A tasty look at coexistence in Haifa

Haifa’s A-Sham Food Festival pairs Jewish and Arab chefs to offer a modern twist on traditional Arab recipes.

December 5, 2016 20:51
2 minute read.

Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the founder and creative director of A-Sham. (photo credit: ASAF AMBRAM)

Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the founder and creative director of A-Sham, the Arab Food Festival in downtown Haifa, looks excited as she goes over the Arab cuisine that will spotlight this year’s festival.

The 2014 Master Chef Israel winner’s eyes light up as she describes one dish, the kibbeh adas, a vegan kibbeh filled with herbs and pomegranate seeds that is common in Armenia and the Idlib region of Syria.

“We are taking dishes from the Levant region that are close to becoming extinct and giving them a modern twist by using the creative minds of Arab and Jewish chefs alike,” Atamna-Ismaeel explains.

“This year we have over 45 leading chefs from the Arab and Jewish communities taking part, with Arab eateries hosting Jewish chefs while Jewish owned establishments are hosting Arab chefs.”

The second annual three-day A-sham Arab Food Festival will offer visitors unique and varied tastings in downtown Haifa restaurants and pubs, culinary meet-ups, musical and dance performances, cookery and craft workshops, lectures and more from December 7-9, morning to night. Each participating venue will serve its own festival dish, priced from NIS 5 to NIS 35.

Despite the forest fires that ravaged parts of Haifa and forced 60,000 people to evacuate their homes just last month, Atamna-Ismaeel as well as Haifa mayor Yona Yahav believe it is critical that the Arab Food Festival, an initiative of the Downtown Haifa Administration, continues as planned.

“The message of this food festival is that it is not just about hummus. We live here in Haifa together – Jews and Arabs, in coexistence, which is astonishing to many people,” said Yahav to a group of journalists on Wednesday. “We are lucky that someone like Nof exists to bring people together in this unique way,” added Yahav, who describes himself as a foodie.

“The relations here are so strong that no one can harm them,” said Yahav, who added that he personally evacuated Haifa’s schools during the forest fires. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. The fires have cost us millions of dollars in damages and I am hoping that within a year, we will be able to rebuild the burned buildings and public areas lost.”

“I hope people will come from all over Israel as they did last year, to support us and enjoy this food festival.”

Last year, 70,000 people visited the Haifa festival with 25 Arab chefs taking part, including Muslim, Christian, Druze as well as Jewish chefs.

Next year, I look forward to seeing foodies visiting the festival from around the world,” says Atamna-Ismaeel.

In Arabic, A-sham refers to the geographic area known as the Levant, which stretches from Aleppo in the north through to the Negev in the south, including Lebanon and Trans-Jordan, and cuisine from this region features such key ingredients as greens, legumes, wheat, olive oil, dates, carobs, grapes, pomegranates and lemons.

“There are more vegan dishes than meat in Levant cuisine,” notes Atamna-Ishmaeel.

“During problematic times, food brings people together,” says Atamna- Ishmaeel, who before becoming as a chef worked as a microbiologist for 15 years. “There is no room in the kitchen for politics, only cooperation, collaboration and teamwork.”

For more info on the A-Sham Festival visit http://downtown.co.il.

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