Kung Pao Tel Aviv

Hold the hummus, bring on the fried rice, say Chinese tourists to Israel

Tourism Ministry brings Chinese master chefs to teach Israeli hotel chefs how to make Chinese food, in an effort to please visitors’ picky palates

Chef David Lv displays his finished Yu Xiang eggplant dish at a workshop for Israeli chefs (Michael Harel/Times of  Israel)
Chef David Lv displays his finished Yu Xiang eggplant dish at a workshop for Israeli chefs (Michael Harel/Times of Israel)

It seems that Chinese tourists love Israel, but the food? Perhaps not so much.

In an effort to provide more familiar foods for Chinese tourists, Israel’s Tourism Ministry invited four Chinese master chefs to Israel to teach local hotels how to prepare authentic Chinese food.

Workshops were held this week throughout the country, in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Tira and Tiberias, with more than 400 chefs registered for the master classes.

If there was more Chinese food in Israel, said Chinese master chef David (ZhenNing) Lv, who led the Tel Aviv workshop at the Dan Gourmet Fine Culinary Arts Cooking Centre, then more Chinese tourists would come to visit.

Chefs and students participating in the workshop gather around chef David Lv (center) (Michael Harel/Times of Israel)

In other words, scallion pancakes and some rice, bowls of spicy eggplant and saucy broccoli, may just be what will lure Chinese tourists to come in droves to the holy land.

“If Israeli chefs can make Chinese food, then Chinese tourists will be much more happy and can stay a longer time here,” said Lv.

Chinese tourism to Israel has been increasing rapidly, with more than 100,000 Chinese tourists traveling to Israel in 2017, compared with 80,300 in 2016 and 47,000 in 2015, said Efrat Groman, a representative from the Tourism Ministry who joined Tuesday’s master class in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv receives the largest number of Chinese tourists, said Groman, as they want to understand Israel’s success at high-tech.

Chinese tourists also want to catch a glimpse of Israel’s agricultural know-how and visit historical and nature sites, as well as get a taste of Jewish history and culture, which they find fascinating because of its similarity to their own, added Groman.

Come breakfast, lunch and dinner, however, and they’re not all that interested in plates of hummus, fried falafel or finely chopped salad.

With culinary students and Israeli chefs surrounding him, Chef David Lv demonstrates how to prepare a classic Chinese dish (Michael Harel/Times of Israel)

Israeli food is not adapted to the Chinese palate, said Groman, and Chinese tourists have a hard time digesting the typical Israeli offerings.

“Some Israeli hotels have a corner providing Chinese food especially for Chinese tourists,” she said. “We hope to see that all around the country and in all hotels.”

At the Tel Aviv master class on Tuesday, the Israeli chefs surrounded chef Lv, watching carefully while he prepared 11dishes.

Lv stood at the center of the room, describing his actions in Chinese, explaining which spices to add, how to finely slice each vegetable, and the optimal way to stir the ingredients. A translator then described what he had said into Hebrew.

Holding up an eggplant, Lv described the Yu Xiang eggplant recipe he was preparing, a saucy eggplant and meat-infused dish with a spicy kick.

Chef David Lv (center) demonstrates how to make Kung Pao chicken, with chef Shalom Kadosh (right) looking on (Michael Harel/Times of Israel)

Once each dish was completed, the Israeli chefs circled around to taste it and then headed back to their stations to prepare the dish themselves using Lv’s instructions.

The other dishes demonstrated at the workshop included Kung Pao chicken, sweet and sour chicken, Yangzhou fried rice, and a Chinese pancake.

The classes “opened the minds of the students,” said Raviv Schwartz, the manager of Dan Gourmet.

“Israeli chefs are not used to the taste of Chinese food,” said Schwartz. “But even if they’re not used to it, they need to be able to make the best flavors for the tourist.”

Lv was certain that Israeli chefs were up to the task.

“The local chefs are very highly qualified and learn very fast,” he said.

Anat Soffer, from the Anat Soffer Studio Levashel cooking school, said she attended the workshop “to learn, to see, and to enjoy Chinese food, which we don’t know a lot about. It’s a good chance to taste and learn from a Chinese chef.”

For Shalom Kadosh, the award-winning head chef from Jerusalem’s Leonardo Plaza Hotel, the workshop made sense, as he’s noticed the rise in Chinese tourism.

“It started with groups of six, then 14, and now we have groups of 40, 50 and 60,” he said. “It’s very important tourism and we want to give them the food they want.”

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