A trip of remembrance and lunch in the sun

It is always a challenge to find new interesting things to do close to Jerusalem on a Friday and of course every day trip has to include yummy food.

As this week is Yom Hashoah, we decided to head to the Martyrs Forest in the Jerusalem hills. This KKL forest includes six million trees as a memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust.

At the heart of the forest is the Scrolls of Fire memorial, created by sculptor Nathan Rapaport, a Holocaust survivor who also designed the monument in the Warsaw Ghetto and several sculptures in Yad Vashem.

The scenery on the drive was beautiful, especially in the spring while everything is still so green. There is a sign post to the Scrolls of Fire from road 395 near Kisalon or here is the link for Waze.  You can park directly next to the memorial and the access road is suitable for all vehicles.

The memorial was not only a beautiful piece of art, it was also thought provoking and you can walk inside the scrolls which was eerily silent.

Our second stop was the Anne Frank Memorial which is also in the Martyrs Forest but about 15-20 minutes’ drive from the first stop, this was less well sign posted so here is the link for Waze. Again the memorial can be accessed by car but it is also a lovely place to take a walk/hike.

This memorial was a gift from KKL-JNF Holland and is a sculpture created by Dutch Holocaust survivor Piet Cohen.  It is in the form of a room made of rusted steel with a stool in one corner, from where the viewer can see an engraved image of the famed chestnut tree which Anne Frank wrote about in her diary.  The memorial is also surrounded by quotes from Anne Frank’s diary.

After a morning of remembrance and exploring, it was time for lunch so we headed to Derech Hagefen, a favorite with all the family.  For those who don’t know it, Derech Hagefen is a picturesque dairy restaurant in Moshav Beit Zayit, which is about 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem.  The restaurant is set in the grounds of a garden nursery and includes tables inside two large conservatories, as well as outside in the gardens.

Luckily they take reservations on a Friday and although the restaurant was busy, it was not overly packed. Breakfast is only served until 12, even on a Friday and we got there later, but the main menu has plenty of delicious options.  We all chose different dishes so I was able to try a bit of everything.  I was in the mood for fish and had a very well cooked and generous portion of Grilled Sea Bass (NIS 105) served with potato gnocchi, carrots, Portobello mushrooms and green beans in a turmeric and caper butter sauce. I loved the gnocchi and the vegetables but I am not sure turmeric sauce worked so well with the delicate taste of the sea bass.

The rest of my family went for pasta dishes and were all very happy with their choices – particularly the Gnocchi with Asparagus and Chestnuts (NIS 65) and the Tortellini Porcini (NIS 66) which were both beautifully presented.

For dessert we shared a large slice of Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream, as well as some very rich and creamy Chocolate Truffles (NIS 15).

Derech Hagefen is a great place to go both during the day and at night and the food and service is always very good. They were also pretty helpful with our requests to have certain dishes to accommodate food intolerances.

Foodie score 8/10, FODMAP friendly score 7.5/10

Botanika cocktail bar brings Swedish style to Tel Aviv.

In the last few years, Israel has been hit by the cocktail craze, with cocktails bars opening up all over the country, with Tel Aviv at the epicenter. Although each bar varies slightly in its décor and style of drinks, many are located in boutique hotels and have a strong emphasis on the presentation of the drinks, sometimes to the detriment of the taste.

Both the beverage and the food menu at Botanika in Tel Aviv are simple and elegant, with a focus on high-quality ingredients and clean flavors with a subtle Scandinavian influence.

Click here for the full review  of Botanka in The Jerusalem Post

Botanika is located in the Ultra Hotel, for a full review of the hotel, click here.

Botanika (Credit Dana Caspi)

Foodie score 9/10, FODMAP friendly score 8.5/10

Pesach Jerusalem 2017

I first started this blog because friends coming to Israel for Pesach would ask me where to eat and I thought it was easier to write one post, than repeat the same thing to everyone.  Since then, my Pesach posts have been some of my most popular so I hope this one is helpful too.

Best Jerusalem Foodie Experience

Anyone who knows me well, knows that Jacko’s Street is my favorite restaurant in Jerusalem and always top on my list of recommendations.  Jacko’s Street embodies the term fun-dining and offers an eclectic, vibrant menu in a relaxed and fun environment.

The Pesach menu (click here) is very similar to the normal menu and includes many must try dishes including the Asado Bruscetta and Fish sashimi Bruscetta as starters and the Entrecote, Goose Breast or the Burger for main course.

They are also opening for lunch just for Pesach.

Jacko’s Street (No- Kitniyot) 02 581 7178

Best Dinner with a View

For the most unique “Jerusalem” setting, Rooftop Restaurant, Mamilla Hotel is a must.  The view over the Old City is incredible and the menu is always interesting.  The prices are definitely on the higher end and the service is slightly hit or miss in the whole hotel, but the view and quality of the food make it worthwhile, in my opinion – click here for a full review.

The Sirloin Tataki, Iron-rich Salad and Grouper Schwarma are all great starters and although the Entrecote is my go-to main course, the fish dishes are always really good – click here for their full Pesach Menu and the desserts menu.

Rooftop Restaurant, Mamilla Hotel (No-Kitniyot) 02 548 2230

Best Street Food

People never seem to know what to each for lunch on erev Pesach – clearly they don’t live near the shuk and have the option of having schwarma!

A few years ago I discovered that one of the best schwarma bars in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Steak House on Agripas,  is not only open for Pesach but the laffa pitot they make are super thin and tasty and, in my opinion, better than the ones the rest of the year.  Since then it has become my tradition to have  lunch every erev Pesach.

Jerusalem Steak House (Kitniyot) 02 625 2745

Best Bar

Mirror Bar in the Mamilla Hotel is still the most stylish bar in the city and always has a good vibe over Pesach.  They have an extensive wine menu and a very good kosher meat bar menu.  They also have an impressive selection of Pesach spirits including the coveted Trump Vodka – here is the full wine and drinks menu.

Mirror Bar, Mamilla Hotel (No-Kitniyot) 02 548 2230

Best Dessert

If you are looking for a Pesach desserts which taste as good as the rest of the year, head over to Waffle Factory.  I went last year and could not believe how good the waffles and pancakes were.

The savory food is also really good (only at Emek Refaim branch this year) – my pasta loving nephew was very impressed and they also have a huge selections of milkshakes and fruit shakes.  Everything you can think of to make kids happy!

Waffle Factory Cinema City (desserts and drinks only- Kitniyot with no-kitniyot options) 02 625 5906
Waffle Factory German Colony (full menu – (No-Kitniyot) 02 567 2049

Although the selection of restaurants open for Pesach is limited this year, there are some other good options, like Gabriel if you are looking for a traditional steak restaurant, Zuta (full review here) if you want a smaller intimate bar experience and Corky’s for cheese and wine.

If I hope that this post helps you find some delicious Pesach food experiences in Jerusalem. Wishing everyone חג פסח כשר ושמח.

To read some of my previous Pesach posts, click here.

Seeing Jerusalem through the eyes of its visitors

I was fortunate enough to attend the Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX) International conference in Jerusalem last week, which is pretty much a conference for professional travelers.

Many of the 400 attendees manage to make a living out of writing about their travels. The sessions I attended included tips on how to monetize your blog, appeal to sponsors and improve your content to generate more followers.

Click here for the PDF of the full article in The Jerusalem Post.

The full article on The Jerusalem Post website is for subscribers only but it can be read by non-subscribers on a mobile device with this link.

Uzi Eli Etrog Man(Credit Noam Moskowitz)

Uzi Eli Etrog Man(Credit Noam Moskowitz)

Travel bloggers of the world descend on Jerusalem

I am thrilled to be attending TBEX International 2017 next week at ICC Jerusalem (Binyanei Hauma).  This is their first international travel blogger conference and it is exciting that it is happening in Jerusalem.

TBEX events are attended by travel bloggers from all over the world and I am particularly interested to meet those who have never been to Israel before and hear their thoughts.

As well as the opportunity to network with other bloggers, photographers and podcasters, the program has lots of interesting talks about content, monetization, sponsorship and driving traffic to your site.

If you plan to attend but still don’t have tickets, you can using the discount code ISRAEL ($95 for whole conference instead of $197) http://tbexcon.com/2017-International/registration/ and please add a comment below if you will be attending so we can meet up!

Here is a video with the interviews from some of the TBEX key bloggers when visited Jerusalem last year in preparation for the conference.

 

Idyllic country café in the Hula Valley

As I have mentioned in other posts, I like to do research before I travel to make sure that I know about all the hidden foodie gems that I would never find otherwise.  This is one time when that research really paid off. Having been in the Hula Valley area before, I knew there were not many exciting options for lunch, especially with my parents who only eat kosher.

We had spent the morning at Agamon Hula (read my post How the Hula valley made me a bird watcher) and had built up quite an appetite. My father was insistent that we try the new Hotel Galilion as who can go wrong in a nice hotel but we were told very rudely that there were no dining options unless we were hotel guests or pre-booked. It turns out that this was very fortunate for us, as otherwise we would never have found my back-up option Beit Ha’ugot. I don’t remember how I heard about Beit Ha’ugot but I am pretty sure it was from a Facebook group.

It was already nearly 2pm so I called to check that they were open and the very nice owner said that she would keep the kitchen open if we arrived in the next 15 minutes.  One of my favorite things about these obscure places is the anticipation of not knowing what you are going to find.  I wasn’t sure if had the right address but the moshav was fairly small and we followed numerous signs, weaving our way through a small residential neighborhood until we eventually found the oasis that is Beit Ha’ugot.  Set in the lovely garden of a family home, I don’t think any description I give will really do it justice.

We were lucky that it was warm enough in late February to sit outside on the wooden decking, surrounded by various citrus trees.  The back of the garden, which backs onto various fruit orchards, is lined with a number of cages filled with chickens, guinea fowl and various brightly colored budgies.  Here is a Facebook live video I shot from the garden – sorry it is a so blurry.

My mother and I both ordered the quinoa salad which was served with finely chopped vegetables and garnished with seeds.  My father opted to the shakshuka which he said was the best he has ever had and we all enjoyed the freshly baked wholegrain bread with tahina and home-made garlic butter.  The cakes all looked amazing but we resisted but I had a lovely jam biscuit with my macchiato and I regret not buying some of the biscuits and cakes to take home with us.

If the café wasn’t closing, we would happily have spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun in such tranquil surroundings. The owner was delightful and was so happy that we had stumbled on her cafe. The couple at the table next to us had come from Tiveria especially for lunch.

Considering the lack of good dairy restaurants in the area, I am not surprised this place is so popular. In case it is not clear, I would highly recommend a visit to Beit Ha’ugot and it is even worth a special trip – next time I plan to order the full Israeli breakfast as it looks great.

Beit Ha’ugot, Kosher Mehadrin, 052-651-0881 – call in advance to check timings.

Foodie score 8.5/10 FODMAP 8/10

How the Hula Valley made me a bird watcher

Growing up in London, I was fortunate to live close to a country park which meant that many different species of birds would occasionally land in our garden.  I have no clue about names of species, I just appreciate beauty. However, the Hula Valley is a whole different ball game.

It seems that many local Israelis do not know that Israel is a major stopover for birds migrating between Europe and Africa and most stopover in the Hula Valley.  The climate and terrain of the Hula Valley make it particularly attractive to water birds.  The area was originally marsh land but was drained in the 1950s to combat problems with malaria. This led to the establishment of Israel’s first nature reserve.  During the migrations seasons, 500 million birds from 400 species migrate in the skies above and thousands remain during the winter and nest in spring and summer.

This was my second visit to the Hula Valley and only at the end of our day there, did we learn that there are actually 2 nature reserves with virtually identical names offering different viewing options and activities.

The first is Agamon Hula which is the one most people know about and the second Hula Nature Reserve, the less known little sister which was about to close by the time we discovered it so I will have to go back again to see what lies inside (last entry at 4pm, closes at 5pm).  Apparently this site is smaller and therefore you can explore it all by foot and it also includes water buffalo, deer and a long covered bridge which allows you to observe the birds directly on the lake. There is also an interactive 3D video which we tried to go and see the next morning but the same rude unhelpful woman from the night before had failed to tell us that the video is only shown in English at certain times so I recommend calling beforehand to get all the details (04-693-7069). Here is a link to a map of the area which shows both sites clearly marked.

Agamon Hula is the larger of the two sites and although you can walk around the reserve yourself (no entry charge), the circuit  is about 8.5 km so it is much easier to get around by hiring bikes or golf carts.  There is also an option to take an organized Safari Wagon tour that takes you into the field where the cranes are fed but we opted to whiz around the park in the golf cart instead. Annoyingly, there is a time limit of 2 hours on the hire of the golf cart, which is not really enough time to see everything, especially when there are lots of other visitors getting in your way.

The walking and bike paths are very well organized and as well as passing various birds and other wildlife along the way,  there are several observation points which allow for optimal viewing of the birds and some have specialist bird watchers with telescopes to help explain what you are seeing.

The first stop was the botanical garden which does not have many birds but is still very pretty to walk around.

The main attraction in the winter months are the 40,000 Common Cranes that spend the winter (choosing to stay in Israel, rather than continuing onto Africa).  The park provides the optimal conditions for the birds and feeds them regularly (eight tons of corn a day) to prevent them from feeding on the crops of in the surrounding fields (more details of the Crane Project here).

In the video below you can see the cranes in the fields and some start to take off to fly to where they are fed.

We were too late in the season to see any White Pelicans who also winter here, but did see plenty of Egrets and various ducks including Moulards (ironic considering my dinner the night before at Ahuzat Dobrovin).

We passed several water rats known as Coypu or Nutria- a cross between a beaver and a rat which roam around the grass banks of the lake.

We were very lucky that it was a beautiful sunny day which definitely made our visit even more enjoyable.  If you are looking to get out of the big smoke and be surrounded by beautiful scenery, then I highly recommend a trip to Agamon Hula.  The fact we could see the snow topped Mount Hermon, from wherever we were, certainly makes for a stunning backdrop.

The most convenient place to stay in the area, is Hotel Galilion which overlooks the park.  The hotel was busy with a large conference that week and the prices were high, so we opted to stay in Nofesh Baharim, a lovely B&B in nearby moshav Ramot Naftaly – (full review here). We did pop into Hotel Galilion to look around.  The hotel is well designed with a lovely pool area but there was a very strong smell of manure wafting from a nearby farm which is not ideal.  We enquired about having lunch (my father has a theory that you cannot go wrong with lunch at a hotel, I don’t agree but sometimes it is easier not to argue) and were greeted by a very snotty nosed receptionist who informed us that the dining room (meat buffet) was for hotel guests and pre-booking only but they would soon be opening Agamon Market which she equated to Sarona Market (in her dreams).

Luckily, I was prepared with an alternative option and we drove 5 minutes to Beit Ha’ugot in Moshav Yesud Hama`Ala which turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip – here is the full review.

Here is post about the first day of our trip Exploring nature with good food along the way.

Ahuzat Dobrovin – fine dining in a farm

I probably use the term hidden gem in reference to restaurants far too often, but in this case it is 100% accurate.  Not only is this kosher meat restaurant hidden in between fields and orchards in a moshava near the Hula Valley, it also seems that many locals do not realize that it actually functions as a restaurant, rather than just a venue for private events.  Hopefully by writing about it, more people can discover this true “hidden gem”.

I previously ate at Ahuzat Dobrovin when I visited the Hula Valley 3 years ago based on a recommendation from a reliable source (thanks Andrew!).  Since then I have recommended to anyone I know who will be in that area.

Dobrovin Farm was one of the first farms in the Hula Valley, established by Andrey Dobrivin who moved to Ottoman Syria with his family in 1903. It functioned as a farm for many years until in 1968 the family donated the estate to the JNF and the farm was converted into a museum to commemorate the early pioneers (next time I plan to actually visit the museum).

The décor in the restaurant fits with the surroundings and the mismatched fixtures and fittings add to the charm of the place.  Although it was a Sunday night, there were a few other tables around us but by the end of the meal, we were the only diners.

For starters I shared a huge portion of Smoked Asian-Style Wings (NIS 40) which were finger licking good!  I am not normally a fan of smoky wings as the sauce normally comes from a bottle but these were clearly smoked on site with a deliciously sticky sauce that was not too sweet.  My father enjoyed a warm bowl of Orange vegetable soup with the focaccia style house bread.

Much as I love steaks, this time I opted for the Moulard Duck Breast (NIS 95) which was nice and juicy and well flavored but I would have preferred the fat to be slightly more rendered than it was.  My father devoured a Dry-Aged Entrecote (NIS 125 for 300g) and my mother enjoyed the Smoked Asado Beef (NIS 90) with mashed root vegetables and green beans.

Although we only ordered the Chocolate Soufflé (NIS 30) – they brought us a selection of desserts that included the rich, well executed soufflé, deconstructed apple cake and chocolate and peanut truffles.

As you would expect in a country restaurant, they were not so happy with special requests and the service was not as attentive as it could have been.  Unlike some of the meat restaurants in the north, I would not make a special trip just to eat here but if you are nearby, I highly recommend it as the food is very good and the setting is so unique.

If you want to read more about what we got up to in the area, read here about Exploring nature with good food along the way and How the Hula Valley made me a bird watcher.

Ahuzat Dobrovin – Kosher 052-3025154, 04-6934485

FODMAP friendly score 7/10, Foodie score 8/10

Exploring nature with good food along the way

I recently took a 3 day trip in the north of Israel which combined some quality family time, historic sites, beautiful nature and of course some great hidden foodie gems.

When it comes to traveling I am a researcher, especially for restaurants. Although it can be fun to be spontaneous and find somewhere nearby to eat, I have too often been disappointed this way and when you are trying to pack lots of activities into a relatively short time,  I prefer to know in advance what is around and discover new food experiences. However, I will often have a few options to choose from, depending on what we are in the mood for at the time.

We started our trip up north with a quick stop at a Lavido visitor’s center in the agricultural Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley.  As well as the Lavido factory shop, there is a beautiful herb garden and a peaceful refreshment area where you can make your own tea infusion using the herbs from the garden.

Lavido natural beauty products are now Vegan Friendly and we particularly like the Lavender hand cream and body lotion which is especially nice to put on before bed.  Unfortunately I had an allergic reaction to their award winning eye cream and the sales assistant was not very helpful and tried to blame me for not knowing that I might be allergic to some of the products, but that aside, I recommend a visit.

Time for lunch in nearby Ramat Yishai at a small coffee shop named Eva Batya which was recommended by someone in the Restaurant Club Israel Group.  It is a very simple coffee shop in a strip mall overlooking a parking lot so the setting is very unexciting but I was with people who only eat in kosher places and the choices in that area are very minimal (the products have a hechsher but the coffee shop doesn’t even though everything is dairy and they are closed on Shabbat).  The menu is limited with a few pre-made filled savory croissants, quiches and salads.  The salads were all freshly prepared and the bread that came with it was delicious.  I had the endive salad (NIS 52) with toasted almonds, poached pears, blue cheese and a tangy citrus vinaigrette which I enjoyed. The coffee was also very good and came with a lovely linzer torte cookie. Over all the food was nice, but I would not recommend going unless you only eat kosher as there are much nicer non-kosher places in the area (like Limousine)

Following lunch we drove to Zippori, a national park which contains the remains of an ancient city that was once the capital of the Galilee, the seat of the Sanhedrin, the place where the Mishna was completed and it is also believed to be the home of the parents of Mary and possibly where Mary and Joseph first met.

The park includes Roman, Jewish and Christian buildings and ruins.  It happened to be a beautifully sunny spring day and the site is very spread out so we enjoyed walking around and exploring the various excavations.  We particularly enjoyed the Dionysus House, a Roman villa, containing a mosaic floor describing scenes from the life of Dionysus, god of wine in Greek mythology, as well as several other elaborate and well preserved mosaics.

The city Synagogue dates back to the end of the Byzantine period and also contains an impressive mosaic floor which depicts the Sacrifice of Isaac, the signs of the Zodiac, a description of the Tabernacle in the desert and the Arc of the Covenant in the Jerusalem Temple. The floors have been beautifully restored and the synagogue ruins are housed inside a building to protect the mosaics.

Signs of the Zodiac – Synagogue at Zippori

There are also breathtaking views, especially from the roof of the Crusader Castle that sits on the top of a hill. As the park is large with many interest building, you do need to allow a few hours to see everything, including a very nice introductory video.  As it was still officially winter when we visited the park closed at 4pm (which they failed to mention when we arrived at 2.30pm) so we were rushed at the end to get out before they closed and I could have happily spent more time exploring.

From there we drove to our B&B Nofesh Baharim in Moshav Ramot Naftaly to check in and freshen up, before heading for dinner at Ahuzat Dobrovin.

For those who are interested in visiting wineries, there are several great ones which we passed nearby on our journey but we just didn’t have time on this trip to do everything.  I am mentioning them here as suggestions of alternative itineraries in this area. The Jezreel Valley Winery is close to Zippori and the Netofa Winery is about 30 minutes away, on the road up  to the Hula Valley.

Here is post about the second day of our trip in the Hula Valley – How the Hula Valley made me a bird watcher.

Kosher Musings in The Judean Hills

Day or night, Muza Bahar is a scenic way to enjoy a very good meal.

While I love the convenience of going to eat locally, sometimes it is fun to escape the city, appreciate the countryside and enjoy the theater of a meal with a view. Muza Bahar in Moshav Shoresh is an ideal restaurant for such occasions.

The restaurant opened three years ago and became a popular destination for people in Tel Aviv and the center of the country on Shabbat. A year ago, owners Yifat and Yaron Armoza decided they wanted to have their weekends back and that they preferred to cater to the kosher market. Much of the menu has remained the same, and some of their customers have remained loyal and are amazed at how well the menu has adapted to the kosher diet, especially the desserts. All the food is freshly prepared on the premises with no preservatives – the focus is on highquality raw ingredients.

Click here for the full review in The Jerusalem Post

Muza Bahar. (photo credit:PR)

Muza Bahar. (photo credit:PR)

FODMAP friendly score 7/10, Foodie score 9/10