During a recent visit to Haifa, I was really excited to have the opportunity to take part in a culinary tour of Wadi Nisnas given by Sharon Shteinbock of Haifa Shuk & Cook. Sharon grew up in Haifa so he knows a lot about the history of the city, but having spent a number of years living abroad, his English is fluent. As well as being passionate about the food and culture of Haifa, Sharon is also an architect and throughout the tour, he included fascinating anecdotes about the history of the area and details about the various building styles from the Ottoman and British eras.
Wadi Nisnas is a large Arab neighborhood in central Haifa, between the German Colony and Downtown Haifa. The neighborhood is approximately 50% Muslim and 50% Christian and predominately features low stone houses, narrow alleyways and small staircases between the streets.
- Em Sabri Bakery (מאפיית אם סברי), Wadi Street 40-48
We started our tour at a female-run bakery with fresh pita topped with Jibni, a shredded soft white cheese popular in Arabic cooking and typically used in knafeh. We also tried pita Mahamra, a red paste made from onion, red pepper and sumac. The pita slices can be eaten separately or combined like a pizza.
- Pepela Bakery (בית מאפה פלפלה), Wadi Street 41
A similar bakery across the street, but instead of buying bread, Sharon bought home-made Jibni, to take home to make knafeh. The Jibni comes as a hard block of highly salted cheese, which is then soaked to remove the salt for use in savory dishes and soaked even more for sweet dishes like knafeh.
- Hummus Elsham, Wadi Street 21
The Levantine dish, Hummus Fatteh, is a specialty at Hummus Elsham, owned and run by Stephen Shehade, a Christian Arab from a well-known local family. The dish includes freshly-made creamy hummus topped with warm chickpeas, labaneh, fried onions and crispy pita chips. Hot clarified butter (Samna) is then poured over the dish before it is served to the diners, who can then mix it as they chose to. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to try this delicious dish. I highly recommend trying it, if you haven’t already done so.
- Michelle Falafel, Wadi Street 21
According to our guide, this is the best falafel in Haifa and we were warmly welcomed by the owners with a sample ball of fresh falafel, as soon as we arrived. The restaurant is owned by Michelle Jamal and his sons own branches all over Haifa. The falafel mixture is all still made by Michelle in the original branch in Wadi Nisnas and then distributed to his sons around the city.
As we walked along Yohanan Hakadosh Street we passed a number of small stalls without any names. Each one had someone sitting inside making pots various local delicacies which were mostly stuffed vegetables and vine leaves. Some were preparing orders for local restaurants and the rest of the pots were being prepared for sale over the weekend when the market is in full swing. One vegetable stall had two old women hollowing out zucchini and eggplant for stuffing. I happily bought these perfectly hollowed out vegetables which I then filled with minced meat and rice at home, but it saved me most of the hard work.
- Cafe Mustafa Haifa, 21 Wadi Street (entrance on E Tugrai Street)
Sharon saved the best for last. Mustafa welcomed us to Cafe Haifa with a delicious cup of Turkish coffee with cardamom, made from beans roasted on-site. The coffee was accompanied by home-made halva, sweetened with potato starch. Lastly, we sampled a delicious delicate sweet aptly named Garden of Eden. The sweet is made from carob, dates, and pistachio and is made in Nablus. While we were there, several customers came just to buy a roll of this unique sweet.
The three-hour Wadi Nisnas tour costs 800 NIS for 6 people or less, and each additional person is 120 NIS for up to 50 people. The tour can be vegetarian but not kosher. Haifa Shuk & Cook frequently offer a public tour in Hebrew on Fridays for NIS 120 per person. For more information and to book tickets online, click here.
Wadi Nisnas is also home to the Museum without Walls project, which is part of the multicultural celebrations of the city of Haifa and is made up of over 60 artworks that are displayed on the walls of houses, rooftops, inner courtyards and public spaces around the neighborhood. Our tour of Wadi Nisnas included a number of these artworks which added another interesting element to the multi-faceted tour. Here is a map with a full list of the current artwork.
- Matrimony, Shmuel Pe’er, 2001
- Aunt Amneh, Nasrin Abu Baker, 2010
- Somebody Once Lived Here, Chaya Touma, 2001
- Sea-curity, Dan Chamizer, 2002
Sharon and his wife and partner, Yael offer two other tours. The Downtown Haifa Culinary Tour includes tastings at 6 different places and includes seeing some of the most iconic buildings in Haifa. This tour can be fully pescetarian, vegetarian or kosher and is the same price as the Wadi Nisnas tour (details above).
The third option that the couple offer is a hands-on Israeli cooking workshop in their home, which includes a chance to learn how to cook Middle Eastern dishes, and uncover the cultural and historical roots of the local kitchen. The workshop can be combined with a visit to the market to buy the ingredients and can be vegetarian, vegan or kosher-friendly but their home is not kosher. The workshop followed by a three-course dinner takes four hours and costs NIS 250 per person (including local wine and beer), for 4-18 people.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour with Sharon, not only because we tasted some delicious food, but because we met some wonderful local people and learned so much about the history and the culture of the area. We cannot wait to return and take part in a full cookery workshop and meet Yael.
If you want are interested in a culinary experience in Shuk Machaneh Yehudah in Jerusalem, check out my self-guided Tasting Tour of the Shuk and my top ten recommendations for Street Food in the Shuk.