The saying goes that when you are a tourist but want to eat like a local you ask a cab driver where they go for lunch. And that’s exactly what I did last month when I was visiting Tel Aviv. He recommended a spot that I had not seen in any of my travel guide books or hotel concierge recommendations called Guetta in Jaffa.
The story behind it
While driving there, he told me the place is a successful of mother-son collaboration. The story was the son had tried to launch a French and then Italian restaurant in that same location unsuccessfully before mom Leah suggested they open a Tripolitanian home style one based on her ‘secret recipes’. It turns out mom was right! Word spread fast about the tasty food and excellent service at Guetta‘s, and people started coming.
Located a few blocks east of the Clock Tower in Jaffa, The first thing you notice when you enter the restaurant is the long counter displaying all the fresh homemade salads the place offers. Right behind it, you get a glimpse of the ’kitchen’ large old fashioned pots containing the food on today’s menu sitting warm on the stove top. ‘We are not your run of the mill restaurant with multiple page menus’ explains the owner ’ we offer a limited selection of dishes since everything is made from scratch .’
The ambiance is casual and non-assuming: basic wooden bistro chairs with paper covered tables with a few family heirloom old photographs hanging on the wall. “Patrons come here for the food” the owner confides in me “you’ll find out-; It is quite addictive.'”
After my sampler lunch accompanied by loads of Chirashi (totally addictive) Raffi the owner, makes me an offer I can’t refuse. No, it isn’t dessert ( a semolina pickled dates cake drizzled with honey and rose water) but a tour of the kitchen area for my visual and olfactory Grande Finale.
But it is all about the food!
Two large pans on the stove immediately attract my attention: one with Bastils (fried mashed potato and meat patty ) that smell so inviting I’m tempted to pick one right off the pan.The second is filled with Mafrums ( ground meat pastries )that is being fried fresh to order.
His helper, Hamoudy lifts the lid off the stuffed cabbage pot, and I notice it’s already about three-quarters empty.’ We run out of those fast especially with the takeout crowd’ explains the owner.’ We continue to the next pot filled with a tangy smell vegetable soup made from Colorado, Celery, and Carrots.
But, it is the restaurant’s Tbechas (mix of meats, vegetables, and oats stewed for several hours and then served with fluffy couscous that most patrons can’t get enough of. The restaurant offers Belkamun(cumin, tomato and bean stew), BelKara (chickpeas and pumpkin) and Belsalk Tbechas (beans and green beets).
We turn to the counter displaying some colorful salad choices as Rafi points out the specialty salads: Massier (Libyan pickles.) Chirashi (mashed spicy mashed pumpkin), Pepper Chum (spicy peppers), and his prized pickled lemons that take over a year to reach the correct texture and taste.
Before leaving, I glance at their interesting Arak (anise-flavored alcoholic drink) collection that includes Vanilla, Cinnamon, and Bubble Gum flavors and finish off my chilled glass of refreshing almond water.
The restaurant is kosher, very kid friendly (yes, they have fried chicken schnitzels) with budget-friendly prices.Those not familiar with Libyan specialties should try the restaurant’s sampler tasting menu for two that includes a variety of salads and spreads, choice of fish Hreime or stuffed vegetables as an appetizer, Mafroum and steamed couscous with three stews of your choice for 127 NIS. (Equivalent to 40 US dollars)
Autism travel tips
It is better to arrive after the lunch crowd around 2 pm or before 6 pm for a quieter atmosphere and a more personal service.The restaurant provides take-out service so you can enjoy the food at your hotel or one of the many nearby parks for a picnic.If your child is a picky eater, ask Rafi to prepare a plate of simple spaghetti or chicken pieces.