I wanted to share a local touristic phenomenon called Tzimmers. As described in earlier entries, Israel has some wonderful areas of natural beauty and many Israeli’s spend the weekend / holidays enjoying them. In conjunction with this many locals living in the countryside (particularly in the North) have created the ‘Tzimmer Hotel’ phenomenon. Tzimmer is a Yiddish word meaning room and that is more or less what they are. There must be hundreds or even thousands of them in Israel and they can be anything from a chalet style dwelling to a shack in someone’s backyard.
In some ways they can be equated to a bed and breakfast (usually without the breakfast or located in the owners home). Most tzimmers have things in common and that is they are basic, expensive and have a Jacuzzi. I am not sure what this love affair of Israelites is with the Jacuzzi/hot tub but one will not go to a tzimmer without one! To me a Jacuzzi is a public health hazard – just imagine the hundreds of other couples who used the contraption in your tzimmer room and did who knows what in it?!?
However, it is the price which is the real outrageous aspect of the tzimmer phenomenon, as the privilege of staying in this basic style of accommodation starts from $125 and can go as high as $500. This is ridiculous as most don’t even serve breakfast, are very basic and most owners lack any service experience – At least most have a Jacuzzi. Even so, most weekends and holidays these places are booked in advance pointing to a successful regional concept.
I admit the idea is not bad, but the product usually is. Maybe it is as a result of the low quality and overly expensive hotels that exist in Israel (stay once in Eilat – to discover that unpleasant experience). The main problem is that there is no industry or service standards for hotels or tzimmers and anyone’s brother or sister can build a shack and call it a tzimmer. I personally have had the pleasure to have stayed in a tzimmer which was in someone’s back yard and one opposite a foul smelling cow shed (well it is nature!).
The lack of service and quality standards in tourist accommodations, coupled with overpricing, is a serious problem in Israel. Particularly for a country that needs tourists dollars. There is a feeling that the country is taking advantage of the good will of Jewish (and non-Jewish) foreign tourists, making the effort to visit Israel, by ripping them off. The reality is that many tzimmers and hotels don’t discriminate and are ripping both local and international tourists.
Hopefully this doesn't put you off visiting Israel (it is diverse, unique and special), but research your visit before arriving. Sites such as tripadvisor or local travel blogs can offer insight and help you make the right and informed decision, as there are accomodation gems scattered across the country.
Tzimmer’s aside, it is nice to get out of Tel Aviv. One can quickly forget, within the concrete jungle, that Israel is a pretty country with unique natural beauty.
It was on one such a weekend in early spring, when everything was in bloom, that we headed to the small village of Nataf (near Abu Gosh) and to Rama’s Kitchen a country style brunch restaurant.
Rama’s kitchen is a pretty place with wooden furniture, next to a garden nursery and overlooking the Judean hills. The contrast from the city is striking and one can easily spend a lazy morning/afternoon relaxing and trying the different dishes.
We came as a rather large group and were welcomed in a friendly country style manner (i.e. relaxed not rushed like in the city). The menu is large and divided into sections of such as from the taboon, garden and cheese deli. Prices are reasonable.
Being a large group we ordered a couple dishes from each menu and were generally not disappointed. Granted no gourmet discoveries but tasty country style cooking which hit the spot in this pretty setting. Below I list in brief the different dishes we tasted:
From the Taboon:
Bread – tasty when fresh, it quickly became less so when it cooled and hardened.
Bread topped with lamb mince, aubergine, pine nuts, yoghurt and Tehina – my kind of food!
From the Garden:
Mozzarella salad with figs and rocket – mozzarella was a little tasteless but the combination enhanced the overall flavour.
Beetroot hummus – A personal favourite of mine of mashing beet and serving with olive oil in the style of hummus – very tasty.
Fennel salad with roquefort and pistachios– Was good even if I am not a fan of this aniseedy vegetable.
From the Deli:
Goats cheese plate – A nice selection of 6/7 cheeses, if a cut a little small.
From the coop:
Shakshuka – Slightly runny as not cooked enough for my liking but the eggs which came from the restaurants coop was tasty.
The perfect egg – a poached egg on a portobello mushroom and goats cheese base. This was the groups favourite as the mixture of ingredients made for a nice flavour and texture contrast.
Chocolate tart – my least favourite as the base was undercooked and I have yet to appreciate the flavour of chocolate in Israel.
Pistachio Ice cream in filo dough– nice twist and tasty.
Rama’s kitchen is a relaxed country restaurant in a pretty setting and is warmly recommended for a lazy brunch. Just take note that it has odd opening days and hours which are listed on their website.
4 Stars out of 5
The Disgruntled Diner