O, Holy Food: Guide to Gourmet Eating in Nazareth

Halvah, tahini, spices, pastries and traditional Arab cuisine - it’s all good in Nazareth, where a young generation of chefs is taking over.

 Rotem Maimon
Rotem Maimon
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 Rotem Maimon
Rotem Maimon

Nazareth not only has history, impressive churches and charm, it tells a fascinating culinary story. In a small area you can find a bustling selection of stores, restaurants, bakeries, coffee-roasting houses and pastry shops. And now Nazareth restaurants boast a new generation of chefs who have plied their trade in top-notch restaurants around Israel and the world.

Halvah and tahini at Nazareth Halva
Nazareth Halva is run by the fourth generation of the Ali Nasser family, which produces halvah and tahini from natural ingredients using traditional methods. The sesame comes from Africa and goes through a long process to become perfect halvah; this includes the roasting and grinding.

Nazareth Halva produces three types of tahini – from white sesame, whole sesame and ground black cumin, recommended for diabetics and considered the healthiest tahini. There are also more than 20 types of halvah, including vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, cashew, almond, cinnamon, ginger and carob.

For the more advanced it’s worth lingering over the rahat lokum, aka Turkish delight, or indulge in dragee candies and sugar-coated hummus. Prices for half a kilogram of tahini and halvah range from 10 to 15 shekels ($3-$4). Want to know the origin of halvah? A tour of the factory and tastings – free of charge but by appointment only – are available at Nazareth Halva, 4000 Street, Building 21, on the way down from the courthouse in Upper Nazareth.

Home-made pastries at Sambusak
If you’ve visited Nazareth Halva, take a peek into the shop next door, Sambusak. In 2006 Aouni and Jada opened Sambusak, a tiny place where Jada makes small baked goods based on secret family recipes. Eat the goodies on the spot or take them to go; either way, the prices are very low. The piece de resistance are the fingers of dough stuffed with za’atar (hyssop) leaves, sesame and cheese, which Jada can be seen preparing almost every day with inspiring precision. Prices are about 65 shekels ($20) per kilo.

Ground coffee and spices at Fahoum
In 1950 it was rare to find places in Israel that ground coffee, certainly not from imported fine coffee beans. The first roasting house opened that year in Nazareth and became a trailblazer in Israel, before roasted coffee became so common. Today four places in Nazareth sell and roast coffee from countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Fahoum also offers unique blends. Of the four places where it sells the stuff, our favorite was the one hidden on 6 Paulus Street. Here you’ll find coffee, spices, candy, dried fruit, pine nuts and a huge roasting machine. The device is one of the best in the world, specially ordered from Germany. A kilo of ground coffee ranges from 40 to 50 shekels ($10-$15).

Spices and more at the Galilee Mill (El Babour)
El Babour means “the mill” in Arabic, and sure enough, the place is teeming with spices. The building once housed the flour mill of a German Templer family and was transferred to a Nazareth family in 1904. Today the place boasts more than 1,500 types of spices and products, including candy, chocolate, nuts, seeds and traditional cups of tea and coffee. Don’t forget the spices that you won’t find anywhere else. Just head for Habankim Street.

Tishreen is the pioneer of the new wave of restaurateurs and chefs in Nazareth. The restaurant, housed in a building put up in 1868, serves both classic Arab cuisine such as muhmar and European dishes such as pasta, carpaccio and cordon bleu. And don’t overlook the dishes that emerge from the wood-burning stove: roasted baladi eggplant, lamb ribs and siniyeh. The restaurant is on Hama’ayan Square.

A building once used as the Nazareth elementary school is the home of Olga’s. The school theme is evident in the restaurant’s design, and even the menu looks like a notebook. As befits a family of butchers, chef Samer Milad focuses on meat. Don’t miss the transparent bar on the second floor, which overlooks the Old City. It’s the most romantic secret you’ll discover on your trip here. The restaurant is in the Elrom neighborhood.

Seven years ago chef Souhel Farran opened Mejana with his wife, and two years ago he moved it to Hama’ayan Square. In addition to its meat dishes, Mejana excels in traditional fare as shish barak – meat-filled dough cooked in yogurt with garlic and spearmint. Mejana offers one of the best deals in Nazareth: 70 shekels ($20) for a raft of first courses and a main course.

Sudfeh on Hama’ayan Square is the most beautiful restaurant in Nazareth. It’s also one of the only places in the city headed by a woman, Mary Abu Jaber. In the kitchen you’ll find chef Nizar Jaraisy, who returned to Nazareth after 12 years in Tel Aviv, where he worked in placed such as Messa, Espresso Bar, Goocha and Shalvata. Coming in a group? Ask for the lovely private room that overlooks the restaurant.

If you’re looking for another restaurant with a promising chef, consider Dante and young Elias Mattar who heads it. Mattar’s menu boasts mushrooms stuffed with cheese, and seafood bought every day at the market in Haifa. All this comes with the impressive building that overlooks the city. The restaurant is on 48 Al-Bishara St.

Tricolad Cake (Dante).Credit: Boaz Lavi
Sambusak. Baked goods based on secret family recipes.Credit: Rotem Maimon
Galilee Mill (El Babour). The place is teeming with spices. Credit: Rotem Maimon
Tricolad Cake (Dante).Credit: Boaz Lavi

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