A visit of Magdala and the region in general creates an opportunity of a one of a kind culinary adventure.
Nestled in the shrubbery of some rather indistinguishable bush grows wild asparagus. A damp mound of earth which is covered in overgrown weeds actually holds a treasure trove of some of the key ingredients combined for lunchtime specialities of restaurants such as El Babor in Yokne’am, which is a city overlooking Jezeel Valley 13 miles from Haifa.
Wild endives are sautéed in olive oil and combined with sliced onion for a heart-warming salad. Green leaves known as Hubeza are used in a salad or to form part of a list of ingredients for vegetable patties. The wild fennel leaves add some unique flavours to a lentil soup while the wild asparagus can be diced and thrown into a beautiful fluffy omelette.
Wild mustard greens are another ingredient which is foraged from the land. The stems are chopped, combined with labnah and added to yogurt to add a spicy note. Out of the bounty of the wild mustard greens, what remains can be pickled for a delightful summer treat.
Restaurant Magdelena is situated overlooking Lake Kinneret, even this up-market location uses weeds as a dominant part of its cuisine. On a particular day the lunch menu includes a salad with wild watercress, baby peas, apples and radishes. Another variety of salad uses mustard greens, red onions, sumac and cheese bread sticks spiced with wild hyssop to leave you feeling satisfied and refreshed.
For those who crave something a little more substantial than a salad the menu boasts a speciality main meal of Tumble Thistle which is a white veined leaf whose peeled stem has the taste and texture of an artichoke heart. The stem is removed, chopped and slowly simmered with delicious veal and pungent spices to create a gratifying stew that will make you feel like you are at your grandmothers kitchen table.
The last stop on our culinary expedition is a charming spot called Sarabiq, located in the Arabic town of Rameh in Galilee. This restaurant is representative of what you will find on the dinner table in homes around the city. One of the key ingredients in the dishes served up is endives which are bountifully foraged from the landscape. This little establishment intimately accommodates six small tables with a menu which changes daily and is handwritten on a whiteboard in Hebrew and Arabic. A visit to this place is a true immersion into the local culture. On a given day you can find a tasty “weed” speciality which can include sautéed endives with onions and seasonal salad made with wild endives, watercress, peppermint and hyssop.
The meals here rely on the produce of the land and while they remain largely traditional they have been modernised and upgraded in terms of presentation and texture. Most establishments offer the option ordering off the menu or enjoying the buffet. The buffets are Mediterranean style and you will find delightful salads, slaws and fresh vegetables and eggs for your enjoyment. Saint Peters fish is a an experience for the brave as this is a fish which is served up whole with the head, fins and tails still in place. If you don’t want your dinner staring back at you I would advise against this and opt for the more standard fish fillet or schnitzel.
The culinary tour on this trip will open your eyes (and your palate) and give you a new meaning to the term ‘living off the land”. As with most new experiences you will need to have an open mind and an adventurous spirit. Once you have experienced it, you will forever remember your taste of Magdala.