The light pink flowers are blossoming on almond trees everywhere, and Israelis are hitting the road. But if you ask them to name something frustrating about vacationing around the country, many will say, “Finding places to have a quality meal.”
Good news. In an effort to help Israelis and tourists find good local eateries, the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council is holding its 23rd annual Rural Food Festival. Residents are preparing to open their homes and restaurants from March 9 through April 1, with a number of new amateur chefs joining the festivities, including those specializing in fermentation and vegan cuisine. This is a great way to experience a variety of international foods, with guided taste tours every Friday during the festival.
Kerem Barak Winery, Moshav Bekoa
Before we get into the details about the great food that can be enjoyed at the festival, it should be noted that the Mateh Yehuda Region is home to some of the country’s best wineries. One of the finest wineries in the region is Kerem Barak, which is located in Moshav Bekoa.
Kerem Barak, which produces 20,000 bottles a year, was established by Yossi and Yael Rosenberg in 2011. It was named in memory of their oldest son, Barak, who died when he was 18 years old. Yossi, who is the winemaker, began his romance with wine in 2003 when he and Yael began looking for a hobby they could spend time on together. Over the years, they became more and more successful, and Yossi took a number of professional winemaking courses, including at Tel-Hai College.
Then, in 2011, the Rosenbergs decided to turn their hobby into a real business. The left their home in Ramat Gan and purchased a farm in Moshav Bekoa, where they planted their vineyard. At first, they planted a little over an acre and a half. Today, they have more than six acres of grape vines, where they are growing 11 different grape varieties. They produce classic white and red wines, as well as a number of wines such as orange-colored and sparkling wines made from grapes that are endemic to Israel.
You can tell right away from the personal touches on the bottle labels that Kerem Barak is a family establishment, such as cartoons that were drawn by Barak that are featured on the Dragon Bunny wine series; or the label design on the pét-nat (“pétillant naturel,” or naturally sparkling) wine series that was drawn by their daughter Hila.
Kerem Barak also makes picnic baskets that are available for pick-up all week long (NIS 220), which include snacks, a bottle of wine and samples of some of their other wines. Every Thursday evening during the festival, the winery will be hosting meals with smoked meats, all-you-can-drink wine, and live music for NIS 285 per person. Every Friday during the month of the festival, they will be serving dairy meals and all-you-can-drink wine. NIS 150 (adults) and NIS 80 (children).
Details: 052-628-8591Reservations: www.ontopo.co.il.
Sophie’s Empanadas, Moshav Tal Shahar
Picnic baskets really took off during COVID, when everyone was outdoors and trying to find alternatives to eating in restaurants. Sophie, who hails from Argentina, has a catering business called Fiesta, for which she prepares both dairy and meat meals. She is a specialist at making empanadas, which are a popular dish in Argentina. She makes a number of versions, such as meat; ricotta-Parmesan cheese; and onion and cheese. Sophie also provides wines that go well with her empanadas. A box of 10 empanadas costs NIS 120, which are available for pick-up with at least two hours’ notice.
If you’re looking for a lovely spot to enjoy a picnic, I recommend going to the famous giant jujube tree in Nahal Sorek, just south of Tal Shahar, where you’ll find several picnic tables. The giant jujube tree offers plenty of shade, and you can even eat the fruits from the tree when they’re in season, which happens to be this month.
Directions to the giant jujube tree: Cross through Moshav Tal Shahar and exit through the southern gate. Continue one kilometer, then turn right and continue driving along the stream for another 400 meters. You can’t miss the tree.
Hariksha restaurant, Moshav Ta’oz
At Hariksha, located in Moshav Ta’Oz, you’ll feel as if you were transported to India, as the restaurant looks like something you’d find in a small Indian village. Founded by Tom Dror just six months ago, Hariksha is filled with low tables surrounded by mattresses, which is exactly how Dror pictured her guests sitting to eat the Indian-Cochin cuisine she prepares.
Hariksha is open every Friday to the public, and during the week for groups. You can check out their Facebook page to find out about interesting events held at Hariksha, such as evenings with Indian music. During the Rural Food Festival, Hariksha will be open every Thursday night, where guests will be served a fixed menu of 13 courses over 90 minutes. Price ranges from NIS 150 to NIS 200, depending on what is served that evening.
On March 9, in honor of International Women’s Day, Dror will be serving a festive meal, during which guests will enjoy classical Indian music performed by Neta Eini, Adi Krause and Tamar Klofer. On Fridays during the festival, the restaurant will be open, and there will also be a takeaway option. On Fridays, there will also be Indian jewelry and second-hand clothing for sale.
Sitopia, Moshav Kfar Uria
Sitopia is a guest house in the Judean Hills where you can unwind in luxury. In honor of International Women’s Day, pastry chef Ruth Oliver and Master Chef participant Tair Murdoch will welcome guests to a special lunch event at Sitopia on Friday, March 31. Guests will also be able to purchase a copy of a cookbook that is a collaboration of 50 Israeli women who contributed one of their favorite recipes. All the proceeds will go toward the treatment and prevention of sexual abuse. Murdoch will also deliver a lecture titled “Dreams That Must Be Fulfilled.”
Date: March 31, from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.Details: 054-994-9300
Details about the Mateh Yehuda Rural Food Festival: tour-yehuda.org.il
Translated by Hannah Hochner.