An olive grove on the slopes of the hills of Galilee offer a beautiful view and a tasty treat. An olive grove on the slopes of the hills of Galilee offer a beautiful view and a tasty treat. An olive grove on the slopes of the hills of Galilee offers a beautiful view. (Photo: Gkuna / Shutterstock)

A culinary tour that goes far beyond food

We head to Northern Israel to enjoy a first-person tour of treats from the region.

The Galilee region in the northern part of Israel lives by the olive. Like the rice fields of Nagano in Japan, or the vineyards of Napa valley, when you drive the curvy roads of the Galilee, olive orchards stretch as far as the eye can see.

The Galilee, with its various cultures, is “like a microcosm of Israel as a whole,” Paul Nirens told From The Grapevine. Paul was born in Australia, but moved to Israel some 30 years ago. He is a trained chef, and currently runs Galileat – a culinary adventures agency specializing in Galilean food. We recently set off on a tour to meet with local Druze and Arab chefs whose diverse cuisine is popular in the region.

Paul knows the Galilee like the back of his hand. Throughout the day we spent together, it felt like we never left his backyard. Paul offers culinary tours and workshops to groups – both local and from abroad – that explore this Galilean cuisine, while giving a unique peek into the lives of the people.

The day started with a visit to one of the most renowned olive press facilities in the region, the Jahshan Family Farm. Like many of the producers we met during the tour, the Jahshan family has been pressing olive oil and making olives for generations.

The Jahshan family produces two types of olive oil, one made of the Suri olive and the second the Nabali. Both oils are surprisingly smooth and have a very low acidity. While the Tyre is fruity with a slight ting at the back of the throat, the Nablus has green tones.

The Galilee is replete with orchards where olives are jarred for later use.The Galilee is replete with orchards where olives are jarred for later use. (Photo: Assaf Dudai)

No visit to the Galilee is complete without coffee – strong, concentrated Turkish coffee. Our next stop was at the Tanus coffee makers. The coffee is roasted and grinded and cardamom is added by hand. You won’t see any scale or measurements tools here; it is the barista who makes the final call.

A tradition in the Galilee is to leave the coffee pot on the stove on a very low temperature and freshen it up from time to time. It is similar to the starter of sourdough. The coffee we tasted has been brewing, non-stop, for the past 30 years. It tasted like the essence of coffee, bitter and sour with cardamom tones.

After olive oil and coffee, one craves some dough to soak it all up. Lucky for us, our next stop was a tiny pita bread operation; three women worked in spellbinding speed to produce pitas, about one every three seconds. It was sweltering hot inside due to the open fire oven, but the smell was amazing. The pitas were made from whole wheat, which gave them a beautiful brownish hue as they came flying out of the oven puffed and steamy.

During the tour, guests watch bakers make homemade pitas in spellbinding speed.During the tour, guests watch bakers make homemade pitas in spellbinding speed. (Photo: Assaf Dudai)

Before lunch, Paul took us to see the oldest olive tree in Israel. It is 3,500 years old, with a massive trunk and sprawling top. It was a humbling experience to stand in front of a living thing that old. It still gives fruit.

For lunch we were taken to the house of the charming Nawal Dawashe, who prepared an incredible meal for us, with the staples of Galilean cuisine. There was maqluba, a traditional Arab rice dish with the softest lamb and pine nuts, baked in the in the oven and then served flipped upside down. For our second course, a Galilean delicacy called siniya was served. It has lamb patties cooked in tahini, fragrant and delicious. And of course, no Galilean meal is complete without vegetables – both cooked and raw, but all fresh – to balance the heaviness of the two main dishes.

Two types of baklava on display at the bakery – filo dough stuffed with pistachios on the right and, on the left, ’browned-sugar-hairs’ stuffed with coconut flakes.Two types of baklava on display at the bakery – filo dough stuffed with pistachios on the right and, on the left, ’browned-sugar-hairs’ stuffed with coconut flakes. (Photo: Assaf Dudai)

To end the day on a sweet note, we visited a sweet shop, the Alhalal. They specialize in the region's traditional sweets, and have added the most European-looking cream cakes you’ve ever seen.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, Paul is one phone call you want to make. The tastes and aromas linger with you long after you leave the Galilee. It was a true adventure, one that opens a door to a region and lets you all the way in.

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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants, Healthy eating, Travel

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