Matte Yehuda is the name of the region lying just west of Jerusalem, within a 40 min drive from Tel-Aviv. Every spring for the past 18 years, the region has held a food festival celebrating the wonderful produce and beauty of the season. What makes it even better, is the assortment of local participants who add their cultural background to the experience in various ways making it a celebration of folklore as well as cuisine. I thank the Matte Yehuda office of the Ministry of Tourism for inviting me to take part in an introductory tour of some of the participants this year.
Mark your calendar! The festival will take place for four whole weekends, the last of which is the Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday weekend, between April 27th to May 20th, 2018.
Trip Agenda Options
- In Luzit: The world music and vegetarian food ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ option
- Srigim Brewery: A boutique brewery & beer garden
- Srigim ‘Shuninis’: A chef’s take on traditional Kurdish food
- ‘Saba’s Gallery’ and ‘Caja Chocolaterie’ in Tzafririm: A grandfather’s gallery of sculptures and daughter’s chocolaterie
- In Yish’i: The traditional Yemenite musical ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ feast option
For those who require it, ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ literally means ‘welcoming the Sabbath’. Traditionally, there are songs in the prayer book that each family would sing at the dinner table on the first meal of the Sabbath on Friday night. Each congregation had and has their own tunes and additional songs that are sung making it a multi-cultural experience.
In Luzit: The World Music and Vegetarian Food ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’
The experience I had at Ilia Magnes and Sigal Geva’s house was no less than stunning. She is a hardcore trekking travel guide who spent a year alone in Australia and has guided some of the Israeli ‘Desert Queen’ treks, although you wouldn’t guess it. She looks like such a gentle and refined lady. He is a streetwise, self-taught musician and painter who plays dozens of instruments. His life story is a unique twisted plot encompassing the world from the USA through Israel, Denmark and Ibiza to name a few. Lastly, they both live in a house made up of containers, an architectural feat that they accomplished themselves.
During the festival, they will be hosting two ‘Kabbalat Shabbats’ on Friday afternoon and especially for the festival, they have invited a singer friend called Niri Damsky who has added vocals to the live performance. The visit will include a bit of all the above: their life stories, a tour of the house, a lovely buffet meal (mostly gluten-free), which you can have in their blooming garden and a magnificent musical performance. During the festival, I’m sure they will be speaking in Hebrew, but you can contact them and arrange for an English-speaking visit on a separate occasion.
I’m attaching two videos that give you both a taste of Ilia’s world music capabilities of the beautiful ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ that he and Niri have prepared.
Phone: Sigal 052-8895906 or Ilia 052-6943332
Srigim Brewery: The boutique brewery & beer garden
Owners Ofer Ronen and Ohad Eylon left their successful high-tech careers to open the brewery about seven years ago, following their passions to a championship in a multitude of beer boutique competitions and development of 7 boutique beers.
They will be hosting visitors in the beer garden every Friday and Saturday including the Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday pairing it with plenty of appropriate edibles such as soup in a bread bowl, fries, excellent sausages (the unanimous opinion), schnitzel and pizza.
You can also reserve a tour that includes some more background on their stories, a visit to the brewery, an explanation about the beer making process and beer tasting.
Srigim ‘Shuninis’: A Chef’s Take on Traditional Kurdish Food
Sarah and Tal Sharvit have added on to their existing catering service, management of a local restaurant that serves street-food till 19:00 and full-service dinners from then on. Regardless of the level of service, you get to taste Chef Tal’s modern version of his traditional childhood Kurdish food. Luckily, most of what was served was gluten-free, so I can testify to its deliciousness. I’ll let them explain the names of the dishes. For the festival, he has added a special ‘Malabi’ pudding desert based on his home recipe.
‘Saba’s Gallery’ and ‘Caja Chocolaterie’ in Tzafririm: A grandfather’s gallery of sculptures and daughter’s chocolaterie
It is such a nice thing to see a family that can balance working together with independent freedom, each doing his own thing, but supporting one another. Nissim Levi is nearing 80 by now. His story is incredible in that he started his artistic sculpting only at the age of 60 because when he grew up it was considered a waste of valuable time and material to produce art. Anyway, once he got started he couldn’t stop and now his home is a gallery of over a thousand sculptures made from whatever he can lay his hands on. Several are made of iron because he was sent to train as a locksmith at the age of 14. The gallery also has a display of a miniature Kurdish village and a heritage room dedicated to family collectibles which is related to his story of his life’s story. There is also a film about his great-grandfather who had to leave Jerusalem in 1948.
His daughter Galia, on the other hand, is a sweet chocolatier. She studied with Estella M. Belfer, one of the judges at ‘Bake Off Israel’ and carried on from her home in Tzafririm. We were invited to taste some delectable chocolates and since they were all unique, I tasted them all. Have you ever tasted matcha chocolate or pralines filled with sachlav ganache? Also, if you’re thinking of proposing to your very own Cinderella, she has the most adorable hand painted chocolate shoes ever! (just a thought).
The visit can include a tour of the gallery with or without a meeting with Nissim who tells his story and demonstrates the sculpting process. It can also include a visit to the chocolaterie either for a tasting session (no minimal limit) or for a chocolate making workshop (for groups only of 15 or above) or just for purchasing.
In order to run things smoothly, two visits will be scheduled on Fridays as follows:
10:00 / 13:00 independent view of the gallery and heritage room and respectively
11:00 / 14:00 chocolate tasting
Meetings with Nissim and workshops need to be reserved in advance. Several of the activities can be instructed in English. You should contact them directly for further clarification.
In Yish’i: The traditional Yemenite musical ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ feast option
Last, but definitely not least, we visited the home of the famous singer ‘Gila Bashari’. This Philharmonic performer is actively contributing to preservation of the Yemenite tradition by teaching interested younger generation singers the traditional tunes. Among other things she holds ‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ events once every other month at her home where she has built an inviting room for her visitors surrounded by a blooming rose garden. The evening begins with a concert including several anecdotes and explanations, followed by a traditional Yemenite meal.
During the festival, she will be holding such an occasion on the weekend before Shavuot (May 11th), where she will be singing verses from the Ruth Megillah according to the traditional Yemenite tunes.
I have verified that you can reserve such an event in English on a separate occasion if you contact her directly.
Phone: 02-9914321 or 052-3226001
The Yemenite performance was a magical end to an exceptional day.
There are several additional locations to visit in the festival. The region itself contains around 40 wineries as well as other homes and cuisines. Please refer to the festival website for additional options.
In addition, there are two related posts of mine that you may be interested in.
The brewery is located very near an excavation point called ‘Tel Azekah’, where ancient beer jugs were found. Those same beer jugs are located in ‘The Corinne Maman Museum of Phillistine Culture’ that I visited in Ashdod. You can read about it here.
Although I have been posting on a weekly basis religiously for about 7 months now, I have only visited the region once when I went slightly north of where the food festival is taking place, but also part of Matte Yehuda. You can read about it here.
This post is all-inclusive.
You can search for B&Bs on my ‘Best B&B’ page.
This trip took a day. I placed Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem at both ends of the map so that you can get a feel for where the region is located.
I can’t wait for next year!
Special Credit: To photographer Eldad Maestro who has let me combine some of his stills photos with mine.