Travel Israel: Mateh Yehuda Rural Food Festival

The festival runs from August 5-22 and features dozens of men and women who are professional or amateur cooks.

OFER AVIV’S Garden. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
If we’ve learned anything from the recent lockdown, it’s that Israelis love to eat. Now that we’re all trying to find some semblance of normalcy in this new reality, I recommend attending the Mateh Yehuda Rural Food Festival, now in its 20th year. Visitors are invited to take part in this authentic culinary experience, where they can taste a variety of eclectic dishes in local restaurants and residents’ private homes.
The festival runs from August 5-22 and features dozens of men and women who are professional or amateur cooks. They will host visitors in their homes and gardens and offer them a taste of their homemade food, along with a sampling of their culture.
This year, partly due to COVID-19 restrictions, and mostly due to the summer heat, the festival will take place in the late afternoon and evening hours. Most of the events during the three-week festival, which is an initiative of the Mateh Yehudah Regional Council Tourism Department, are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday nights. Details can be found on the council’s website.
Among the exciting features of the festival are the Siyurim Bein Hasirim (Tours Among the Pots), guided culinary tours during which participants get to taste from a variety of diverse cuisines, meet local artists and catch an up-close glimpse of an assortment of culinary traditions. Tours will begin around sunset.
Price: NIS 160 per person (includes all transportation, guiding and tasting)
If you’d like to mix in some time out in nature with your culinary experience, I recommend starting your morning at Petel Eretz on Moshav Ta’oz. Petel Eretz, an effort to promote regional agriculture, was established in 2016 by David Sagi, who grew up on the moshav. It currently features greenhouses where blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are grown.
David’s specialty is providing produce directly from the farmer to the consumer without any intermediaries. The produce is organic, pesticide-free and hand-picked.
In the pre-COVID-19 days, you used to be able to see many members of David’s extended family alongside volunteers from all over the world picking fruits and vegetables. Since COVID-19 entered our lives, David has had extra time on his hands, and so he’s engaged in a number of new projects, such as building a house out of mud, which currently functions as store in which he sells local produce.
Petel Eretz offers tours of their raspberry greenhouses that include time for self-picking. You can also purchase baskets that are full of quality locally grown produce, or rest comfortably in the shade and enjoy the surroundings. There will also be local cheeses, beers, spices and fresh bread for sale. Visitors are invited to take part in self-picking starting from 5 p.m.
Registration and details: 054-580-9655
Just a few steps away, you’ll find another jewel: The Eesh-Lechem Bakery, from which wafts an intoxicating aroma of fresh bread straight from the oven. This boutique bakery is run by Eyal Tamir, who discovered his love of baking a decade ago after he finished studying photography and working in the field a number of years.
Eyal’s captivating story begins in Jerusalem, where he was born and bred, and continues in Neve Shalom, a mixed Jewish and Arab community, where he currently lives with his wife and children. Eyal met his wife in Italy, where he’d been working and living as a shepherd. His wife is originally from Germany.
One morning, after they’d already moved to Israel, his wife came home with a really tasty croissant. Eyal was so moved by the flavor that he decided to take baking classes so that he could produce such marvelous baked creations.
He worked in a bakery for eight years, and then began baking and selling bread to friends and neighbors from his home. About two years ago, he decided to open up his bakery, Eesh-Lechem, on Moshav Ta’oz, where he offers sweet and savory pastries and bread made from the highest quality, nutritious ingredients. He also serves cheese platters and an assortment of sandwiches.
During the festival, visitors can participate in a 20-minute guided tour of the bakery, where they’ll learn about the bread-making process, including how to make a sourdough starter and which types of flour should be used. Of course, there will be a bread tasting at the end.
Open Monday through Friday.
Price: NIS 30 per person.
Pre-registration required: 054-811-5272.
Although this column is technically focused on food, it’d be shame to travel to Mateh Yehuda without enjoying the beautiful nature reserves and breathtaking landscapes in the region. A great way to get to know the region is to drive around in Tomcars, off-road utility vehicles that you can rent from Ha’ela Tours, located on Moshav Aderet. Eitan Asias, who runs Ha’ela Tours, offers tours in the Jerusalem mountains, Mitzpe Ramon and everywhere in between.
Guests can choose among jeep rides, safaris, rappelling, as well as staying overnight in camping sites. Tours of Mateh Yehuda are 2.5 hours long and begin on Moshav Aderet. The tour sets out toward Nahal Ha’ela, stops at a lookout spot with a view over the valley, and then continues on to the Pa’amon Cave, Khirbat Ribo and lots of other interesting places.
TOOL AROUND  in a tomcar.TOOL AROUND in a tomcar.
Price of guided tour: NIS 100-200 per person.
Details: (02) 999-9857, 052-358-2627.
Another attraction worth stopping at if you’re attending the Mateh Yehuda Rural Food Festival is Zafririm Winery, or any of the many boutique wineries in the area. Located on Moshav Zafririm, the winery was established by Lori and Shaike Lender in 2004 on their family property. Nowadays, they produce more than 7,000 bottles a year. Lori, who hails from the field of fine arts, immigrated to Israel at the age of 20, and then met Shaike, an archaeologist. Lori is currently the expert vintner on site. Tours of Zafririm Winery include a wine tasting at the end. Visitors are also welcome to order a cheese platter.
Price: NIS 50.
Pre-registration required: 052-449-3042,
The last, but certainly not the least stop on the day’s itinerary, is a visit to Ofer Aviv’s Garden on Moshav Mata, where you can sit back and enjoy a festive meal as you take in the gorgeous view of the surrounding Judean Hills. Ofer prepares all of the dishes himself.
Every Thursday evening, Ofer invites visitors to attend themed meals, with each one focusing on a different location around the world. Guests will enjoy a cool breeze as they dine and listen to pleasant music playing in the background. In addition to quality food, Ofer also loves to prepare unique cocktails. Local beers and wines are also available at reasonable prices (NIS 10-NIS45).
Ofer also invites guests for a Shabbat-day meal, which includes homemade bread and spreads, three types of smoked meats, in addition to meat that is grilled on a plancha grill, served with sides of root vegetables and beans. The meal concludes with brownies and great coffee.

Price: NIS 200.
Pre-registration required: 054-791-0480.
Festival details:
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
PARTAKE IN a picnic.PARTAKE IN a picnic.