The Port City of Jaffa: Traditional Arab Food
June 1, 2012 § 3 Comments
Jaffa, a scanty port city abuting Tel-Aviv, is thought to be one of the oldest ports in the world. As the story has it Noah’s (Noah’s Ark Noah) son, Japheth, discovered it in the wake of the infamous flood.
Perched on Israel’s west coast overlooking the Mediterranean it was once a primary port for the country. However, with the explosive growth of Tel-Aviv and the convenience of Haifa, it was merged with Tel-Aviv creating what it referred to today as Tel-Aviv-Yafo.
Aside from the numerous years the port has seen, and the biblical characters it has harbored, Jaffa, a mainly Arab city has some damn good, classic Middle Eastern food. After wondering through uneven streets of the somewhat tattered city Shann and I were immediately seduced by the doughy aroma of a nameless hole in the wall bakery we later found out was called Said Abu Eiafia & Sons.
Supposedly, the bakery is legendary. According to our Lonely Planet guide book it was Jaffa’s first bakery, established in 1880. The accuracy of the previous statement is unknown, but I have to say the hot za’atar coated pita was nothing like I’ve ever had before. First off, pita in the US is a complete (how to say this relatively nicely) failure. Here the bread is thick yet it maintains a surprising fluffiness.
While chewing his hot pita Shann assured me that this was proper, fed me a bite and encouraged me to go for it. Well, let’s just say that Shann’s was the unadulterated version of what I ordered: a fragrant za’atar frosted pita covered with tangy labneh and ripe tomatoes. To savor every bite I had to sit down. As a side note, if you’ve never eaten or cooked with za’atar, wild thyme also known as hyssop, you really must try it (as a dip mixed with olive oil).
After I finished eating, we continued to explore Jaffa. We walked from the old port through unmarked allies to a market flung with huge carpets, costume jewelry, old televisions, used furniture and piles of trinkets and around ottoman inspired neighborhoods until we arrived at Jaffa’s new port.
After hours of wondering we watched the sun drop below the horizon and headed back to the old city for an Arab dinner full of colorful salads, tahina laced dips, intensely spiced kabobs, falafal and of course, pita.
This was my first time experiencing classic Israeli dinning. First, the server brings five to ten different salads, consisting of a variety of pickled vegetables, herb salads, brined vegetables, babah-ganoush (here it was made with smoked eggplant and mayonnaise), hommus, tahina, and Turkish salads (think Middle Eastern salsas) with pita for dipping. After the salads, the main course is served and then to conclude there is baklahva (baklawa in Arabic) with mint tea or Turkish coffee.
Let’s just say I’ve yet to leave anywhere hungry.