Don’t Go To Israel’s Vegetarian Village, Amirim, For the Food

"amirim vegetarian village galilee"Amirim, a unique vegetarian village in northern Israel, offers gorgeous views… and mediocre food.

Once upon a time (according to the owner of the bed and breakfast that I recently stayed at in Amirim), a young group of idealistic vegetarians gathered in central Israel and decided that they needed to get away from all that civilization.  (Mind you, this was in the 1950s, just a few years after the young country declared independence and it is unclear how “civilized” the country was anyway.)

This group marched up to the Israel Land Authority asking to be granted space in a remote location, and was given a town in the Galilee that had been deserted by previous settlers.  And thus, the strictly vegetarian village of Amirim was born.  The village has maintained its early vegetarian roots to this day, and all (or at least 95%) of its residents just say no to meat.

As a vegetarian of 20 years myself, Amirim naturally had quite an appeal for me.  A whole village of vegetarians?  I conjured images in my head of what the houses might look like, and a-la Hansel and Gretel I imagined houses made of tofu bricks, trees that were larger versions of broccoli, and tempeh roads.

I was lucky enough to be taken for my first visit to Amirim this past weekend, and my fanciful illusions were put to rest.Amirim looked nothing like what I imagined – it was even more beautiful (check out the views above and below).  Perched on top of a mountain in the Galilee, Amirim overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the neighboring towns, and lots of green.  The air is fresh, it is refreshingly quiet, and rosemary and other herbs seem to grow like weeds.

"galilee vegetarian village israel"But the food?  Nothing to write home about (or recommend warmly to Green Prophet readers).  The food at this self proclaimed vegetarian haven was standard at best and led me to believe that the villagers left their food standards back in the 1950s as well.  Vegetarianism has come a long way, baby, but it seems like Amirim has kept it old school (and not in the good way).

Vegetarianism in Israel in the 1950s probably meant, for the most part, eating all of the vegetable side dishes that accompany meat.  Some roasted eggplant, some peppers stuffed with rice, a variety of salads… and that’s what I found at Amirim.  Even at the village’s most renowned restaurant, Dalia’s, all I found were overpriced kibbutz cafeteria side dishes and a few minor highlights (I must admit, the almond and peanut patties were yummy).  When dining at a “normal” or carnivore-oriented restaurant, I would expect to have to make do with such dishes and skip the protein.  I can forgive a standard urban Italian restaurant its lack of tempeh.  But to have no delicious, fun vegetarian proteins available in a vegetarian village?

Where’s the seitan, Amirim?  The vegetarian bacon?  The soy chorizo?

It almost seems like Amirim knows that it will be visited by hungry vegetarians such as yours truly, knows that it is unique, and stopped trying a while ago.  A vegetarian village is an attraction and people will come regardless, so why bother making it a gourmet vegetarian mecca (and convince some carnivores to skip a few bites of steak in the process)?  We can just overcharge for our protein-less, mediocre dishes and make bank anyway.

Sadly, I’ve had better vegetarian food in the homes of highly carnivorous friends.

At a time when it is more important than ever to convince people to go vegetarian – the meat industry is one of the most energy intensive and carbon emitting enterprises in the world – it is unfortunate that Amirim can’t give people a delicious or good reason why.

Images via: smontagu

Read more about Amirim::
The Pacifists and Vegetarians from Amirim
Green Prophet Visits Amirim, a Vegetarian Paradise in the Galilee
Dria Peterson’s Handmade Creations, Born From a Genealogy of Vegetarianism and Recycling

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10 thoughts on “Don’t Go To Israel’s Vegetarian Village, Amirim, For the Food”

  1. GP says:

    I went to Amirim last weekend, ate at Rishikesh, I thought the food was not bad compared to the crappy Indian food in the San Francisco area where I live. I agree about the lack of soy based “meats” it really makes a big difference. I’m in Israel for 2 months, any recommendations for good veggie food in and around netanya, Haifa, tel aviv etc? Starving for good quality Asian/Chinese veggie cuisine

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Angel,

    Your point about not wanting to emulate pork dishes is well taken. I do enjoy eating ethnic dishes in vegetarian versions as close to the original as possible though, so every once in a while I don’t mind a little vegetarian Mu Shu pork. But the main problem in Amirim was the COMPLETE lack of vegetarian proteins. I left feeling starved for lentils, tofu, kidney beans – anything!

    If you had a more positive experience there please let us know.

  3. Angel says:

    I am curious about this. You expected seitan, and veggie versions of meat? I don’t know. As a vegetarian, I am always looking for additional sources of protein and seitan is good and I love tofu, which as you know you can serve a thousand ways. But I have never asked for vegetarian bacon or chorizo… mainly because I wouldn’t eat pork products to begin with, nor do I see why I’d want them emulated in a vegetarian dish. Sorry that you had a bad experience in Amirim. Perhaps a local family would have provided something more appealing for you or with all the local herbs in abundance been able to make something yourself.

    1. Angel,

      I can vouch for the bad experience that Karen had. The food at Amirim was bland and unexciting. Not fresh. There are a million ways today to make veggie food that works well in a restaurant. The places that Karen went to and which I went to in Amirim were clearly from another generation when people simply had no other option.

  4. Judy says:

    In Rosh Pina, try the Flying Fig for take away when you stay at a zimmer (they might have an on site place too) – large selection of excellent vegetarian dishes http://www.theflyingfig.co.il

  5. So that leaves… ? I guess if you want to visit Amirim, best to go and eat somewhere else. Probably Rosh Pina.

  6. Karen says:

    Zohar – eating plant based foods ourselves instead of growing them to feed livestock and then eating the livestock is much less energy intensive. It’s simple math.

    As for what restaurants to avoid in Amirim, stay away from the famous Dalia’s, as well as the local Indian restaurant (Rishikesh) and the cafe at the entrance to Amirim (Relata). Bait 77 offers some decent baked goods, if you can get the attention of the baker who always seemed to be doing something mysterious in the back of the cafe.

    Has anyone else had recent experiences at Amirim?

  7. I was at Amirim a few weeks ago and all that there is to eat is Dalia’s. The food hasn’t changed in 35 years and to quite frank it was stale, waaaay overpriced and not really appetizing. I advise people not to go there. Where did you eat?

  8. Zohar says:

    This article perpetuates the false dichotomy between vegetarianism and the “meat industry”.

    Natural pastured meat and dairy products are healthy and benefit the environment.

    1. Zohar – I can’t say I’ve heard anywhere how the meat or dairy industry benefits the environment. Certainly when the meat is produced in a humane way, without the use of chemicals, hormones and in a free range setting, the result is better for the environment. Same for dairy. But the greenhouse gases are still there. Nothing you can do about that.

      Most leading environmentalists would agree that vegetarianism is the ideal, I believe.

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