Eat, drink and be a merry Jerusalemite

VIPs join forces with chef Assaf Granit to prepare a dish of their choice. The results will be available daily at different locations at affordable prices.

Oto-Ochel (Food Van) (photo credit: Courtesy)
Oto-Ochel (Food Van)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s nothing like food to bring us all together, right? Then again, there are so many ethnic communities in Jerusalem, each with its own special or favorite dishes, that the gastronomic side of the capital may be even more divisive and divided than the political or religious aspects of the city.
But help is on the way, in the form of the forthcoming Oto-Ochel (Food Van) project conceived by Season of Culture artistic director Itay Mautner and well-known Jerusalemite chef and restaurateur Assaf Granit. Two days ago, the said gastronomically enriched vehicle began to wend its way through the streets of Jerusalem, and to set out its stall at various locations all over the city, with the food forays due to take place daily through August 12.
The idea behind Oto-Ochel is simple. You take a celebrity, from many spheres of life, including the arts, politics, sport, medicine and, naturally, areas of culinary expertise, and ask them to name their favorite dish, or the food that means the most to them. The said VIP will then join forces with Granit, who owns four successful eateries, including the Machneyuda restaurant near the city’s similarly named market, and together they prepare several helpings of his or her chosen dish.
The impetus for the project came from a bygone memory. “Itay mentioned the ice-cream van he remembered from his childhood, and we started to play around with the concept. We came up with the idea of a vehicle that go all around Jerusalem, bringing different kinds of food to different parts of the city,” Granit explains. “All the dishes will be connected with Jerusalem and the Jerusalemites who choose them, together with me, and then together we choose the site where we will park the van and sell the portions.”
The project is not only designed to introduce Jerusalemites of various cultural and social stripes to food with which they are not familiar – there is also a philanthropic side to the whole venture. “We will sell the helpings of food at token prices, basically just enough to cover our costs,” notes Granit. “That means that everyone will be able to enjoy the food and this wonderful project, regardless of how much they earn.”
The celebrity co-chef list includes MK Reuven Rivlin; Ladino singer Yasmin Levy; and noted Hadassah University Medical Center surgeon and head of the hospital’s trauma unit, Prof. Avi Rivkind.
The latter’s chosen dish comes with highly charged emotional baggage, and goes by the name of ulnik, a Polish delicacy with which Rivkind has a strong familial bond. “Ulnik is based on potatoes and onion, and a few other ingredients,” the 64-year-old surgeon explains. “My mother used to make it once in a while.
For me, it was a dish that I lusted after.”
A few years ago, Rivkind received an emotive memory and taste bud jolt. “I was in Poland to visit some Righteous Gentiles, who saved my late father during World War II. I came to their house and they put on a great spread of all kinds of food. There was no meat at all because they knew my father wouldn’t eat nonkosher meat back then. The Polish woman would make food for him in special pots and pans, which she only used for dairy products. So there was fish, all kinds of dairy dishes… and ulnik!” Rivkind exclaims.
“I look at the dish, while she is slicing it up, and say to her: ‘Ulnik, huh?’ I was in shock. It brought back so many things for me.”
The Polish woman and her husband, who recently died, not only hid Rivkind’s father from the Nazis, but they also accommodated all of his Jewish dietary requisites. “The Polish man told me he remembered my father putting a black leather strap around his arm every morning – so I knew my father prayed with tefillin every day,” says Rivkind. “The whole of my father’s family was murdered on November 2, 1942. My father survived by pretending to be dead. According to his diaries, he managed to bury his parents and sister in the cemetery in Brody, within three days. That’s how I am connected to ulnik.”
The dish Rivkind and Granit will prepare in Oto- Ochel will, no doubt, be an emotional affair. “Ulnik, for me, is a lot more than food. It is my mother, and my relatives who did not survive the Holocaust,” says Rivkind.
“This project is all about Jerusalem, and the connection of the people who chose their special dishes have with the city, and the various neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” explains Granit. “I will start the preparation of the food at my restaurant, and then I will complete the dish with the celebrity guest of the day, and then we’ll serve it.”
Nary a part of the city, nor a social stratum, will be deprived of the chance to enjoy the culinary fare. The Oto-Ochel locations will include Kiryat Hayovel, Ein Kerem, the shuk, Teddy Stadium, Ma’aglei Yavne Street not far from the German Colony, Liberty Bell Garden, Jaffa Gate, and many more. The vehicle will turn up at a different time each day, and the details of the location and time of the vehicle’s arrival will be available on the Season of Culture website from the day before. “We are a bit concerned that, if we publish the details well ahead of time, we might be swamped with people,” says Granit. Sounds like a good problem to have.
The mobile food unit, Granit notes, offers an important added value not available at the enterprises he owns. “All the dishes we serve will be fully kosher.
That means that people who can’t afford to buy food like the dishes we will be serving, or won’t come to my restaurants because they are not kosher, will be able to enjoy the Oto-Ochel food, and also get to know some dishes they would not otherwise try out.”
“I think this is a good way of bringing the people of Jerusalem together.”
For more information about the Oto-Ochel project: