Arab cuisine prepared by 25 chefs from around Israel took center stage December 8-11 at A-sham, the first-ever Arab food festival at the annual Holiday of Holidays multicultural festival in downtown Haifa.

A-sham is the Arabic term for the Levant, a geographic area including much of the Middle East. Participating chefs each created one Arab Levantine dish at a downtown Haifa restaurant under the creative direction of 2014 Master Chef Israel winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, a microbiologist from the northern Israeli-Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye; and culinary impresario Arieh Rosen.

A time-consuming delicacy being prepared in the kitchen of Haifa’s Pint Pub. Photo: courtesy
A time-consuming delicacy being prepared in the kitchen of Haifa’s Pint Pub. Photo: courtesy

The creations each sold for no more than NIS35 ($9) and included dishes for special life-cycle events – such as hilbe (fenugreek seeds) for nursing mothers – as well as dishes that are slowly disappearing because they are too labor-intensive (such as habisa, a black-and-white pudding sweetened with carob juice that takes hours to prepare) or are associated with “poor” cuisine (such as haroumanieh, green lentils cooked with eggplant in pomegranate juice).

This Arab pita sandwich was created at Haifa’s Lahza restaurant. Photo: courtesy
This Arab pita sandwich was created at Haifa’s Lahza restaurant. Photo: courtesy

A collective of Christian Orthodox Arab women from the village of Rameh near Karmiel gave Christmas cookie-baking workshops, donating proceeds from sales toward needy families and student grants.

Award-winning olive oil, za’atar (hyssop), honey, almonds and carob syrup were sold at a pop-up shop run by Sindyanna of Galilee, a fair-trade association focusing on economic opportunities for Arab women and farmers of the Galilee.

A-Sham also offered free panels and discussions in Hebrew and Arabic: “The Hummus Wars,” “The Role of the Woman in the Arab Kitchen” and “The New Arab Kitchen.”

This is a type of Arabic kubbe made with pomegranate seeds. Photo by Ivri Lider
This is a type of Arabic kubbe made with pomegranate seeds. Photo by Ivri Lider

Participating chefs included Hamoodi Abouelafia, Balkees Abu Rabia, Meir Adoni, Hila Alpert, Johnny Gorik, Habib Dawoud, Osama Dallal, Massimiliano di Mattero, Zuzu Hanna, Moyin Halabi, Haim Cohen, Avi Levy, Alaa Musa, Elias Mattar, Omer Miller, Omar Elwan, Hmodi Okala, Naher Araid, Nashat Abbas, Husam Abbas, Dukhul Safadi and Amos Sion. Atamna-Ismaeel prepared two sweet festival dishes in Spira, Haifa’s famous Polish bakery.

Master chef Nof Atamna-Ismaeel. Photo by Ehab Shukha
Master chef Nof Atamna-Ismaeel. Photo by Ehab Shukha

Other Haifa eateries participating in the festival were Jack VeHa’afunim, Angus, Jacko Seafood, Jotti, Dovrin 7, The Diner, Ha’Ogen pub, Ha’namal 24, HaMa’agan, the Pint Pub, Venya Bistro, Talpiot Hamara, Kula, Libira, Lahza, Ma’ayan Habira, Noventa Nova, Sangria, St. Etienne, Café Palmer, Hummus Fadi, Hummus Faraj, Café Sammy, Star restaurant, Kalman’s, Kielser’s and Strudel café.