Upscale Arabic Restaurants Gain a Wider Audience Among Israel Foodies
Forget cheap hummus shops. Arabic cuisine is coming into its own in Israel, as fine dining for Arabs and Jews alike.
While Arab restaurants helped the Jewish population of Israel get acquainted with the fruit of their land, mainstream Jewish restaurants and cafés all over the country embarked on a process of “Arabization.” “In the last four or five years, butter started to be substituted by olive oil, and cream started to be substituted by yogurt or tahini,” said Levy-Zaks. “The health-food and vegan trends of the last year or two added many Arab greens like common purslane and khubeza to Tel Avivian menus. Arab cuisine has a lot of respect for meat in general, and lamb in particular, but it also has many wonderful vegetarian and vegan dishes.”
And while Israeli-Arab food is known for its meat, vegetables, and herbs, it isn’t known for fish and seafood. This is something Husam and Nashat Abbas intend to change in their new establishment in Akko. Although the restaurant serves many of the same dishes as the other two El-Baburs, it is different in that it specializes in seafood, too.
Akko, like Haifa and Jaffa, is one of the few Israeli cities with large Arab populations that are located on the coast, and although Israeli-Arab cuisine doesn’t usually contain a lot of fish and seafood (because most Arab villages aren’t located near the sea), the Abbas brothers wanted the menu in Akko to reflect its location.
One of the most interesting dishes on the menu is calamari-mashawshe. Mashawshe is the Galilee version of Msabbaha, and in this case it is served with calamari heads on top, instead of chickpeas. “The connection between Palestinian food and the sea isn’t a natural one, and in this respect I feel I am inventing something new,” said Husam. “Thirty years from now people will be talking about this. In the new restaurant in Akko, I’m trying out many new combinations that mix land and sea, to see what works. I serve things like okra with sea bream, tumble thistle with sea bass, wild spinach with calamari, and I see what people like and what they respond to.”
When asking him if he ever considered opening a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Husam laughs and responds with a very categorical “never.” “I have received many offers during the years,” he said. “I’ve eaten in all the restaurants in Tel Aviv, and their owners are friends of mine, but I’ll never open a restaurant in Tel Aviv. First of all, I don’t have the materials that I need in Tel Aviv. I use vegetables that are grown in small private fields in Arab villages. They aren’t cultured and aren’t artificially watered. And second of all, Tel Aviv is just too far away from home.”
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