Festival shows Israel’s ‘culinary DNA’ nourishes its innovation and multiculturalism

Festival shows Israel’s ‘culinary DNA’ nourishes its innovation and multiculturalism

Appetizers at the Open Restaurants urban culinary festival in Jerusalem. (Tomer Foltyn)
Appetizers at the Open Restaurants urban culinary festival in Jerusalem. (Tomer Foltyn)

What can unite Jerusalem, a holy city for the three Abrahamic faiths, and often the site of high-profile religious and political conflicts?

Food might be a good start.

Bitemojo, a provider of smartphone-guided food tours, offered a journey dubbed “Between East and West” during the Open Restaurants urban culinary festival in Jerusalem last month.

“We believe that food creates bridges between religious faiths, people and cultures, which is why it was very important for us to emphasize a specific tour that starts in the east side of the city, allowing you to taste three traditional dishes like hummus and pita, but then go by foot to the western side and have more western dishes,” Israeli entrepreneur Michael Weiss, Bitemojo’s co-founder, said.

Open Restaurants returned to Jerusalem for a second year from November 14 to 18, highlighting Israel’s culinary innovations and cultural diversity. Jerusalem’s top chefs opened their kitchens to the public for special workshops and dinners, while natives and tourists alike explored, saw, heard, and most importantly tasted the stories behind the Israeli capital’s food scene.

The festival kicked off with a food and cocktail event for journalists and bloggers from around the world, hosted at Jerusalem’s new boutique hotel, Villa Brown, followed by a walking tour of the city’s top restaurants.

Leon Avigad, founder of Brown Hotels, lauded Open Restaurants for embodying Jerusalem as an innovative and fun city. At the event, guests were invited to have their selfies (or any other design of their choice) printed on a coffee drink by Ripples, an Israeli coffee branding technology company. Ripples uses 3-D printing technology to produce images that are uploaded by mobile software in real time, on froth, with coffee extract as the “ink.”

“Using coffee as a canvas, Ripples allows retail and hospitality companies to engage more intimately with their loyal customers, enhance the experiences of coffee lovers, and bring smiles to peoples’ faces,” Eyal Eliav, co-founder of Ripples, said.

Merav Oren, founder and CEO of Open Restaurants, curated this event to tell the story of Israel as the “start-up nation” — with food as the lens.

“I think Israel, the start-up nation, has something in our DNA that makes us entrepreneurs. Because of Israel’s size and lack of natural resources, we have to invent ourselves all the time, and that’s how Open Restaurants started,” she said.

Bitemojo’s Weiss believes the world is changing, and that food is a central part of that change. “A start-up nation and culinary nation are one in the same if you look at it from the focal point of food. More people travel through food, and that makes entrepreneurs ask themselves how they can influence this cycle by supporting it with technology and combining it with business models that can also be profitable,” he said.

Bitemojo’s application takes the user on a journey through a community’s history, identifying key points of interest en route to iconic local cuisine.

“What we are trying to do inside a destination is find the culinary DNA that compounds each place and create for the traveler, whether international or domestic, an experience of exploring and learning through food,” Weiss said.

Israel’s culinary DNA is a mix of contrasting voices and forces that create a balanced, multicultural food scene, he added. “You can find in every city in Israel east and west, Jewish food and Arab food, high-end food and street food, old and new. It’s always under a constant change, and that’s part of the beauty of the nation in general.”

Festival organizer Oren said, “The culinary scene unites people. We have people here from all over the world and we have chefs that are Jews, Arabs, Christians, other religions, and I think it’s amazing.”


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