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This Monday, as the 12th annual Ta'am Ha'ir food festival hits the streets of Tel Aviv, Park Hayarkon will transform into a showcase for the tastes, smells and restaurant trends of the year. With 19 participating restaurants from all over the country and half a million visitors expected, the 2007 festival promises to be bigger, tastier and in many ways, all new.
Ta'am Ha'ir (literally "the taste of the city") is the largest event held in the country each year, explains Liat Shemer, vice president of development for Ha'ir newspaper, which chairs the event. "It's the only event in Israel that survived all of the terrorist attacks and [problems of recent years], growing from a very small food market on Arba'at Street in Tel Aviv to one of the country's biggest celebrations."
Together with samplings from leading restaurants across the country, the event will house 100 food stands, offering everything from fresh cheeses and exotic fruits to eastern spices, smoked meats, marmalades, crepes, health conscious foods and more. A number of stalls will also be devoted specifically to beverage displays - natural juices, fancy cocktails, wine and coffee - a section of the festival that has been expanding in recent years.
With every restaurant selling dishes at a fixed NIS 15-20 per course, "you can come and enjoy a full five course meal for under NIS 100," Shemer remarks, emphasizing that some of the contributing restaurants are among the finest and most expensive in the country. Ta'am Ha'ir offers an opportunity to taste these restaurants' specialties without worrying about an expensive bill afterwards.
Participating restaurants include Odeon, Sakura, Manta Ray, Poyke, Minna Tomei, the White Hall Steak House and others, the majority of which are based in or around Tel Aviv.
Don Etsiony, manager of Nanuchka, a Georgian restaurant in Tel Aviv that will be appearing at Ta'am Ha'ir for the first time, says that he is looking forward to the festival as a genuinely good time. "We're going because we want to have fun," he insists. "We want people to get to know Georgian food and enjoy it. Its flavors are generally very hard and strong for Israelis, so we try to make our food softer by mixing it with Israeli flavors." Bringing four of the restaurant's most popular and traditional dishes to the festival, including chimkali beef and goose stuffed dumplings, and pilaf, a dish comprised of rice, lamb, eggplant, cucumber, onion and cinnamon, Nanuchka plans to offer the public a taste of the Israeli Georgian blend that makes the restaurant unique.
Even with all of the focus on selling food at Ta'am Ha'ir, though, Etsiony continues, "They call it a festival, not a shuk."
"It's about the fun," Shemer agrees, explaining that at night the festival transforms into a kind of dance party with Galgalatz broadcasting live from the center of the event. A series of deejays, games and contests will also make Ta'am Ha'ir more than just a display of fine food.
This year's festival will introduce a new play area with toys and activities, sponsored by Discount Bank, to keep children occupied and parents free to enjoy the smells and sounds of the celebration. According to Shemer, one of the biggest problems in previous years was that the festival was overcrowded. With about 100,000 visitors on each of its four nights, it has often been difficult for families with small children to maneuver around.
A new cook-off competition, sponsored by Osem, will be another highlight of this year's festival. Having selected three contestants from across the country, the event will award a large prize to the person whose dish sells the most over the four days.
With more than NIS 4m. invested in this year's event, "it's going to be a huge celebration," Shemer insists. "Come for an evening of fine food. Have a couple of drinks, but mainly come for the fun."
The 2007 Ta'am Ha'ir Food Festival will take place at Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv, Monday May 28 - Thursday, May 31 from 6p.m. until after midnight. Entry is free of charge.