Wadi Nisnas – a melting pot that generates a profusion of dishes
The locals refer to it simply as The Wadi, a deferential moniker that hints there is no other wadi before it; still, on the other hand, this kind of overfamiliarity might lead a person to take things for granted.
And Wadi Nisnas, without a doubt, is not to be taken for granted.
Truth of the matter is this small Christian Arab neighborhood of approximately 8,000 residents, situated between Hadar and Downtown, is a real marvel, especially when considering its size; one will rarely find such a plethora of sights and colors, tastes and smells, such a jolly bustle, in places twice or thrice its size. The variety is almost overwhelming.
Nisnas (mongoose, in Arabic) is a center of fine foods of all sorts. Here one can find the folksy "Eastern" restaurants and eateries; the mouth-watering classy gourmet delicatessens; the Baklava bakeries with the sweet-as-sin miniature pastries that double as eye candies, and the highly enticing tamarind juice; coffee toasters that make the best cardamom coffee in Israel; superb hummus and labane; venerated shawarma stands; and of course the two amiably rivaling legendary falafel shops who stand opposite each other on both sides of a very narrow alley.
All this before even mentioning the picturesque market stalls offering lush produce and bright-colored baladi (organic) vegetables; the fishmongers, the butchers, the spice shops, the pitta bread bakeries, the olive oil, the olives… was Xanadu ever closer?
It is no wonder, then, that Wadi Nisnas is a regular location for tour guides who wish to impress groups of tourists from all around the world.
Now, it just may be that all this richness will not have existed or will not have been as attractive, if not for the Wadi's unique character: the neighborhood is an architectural oasis frozen in time, charming and quaint, radiating a refined aura serving to convince that the old times were actually good as advertised.
Quite impressive, do you not agree? Well, yes, but we have not yet mentioned the art. Renowned for its liberal nature and practice of coexistence, Haifa initiated the Holiday of Holidays Festival, celebrating Hanukkah, the Ramadan and Christmas, which takes place in the Wadi annually since 1993. During the three weeks of the festival, the neighborhood becomes an outdoor art gallery – dozens of artists from all over the country exhibit their works in the streets. The interesting part is that some are transient, but many of the works – murals, sculptures, installations, poems etc. – are permanent, ipso facto turning the Wadi into a huge urban art gallery. The resulting ambience is hard to describe and should be experienced firsthand.
Understandably, such diversity and concentrated richness might set one's head abuzz. Just the perfect time to take a break from the mundane and take refuge in one of the local churches – Saint John or Saint Lucas - to listen to a concert of heavenly music , sacred or profane.
Beit HaGefen, the Jewish and Arab cultural center promoting mutual social advancement in Haifa and in Israel for more than five decades, operates from Wadi Nisnas. Besides it many programs the center has a visitors center and a gallery, and is the home of El Karama theatre.
On weekends and holidays mainly, but not only, Wadi Nisnas is a cross section of Haifa's life and its variegated culture and populace, a showcase vividly displaying what normalcy and peace look like.