by Anav Silverman The second annual A-Sham Arab Food Festival, began Wednesday, December 7 in downtown Haifa, where a host of forgotten dishes of the Levant were spotlighted in various restaurants, pubs and eateries.
More than 45 leading chefs from the Jewish and Arab sectors including Muslim, Christian and Druze are taking part in the festival and working together to give a modern twist to traditional dishes.
The word A-sham in Arabic refers to the geographic area known as the Levant, which stretches from Aleppo in the north through to the Negev in the south, in Lebanon and Trans-Jordan.
Mattan Abrahams, head chef at a Tel Aviv steakhouse and Issa Marun, owner of Abu Marun in Haifa created a unique plate of hummus for the festival together. Abrahams paid tribute to America by placing slow-cooked barbequed short ribs on Abu Marun’s famous hummus. “It’s delicious,” said one customer.
“When you talk about food, you forget about tensions. Stomachs unite people,” Issa Marun told Tazpit Press Service. “We combined the comfort food of the southern U.S. with hummus, the comfort food of the Middle East.”
“Tensions are between radicals, most people don’t care about politics,” believes Abrahams. “I myself don’t care who you pray to. I’m not into politics and if food can bring people together, then I’m happy.”
Abrahams, who is head chef at the Hudson Brasserie, a steakhouse in Tel Aviv, did not previously know Issa Marun, whose family-owned eatery has been running since 1969. “It has been a great experience hosting Mattan,” said Marun, who noted that his regular customers are both Jewish and Arab.
Dr. Nof Amtna-Ishmaeel, the founder of the Arab Food Festival, and its creative director, emphasized that the central idea of the festival, which is an initiative of the Downtown Haifa Administration, is to connect different peoples and cultures through food.
Despite the recent forest fires that ravaged parts of Haifa and destroyed over 500 homes, Amtna-Ishmaeel said it was important that the festival continue. “Even during problematic times, food brings people together,” said the 2014 Master Chef Israel winner.
The A-Sham festival will offer culinary meet-ups, musical and dance performances, cookery and craft workshops, and lectures throughout the three-day festival, from December 7 – 9. During the festival, each participating Haifa venue will serve its own festival dish, priced from NIS 5 – 35 ($1.30 – $9).
“Haifa has known good and bad times. One thing that has never broken is the beautiful coexistence found in this city,” Amtna-Ishmaeel commented. “A food festival like this could only be celebrated here.”