It was 10:14 a.m. on Wednesday and I finally received the SMS I’d been waiting for: “FoodTrip Update: Today at 5:00 p.m. we will be stopping at the commercial center in Katamon, right next to HaShamen. Our guest: Elran Shrapler, chef and co-owner of Azura. Dish: Meatballs with rice and beans. Price: Just NIS 20. The drinks are on us! FoodTrip: Kosher/Halal/Sold at cost.”
Welcome to FoodTrip, the latest installment in the Jerusalem Season of Culture (JSOC) — the summer-long program that celebrates local musicians, artists, singers, and performers, and which was created and is partially sponsored by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman. For the next three weeks, this mobile kitchen, much like the food vans that park on the streets of major US cities — offering foodie options for worker bees, construction crews and late-night partygoers — will stop in a different neighborhood each day, serving up dishes chosen by a guest host, and overseen by Jerusalem chef Assaf Granit. All for the bargain price of NIS 20.
“We’re drawing a map of the city with food,” said Granit, 34, who owns four restaurants in Jerusalem, including the popular Machneyuda, located in the Mahane Yehuda market. “If every day is like today, I think it’s going to be successful.”
It was now after 5 p.m. on Wednesday and crowds of customers, from Katamon and beyond, seemed to form a never-ending queue in front of the small truck, waiting patiently for the meal of the day.
The busy turnout was something of a surprise to the team, as they’d decided not to reveal the truck’s location until the actual day, via text message, email or the FoodTrip’s Twitter page (you can register on the Jerusalem Season of Culture website).
Granit said the reason for keeping the location secret until the last moment is to avoid excessive crowds that could cause the chefs to run out of food. But Itay Mautner, creative director of JSOC, said he believes the tactic is just one more way to get creative when trying to tell the story of Jerusalem through food.
“It’s fun,” shrugged Mautner. “The food is only an excuse; it’s about telling a deeper story about what it is to be in Jerusalem.”
The guest hosts of FoodTrip — a mixture of distinguished chefs, TV personalities, athletes, and other well-known Jerusalem natives — will strive to represent their own personal connection with the city through the dishes they choose to serve, often reminiscent of the home-cooked meals of their childhood. Shrapler, who learned how to cook Azura’s homey, one-pot dishes from his parents, had a slam dunk with his ketzizot — Israeli-style meatballs flecked with fresh parsley and seasoned with ral el-hanout spices, a blend that originates in North Africa.
For some of the customers, the event was less about the actual food and more about the sense of community.
“This is what I love about Israel; it’s all about family and fun,” said Julia Sklaver, an exchange student at the Hebrew University, as she waited in line. “I’m expecting some really good food right now.”
Everything served from the truck is kosher and halal, in contrast to Granit’s restaurants, which serve non-kosher food at a much higher price range of around $25 – $100 per meal.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to feed kosher food to people who may not have much money,” he said. “It’s a great way to give back to the city.”
According to Granit, he and the FoodTrip team plan to visit neighborhoods in east, west, north and south Jerusalem. Though they already have the destinations mapped out, they’re adamant about keeping the schedule a secret, making Jerusalemites wait for the information about their next meal. But in the meantime, we’ve got Friday’s destination: FoodTrip Update: 11 a.m., the “Monster” Park in Kiryat Hayovel. Guest: Jacki Levi. Dish: Brik, a Tunisian delicacy. Price: Just NIS 20. The drinks are on us!”
See you there.