Israel’s Tastes of the Valleys Festival, taking place between 29.1-11.2.2017, is a culinary festival featuring the best restaurants in the northern valleys of Israel with special menus, wine tasting and food fairs that will take you on a journey of local cuisine.
This year, The Tastes of the Valleys Festival is celebrating 13 years and is bigger than ever. During the festival, 11 leading restaurants will serve special menus, including local wine, with prices ranging from 79-109 NIS. I visited three of these restaurants and some of the places that will be open during the festival.
iCook – Chef Doron Bar On
Whether you want to taste local food “from the farm to the table” or learn how to cook it yourself – Doron’s studio at “HaYogev” is the place for you. Doron serves here brunch and lunch made of fresh local ingredients that he finds within a radius of 40 km around his house. He knows each and every vegetable and local farm and dairy, and his specialty is creative fusion kitchen full of flavors, herbs and smells. Doron also gives cooking classes at the studio in Hebrew and English, during which he teaches his expertise and all the tricks to cook healthy and tasty, without adding sugar.
Brunch at Doron’s studio is a celebration of tastes. An especially sweet ad red tomatoes Shakshouka, fresh bread straight from the oven, crème fresh that is made in the neighboring farm, homemade marmalade, and plenty of salads made of the season’s vegetables excellently seasoned with herbs from the garden. An extraordinary meal you won’t find anywhere else! During lunchtime, he serves meat and fish, there are child meals, and vegan and gluten free plates.
Information: Chef Doron Bar On (not kosher, RSVP required)
Before leaving HaYogev, we stopped by Carmel Farm, where the Carmel family grows special vegetables – Salanova lettuce, snow peas, asparagus, kale and more. Hanna Carmel met us at the Salanova greenhouse to show us how they grow the vegetables environmentally friendly and without using pesticides.
The vegetables are sold on the farm’s store and it is an opportunity to stock up for a better price. Information: Carmel Farm.
From HaYogev, we headed east towards Bet She’an to Kimmel BaGilboa.
Kimmel BaGilboa is a don’t miss out restaurant in the northern valleys not far from Afula, on the lower hillside of the Gilboa mountain. It is easily found on the road between Afula and Beit She’an. The restaurant is a real gem. Nice settings, great service and excellent food. The menu is very diverse.
We had light starters and dessert meal at Kimmel. For starters we had (left to right, top to bottom) bread with dips, roasted eggplant with lentils and tahini, beet salad with cheese, chicken liver pate, and mushroom risotto. Everything was excellent, and the risotto – to die for!
For dessert we had a warm apple pie with ice cream (the best dessert for the winter), tapioca with fruits (vegan), brownie with chocolate mousse, and cream puff served on excellent raspberry sauce. Except the tapioca that I did not taste, all the desserts were superb!
With the meal we had new wines from Carmel Winery (kosher) called Vats: Red, Rose, and white. They are all blends, and the red wine is aged 6 months. The name 4 Vats (or 2 Vats) was picked because the wines were made in small quantity of 2-4 barrels.
The restaurant is not cheap, which makes the Tastes of the Valleys Festival an opportunity to have a full meal, with wine for a reduced price of 79-109 NIS.
Information: Kimmel BaGilboa (not kosher)
Another restaurant that is part of the Tastes of the Valleys Festival is the Gilboa Herb Farm restaurant.
Gilboa Herb Farm Restaurant
Herb Farm restaurant is located on the Gilboa mountain hillside overlooking the valley of Jezreel. The restaurant was established by Pnina and Yossi Mass who were evacuated from Yamit settlement when the Israeli government returned Sinai to Egypt. The couple moved to the Gilboa and opened a Fresh herb farm for export. They built the restaurant with their own hands, Yossi constructed the building himself, section after section, and Pnina learnt to cook from chefs in Europe. The restaurant became famous for its fresh international cooking and is now the main business of Oren, their son.
The restaurant has a lovely view of the valley of Jezreel.
At the restaurant we had starters, main courses, and dessert ‘tapas’.
For starters we had Focaccia with dips, the farm salad, chicken liver salad and polenta. I especially liked the fresh salad that contained some nice surprises such as sweet potato crisps. For main courses we had salmon with risotto, beef filet cubes and beet gnocchi (which we shared). While some of the dishes were a bit too salty for me, I ordered my own plate – a beef filet – and asked for it to be made medium well and less salty. It was excellent – so yummy!
For dessert we had ‘tapas’ – a nice option for a small portion of something sweet after a full meal, or to share a few kinds of desserts: crème Brule, ice cream with Halva and Dates syrup, and mascarpone coffee cream.
During the Tastes of the Valleys Festivalthe restaurant will host a Jazz evening.
Information: Gilboa Herb Farm
If you are already in the area, why not taste some local wines? Nahmani winery is located nearby.
Nahmani winery is a small, privately owned winery. David Nahmani makes wine in his back yard and the wines are named after his daughters. David and Francis (his wife) will welcome you (RSVP required) in their little winery for a short tour and wine tasting. David makes red wines for 10 years now, including blends. He buys grapes from farmers in Israel and ages them for 2 years in oak barrels. The result is round wines with heavy body who have won a few prizes.
Information: Nahmani winery (RSVP David 053-7720369)
Another attraction in the area is Afula’s new food market.
Afula’s New Food Market
Afula’s new food market has been reopened recently and is developing rapidly. The market square is expanding and in the process of opening more food stands and pop up stores. The market will be a not-to-miss attraction in Afula and the area. During the festival a big fair will take place here, with shows, children activities and shopping opportunities.
If you are in Israel during the Tastes of the Valleys Festival, it is the best time to go to the valleys, also because the winter is the high season in this quite hot area. But you can always go to the valleys year-round and enjoy the views, tastes, and wines.