August 6, 2007
Walking tour takes a bite out of Brookline
By Kristin Erekson
A new tour in Brookline is whetting the appetites of Jewish and non-Jewish diners alike.
From piping hot matzah ball soup to bite-sized falafel, the Ahla Brookline Food Tour aims to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
Launched in early May, the three-hour walk along Harvard and Beacon Streets gives individuals the chance to learn about – and taste – authentic Israeli and kosher food from some of the most wellknown Jewish establishments in Boston.
“I went on a food tour in March, which featured Italian cuisine and history of the North End, and I thought, ‘Wow, there is nothing like this in Brookline,’” said Julia Goldberg, co-creator and marketing director of the Ahla Brookline Food Tour. “I realized that Brookline has really good food, and a rich and interesting Jewish history.
”To give the excursion a more personal touch, Goldberg, along with her husband, Leonid Naimark, Ahla’s executive director, used an inside joke as the name of their tour.
“Ahla means ‘cool and okay’ in Hebrew. It’s a slang word adopted from Arabic,” said Goldberg, who is a native of Russia and a former resident of Israel. “But when Leonid and I immigrated to Israel we learned the word, ‘ochel,’ which means food. We didn’t know the word, ‘ahla,’ yet, but we heard many people saying it on the streets and we confused it with ‘ochel.’ Therefore, we thought people were saying, ‘How delicious!’”
But, when it comes to food, Goldberg and Naimark certainly know what they are talking about now.
With the tour beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays, the couple brings attendees to seven different restaurants, where they learn about the history of each establishment – as well as Brookline – along the way.
The first stop the Advocate made last month on the excursion was to Rubin’s Kosher Delicatessen, where eight participants were asked to start off their breakfast with a bite of cheesecake.
“There is no cheese in this cheesecake. It’s made from tofu,” Goldberg said to surprised attendees. “Because of kashrut, which calls for the separation of meat and dairy, you can’t have meat and dairy products at the same time.
Therefore, people who eat meat in Rubin’s can have dessert after their meal.”
Lexington resident David Brossi, 40, who is not Jewish, told the Advocate that not only did he like the cheesecake, but he also found the culture behind Jewish cuisine to be interesting.
“I really enjoyed learning about the meaning of kosher food and how it ties into the commitment that some people have to their religion,” Brossi said.
Another restaurant that received two thumbs up from a majority of the tour’s hungry diners was Rami’s, which is famous for its kosher Middle Eastern food.
In between mouthfuls of shawarma and falafel, Brighton resident Calee Lucht, 35, doted on the food, and Goldberg and Naimark’s expertise in leading the tour.
“I’ve lived near here for the past 12 years and I never knew about the history or culture,” added Lucht, who is not Jewish. “I like the perspective of the tour guides and learning about their experiences in Russia and Israel.”
In addition to noshing on Jewish cuisine, attendees had the opportunity to taste two kosher wines. Best Cellars gave samples of a sweet, white wine called Golan Moscato, and a rich, red wine called Yarden Mount Hermon Red for some sipping pleasure.
Natasha Hunter, manager of Best Cellars, said the Ahla Brookline Food Tour has been influential in helping to shake the stigma attached to kosher wines.
“For a long time people would associate kosher wine with sweet Manischewitz, which is not the case at all,” Hunter added. “We are really proud of the kosher selections we have at Best Cellars and we are glad this tour is helping to promote them.”
And while the Ahla Brookline Food Tour has been a relatively big hit for Brookline shop owners as well as visitors, Goldberg told the Advocate that there is still much work to be done. She and her husband will continue to lead English, Russian and Hebrew-speaking tours this summer and will also work to draw in more customers.
Said Goldberg: “We love Brookline and we hope our tour will keep bringing people back to the area to come and eat.”