not-so-young people, coming in from places like Rishon LeZion, Rehovot and the whole Sharon region. You can see the impact the event has on restaurant in those areas too."
Monday to Thursday; entrance is free, and dishes cost around NIS 20 to 25.