The Israel Blog

Caesarea’s Helena Restaurant Blends European Culinary Influences with Locally Sourced Ingredients

Article published on Dec. 25, 2017
Article published on Dec. 25, 2017

Perched on the promenade adjoining the historical preservation district of Caesarea, originally built by Herod in the decades preceding the current era and featuring the remnants of a hippodrome, a theatre, and a palace, Helena fuses in its dishes the traditions of classical restaurateur métiers with village-grown components, freshly caught seafood and locally prepared specialties.

A typical menu from this restaurant can feature crabs sourced from an Israeli-Arab town of Fureidis in the environs of Haifa, veal slices from the Golan Heights, and capers grown at the slopes of Judean Hills. Likewise, Za’atar leaves spicing up calamari pieces, Labneh cheese from a local farm and Yemenite dishes are harvested from the fields in the area in which this establishment opens unto the sea. Vegetarian dishes and sheep cheese-and-nuts plates can be spiked with Arak based on Lebanese recipes. Herbs mélanges can include not only prises of wild fennel but also complement eggplant offerings and beetroot- cured fish supplied by local fishermen.

As ingredients, Halloumi cheese, Kalamata olives and Arak sauce position this restaurant at the crossroads of Arab food culture and European cuisine, as scallops, shrimps and mussels are served in combinations of homemade sauces, vegetable additions and classic side dishes, such as Rizzo pasta, oxtail tortellini and vanilla puree or demi-glacé. To top it off, among its desserts this establishment offers almond custard, goad cheese sweets and wine-cooked fruits, which anchors it in the Arab culinary tradition. Yet, these local specialties are also served with vegan, Tahini-based ice-cream balls, date syrup splashes alongside French pastries and Halva threads with nut rolls, which represents liberal borrowing from both European and local kitchens.

This could be among the reasons for which Helena, an Israeli restaurant led by its chef of note Amos Sion and founded jointly with Uri Jeremias, an acclaimed restaurateur from this country in 2004, was listed among world’s top high-food locations by the French Foreign Ministry in 2016. Joining the Levantine culinary traditions with European culturally influences, this foody hotspot also reflects the development of its chef toward his present position, as he operated food kiosks at local farmers’ markets during his cuisinier studies.

On another level, this venue also pays indirect homage to the history of Caesarea founded on the site of pre-dating ruins from Persian, Greek, Seleucid and Hasmonean periods. The national part of Caesarea Maritima, also called Caesarea Palestinae, thus, preserves the historical memory of the Roman port city dedicated to Augustus, the adoptive son of Julius Cesar, its capital-city status as Palaestina Prima in the Byzantine period, its pre-Crusader Arab settlement, and its abandonment after the Ottoman conquest before its revival in the late nineteenth century.

The syncretism of Helena’s menu, therefore, echoes the layered, ancient history of its location in which the global flows of culinary tourism meet with age-old food-making traditions, locally cultivated ingredients and their contemporary reformulations on the basis of French-inflected culinary terms.

Featured Image Credits: Helena Restaurant, Caesarea, Israel, 2016-2017 |  © Courtesy of Helena Restaurant.

This article has originally appeared in OpenCulture, 25/12/2017,