By Jared Erman
When most people (myself included) think of a scarcely populated desert, they don’t instinctively associate it with an enticing culinary experience. However, a recent trip to the Negev completely reshaped my perspective, displaying just how full of surprises Israel is.
We arrived on Kibbutz Masha’abei Sade after a full day of touring and hiking near Mitzpe Ramon. As I entered the dining hall, I followed a beguiling tomato-y scent to an isolated counter stacked with bowls and discovered a big pot of soup. I’ve had vegetable soup before, but this chunky-yet-somehow-smooth concoction introduced my taste buds to a whole new understanding of flavor. To think, the best soup I’ve ever guzzled was made using solely plants grown in the middle of the desert!
The next day, we visited two family ventures: Na’ot goat farm and Karmei Ovdat winery. Unlike typical goat cheese–which has that distinct, well, goat-y taste–Na’ot produces several styles that perfectly replicate classics like Parmesan and Roquefort. Meanwhile, Karmei Ovdat’s vineyards yield and array of flavors through eight different wines, which we were served on tap. What better way to spend an afternoon than cheese and wine tasting?
Our final stop was at a place called the “Salad Trail.” Though I salivated over the image my brain created of a hiking route lined with vegetables, I was even more excited by what I found. Our guide, Lee, walked us past a carrot patch and strawberry grove and into a large greenhouse growing cherry tomatoes in the entire color spectrum. “See these brown ones? We developed them as a booster to prevent prostate cancer, so they’re called prostate tomatoes.” Then, Lee looked at us as though wondering why nobody was eating, and barked at us to go try the tomatoes! Without hesitation I picked fresh, colorful tomato after tomato, gobbling them up like M&M’s.
David Ben Gurion envisioned a blooming Negev in which the Jewish people could not only thrive themselves, but also contribute to the betterment of humanity. Through the lenses of food, I’m excited to see his dream becoming a reality.