The A-sham — Arab Food Festival is set to take place in downtown Haifa from December 7-9, 2016, and will give foodies a place to celebrate forgotten dishes from the Levant.

The festival, an initiative of the Downtown Haifa Administration and under the creative direction of 2014 Master Chef Israel winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, will offer visitors unique tastings in downtown Haifa restaurants and pubs, culinary meetups, musical and dance performances, cookery and craft workshops, lectures and more, from morning to night.

Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel. Photo by Asaf Ambram
Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel. Photo by Asaf Ambram

“There is no room in the kitchen for politics, only for cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. The Arab Food Festival connects peoples and cultures through food. We had over 70,000 visitors and 25 Arab chefs – Muslim, Christian and Druze – and Jewish chefs participating in last year’s festival. This year we have over 45 chefs taking part, and next year, I look forward to seeing foodies visiting the festival from around the world as well,” said Festival founder and creative director Atamna-Ismaeel.

The chefs will combine forces to give new interpretations of traditional dishes.

“Following the great success of last year’s inaugural festival, the 2016 Arab Food Festival will feature fascinating cultural encounters and connections, and, of course, superb Mediterranean cuisine. Every winter, the city of Haifa displays its unique beauty, a city where religions and communities live side-by-side in good neighborly relations,” said Yona Yahav, Mayor of Haifa.

•	Kibbeh Adas – a vegan kibbeh that is common in the Idlib region of Syria and in Armenia, and is associated with Christian fast days. Photo by Asaf Ambram
Kibbeh Adas – a vegan kibbeh that is common in the Idlib region of Syria and in Armenia, and is associated with Christian fast days. Photo by Asaf Ambram

The word A-sham in Arabic refers to the geographic area known as the Levant, with its famous Arab cuisine, which stretches from Aleppo in the north through to the Negev in the south, in Lebanon and Trans-Jordan.

Among this year’s festival offerings: Kibbeh Adas (a vegan kibbeh that is common in the Idlib region of Syria and in Armenia);  Hobiz Asfar (yellow bread with bitter touches of mahleb and black cumin); Arais (brides, this is the name for the pita bread filled with meat, that has been crowned Israel’s culinary trend for 2016); Harak Osba’u (a lentil dish. Its name means “finger burner” because that’s what happens when you can’t resist and stick your fingers in to taste straight from the pot) and Brazek (a Damascan dessert – a sesame and pistachio nut-coated candy – that was famous from the beginning of the Ottoman Period. The sesame is a symbol of poverty and simplicity, and the pistachio of wealth and ostentation), among others.

There will also be a hummus event that will see chefs mixing this traditional chickpea concoction with other cultural flavors like hummus inspired by the Basque kitchen, a Thai beef dish mixed with hummus and hummus tacos.

Home brew. Photo by Ahmad Daghlas and Atef Safadi
Home brew. Photo by Ahmad Daghlas and Atef Safadi

Chefs taking part include Hamudi Abulafia, Blaqis Abu Rabia, Hila Alpert, Johnny Goric, Camel Hashlamon, Zuzu Hana, Moein Halabi, Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, Yaron Kestenbaum, Ilay Musa, Elias Matar, Itamar Davidov, Omar alwan, Hamudi O-Kala, Nashaat Abbas, Yossi Shitrit, Matan Abrahams, Hussam Abbas, Dohol Safadi, Amos Sion, Ayelet Latovitch, Joseph Asfour, Lama Shehadi, Erez Komarovsky, Fotana Jabar, Salah Kurdi, Sabina Valdman, Shadi Nakhla Bishara, Aliya Dasuki, Roi Sofer, Meiser Abu Shahadah, Noorah Husaisi, David Frankel, Eldad Shmueli, and Tarek Taha.

Daka Gazawia – onions, garlic, chili peppers, dill seeds, and tomatoes are ground one after the other in this salad. Photo by Asaf Ambram
Daka Gazawia – onions, garlic, chili peppers, dill seeds, and tomatoes are ground one after the other in this salad. Photo by Asaf Ambram