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An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Her winning dish – Sultan’s Spring.
Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, is a mother of three and possesses a PhD in microbiology. She is the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, north of Netanya. While she plans to use her prize money to open an Arab-Jewish cooking school she ultimately would like to use her food to create common ground between Arab and Jewish Israelis and very much believes in the power of food to foster deep bonds between people.
Recipe: Sultan’s Spring
For the almond cream:
3/4 cup blanched almonds, halved
5 slices dry white bread
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
For the salad:
6 green almonds
Leaves of wild fennel
Hot green pepper, thinly sliced
One handful of green fresh chickpeas
Juice of half a lemon
A few small tomatoes, chopped
For the fish:
5 striped red mullets
Oil for deep frying
Soak the bread in water for about two minutes. Place almonds and garlic in a food processor and grind. Squeeze out the bread and add to the processor bowl.
Gradually add olive oil and lemon juice and process, then add the lemon zest, salt, pepper and seasonings, and set aside.
Cut the fennel bulb and green almonds into thin slices. Add the leaves of wild fennel, hot green pepper and thinly sliced and chopped pickled grape leaves. Season with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
Clean the fish and debone, then salt with coarse salt. Season the inside of the fish with a little grated lemon zest and salt.
Flour the fish and pan-fry in plenty of oil.
To serve, spread the almond cream on a plate (like hummus). Top with the fennel salad, almonds and green chickpeas. Place the fish over the salad and top with chopped tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon zest and serve.
“Breaking bread,” an expression that typically refers to the act of enjoying a meal together and the bonding that results from the experience, is the philosophy behind a new tourism initiative.
Breaking Bread Journeys, a Palestinian-Israeli experiential tourism joint-venture headquartered in Jerusalem, is based on the concept that sharing food while traveling can create deep connections and a better understanding of diverse cultures.
The project was recently founded by two tour operators: Elisa Moed, an American-born Israeli Jew who is chief executive of Israel-based Travelujah, and Christina Samara, a Christian Palestinian, owner and managing director of Samara Tourist and Travel Agency.
“We shared a vision for what could be done,” Moed said. “By operating together, we could offer a much more seamless tour to travelers who want to see both Israel and the Palestinian territories.” Programs provide one tour guide, ease in crossing borders and a comprehensive program, features that help provide authentic experiences that would otherwise be impossible, she said.
The co-founders spoke to NBC News earlier this week before the official public U.S. launch at The New York Times Travel Show in New York on Friday.
The two women met several years ago when they were invited to participate in the Holy Land Marketing Cooperation panel, created by the Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair. The Quartet is an international group with a mandate that includes supporting Palestinian economic development.
The panelists were brought together to identify impediments that were limiting cooperation within the tourism sector and to identify ways they could work together. “But four years ago the political climate was not great and we couldn’t proceed,” Samara said. But she and Elisa developed a friendship. “We decided one-to-one, woman-to-woman, business-to-business, to work together.”
So Breaking Bread Journeys was created.
“We shared a vision for what could be done. By operating together, we could offer a much more seamless tour to travelers who want to see both Israel and the Palestinian territories.”
Tours began on a small scale in the summer. Five are currently offered, typically six to eight days, but all can be customized. Small groups of 10 to 20 people, access to areas that are typically unavailable to most tourists, like visits to private homes and opportunities to engage directly with people in local communities, are key features.
Tourists visit everything from classic historic and cultural sites to the best place for hummus. And they meet many of the region’s diverse people: secular Israelis, Hasidic, Yemenite and Moroccan Jews, Armenians, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims. Some tours include an evening visit with Bedouins in the Judean Desert or encounters with Druze in the Golan Heights.
“It’s really a melting pot over there” said Samara.
Visitors to Nablus, a city that “is not yet touristy and very authentic,” Moed said, can take in old hammams, an underground bakery and a colorful ancient market “with food and spices you don’t see anywhere else.”
And, of course, each tour includes a daily “breaking bread” experience. “That’s what we do on our tours — we eat a lot!” Samara said.
“To sit around the dinner table, just enjoying a meal together, being human together — it just brings you back to the basics. It’s a beautiful way to break down barriers.”
Shawna Goodman of Montreal recently participated in a tour visiting locations in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. One event involved cooking classic Middle Eastern dishes alongside four members of “Chefs for Peace,” a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim professional chefs. Home visits included personal encounters with a Jewish Hasidic woman who expressed the importance of bringing family together and taught the group how to make traditional Challah, and a Palestinian woman who “took her cooking very seriously,” Goodman said. “She made us typical Palestinian food” — frika soup made with roasted wheat; baked chicken dry rubbed with cinnamon, sumac, cumin and tons of onions served on homemade pita; and semolina cake made with freshly juiced oranges.
“To sit around the dinner table, just enjoying a meal together, being human together — it just brings you back to the basics,” Goodman said. “It’s a beautiful way to break down barriers.”
But Breaking Bread Journeys’ impact goes beyond cultural understanding, the founders said. Traditionally, most tours spend half a day in Palestinian areas, resulting in about 10 cents for each tourist dollar spent going to the local economy, but Breaking Bread Journeys’ programs result in more money going directly to these communities, Moed said. “We design our programs to up that substantially,” typically returning 27 cents on each tourist dollar spent, she said. “It’s our way to improve lives and further peace and stability.”
Samara Tourist and Travel Agency is receiving support for marketing and promotion of Breaking Bread Journeys from the United States Agency for International Development, as part of the agency’s strategy to develop the Palestinian tourism sector and to make a significant impact in job creation and investment, as a path to peace and stability.
Cheryl Hargrove, president of HTC Partners, a consulting firm specializing in cultural heritage tourism, said there is an international trend among travelers who desire immersive, authentic experiences. “What better way to learn about new cultures than through conversation with local residents over a meal?” she said. Breaking Bread Journeys offers participants “a unique educational exchange to learn about customs, cuisine and history from local perspectives.
“Travel can be a healing opportunity,” Hargrove said, and “this collaboration of two women from very different backgrounds demonstrates the power of travel as a tool for peace, understanding and cultural respect.”
Authored by Tanya Mohn for NBCnews.com” title=”NBCnews.com” target=”_blank”>NBC news.com – February 28, 2014.
Breaking Bread Journeys launching in the US
“Breaking Bread Journeys” – a new Palestinian and Israeli tourism concept
Jerusalem — “Breaking Bread Journeys” is a new Palestinian and Israeli experiential tourism concept that will be introduced to the US travel industry and media at the New York Times Travel Show in February in New York. The concept was recently created by two tour operators, Christina Samara, a Palestinian and owner of Samara Tourist and Travel Agency, and Elisa Moed, founder of Israel-based Travelujah. Both women were introduced by Tony Blair’s Quartet Initiative and are launching this new tourism concept with the support of the United States Agency for International Development under the Compete Project in the West Bank, which emphasizes economic development, including tourism, as a path to peace and stability.
“We realized that travel brings people together in many positive ways and helps in the pursuit of stability, prosperity and peace in the entire Holy Land,” said Christina Samara. “So we designed a set of very special Palestinian and Israeli cultural and historic tours that include many of the classical sites that both of our companies have long been offering.”
“However, we believed that what tourists really want is to experience the land in a personal way and we knew that by working together we could provide authentic experiences that would otherwise be virtually impossible,” explained Elisa Moed. “Each of our experiences provides opportunities for small groups to engage directly with local communities. These include experiences for faith-based clientele, as well as other market segments that are keen to learn and enjoy local traditional cuisine, art, and music and, of course, break bread with the people of the land.”
Tourism to the Holy Land is important for both Israelis and Palestinians. In 2012, the Israeli tourism industry received 3.5 million visitors, and the Palestinian tourism industry received over 1.8 million visitors. In fact, visitors to the Palestinian Territories increased over 40% from 2007 to 2013– a positive sign that the region can safely receive increasing numbers of visitors.
“We intend to visit the United States during the period of 28th February – 2nd March 2014 where we will be meeting tour industry professionals in the United States and we look forward to meeting tour operators, media and organizations interested in offering our rich, comprehensive cultural experiences in the Holy Land,” said Samara.
Samara Tourist and Travel Agency is being supported in the development of this initiative by the United States Agency for International Development through their COMPETE project in the West Bank as part of the Agency’s strategy to develop the Palestinian tourism sector and to make a significant impact in job creation and increased investment.
To view a brief Breaking Bread Journey tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY5RbCrMu70
For more information, contact Christina Samara at +972-54-237-5288 or Elisa Moed at +972-52-744-4033. They can also be reached via email at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Their website is at: www.breakingbreadjourneys.com