Gueta – Coucous Delight in Jaffa
Tel Aviv is a unique city, from all the places I have lived this is by far the most sociable, ‘young’ and brimming with potential but also semi dilapidated and filled with dog doo. One of the main reasons is that it is a magnet for young people who come from all over Israel to experience a sense freedom and social life unfounded anywhere else in the country. This also leads to the question how conservative is the rest of the country that young people feel the need to run away?
Many of the flats/apartments in Tel Aviv are rentals and therefore less maintained then owner buildings = dilapidation. The young are also an enigma, leading on issues of environment but making one hell of a mess after a night out. Even so, the city which is small has a special energy which many people enjoy (some also hate).
One phenomenon which is of interest to me is that of Tel Aviv and junk. The city is one of the few places where one can find good junk lying on the street. By junk I mean furniture and home wares. As mentioned, the city is in constant flux of people moving in and out and for many the decision is made not to take/move the furniture, rather just dump it on the street. When I was living in London this was not allowed and you would have to pay a sizable fund for the council to pick up, here they have developed a trade and even a market. As a result, I (or rather the brunette) takes the opportunity of wandering the streets and picking up any good pieces found and renovating them.
Junk is interesting as until recently (only in the last 10 years or so) it was not fashionable in Israel. The shame of having second hand goods was reserved to those who could not afford something new. People would always aspire to buy the latest and greatest. Even so, markets such as the flea market in Jaffa existed as not everyone could afford new, yet was not considered a fashionable destination and where you could easily pick-up second hand goods for a song.
How times have changed – Junk today is fashionable and there are several stores that specialise is recycling and renovating second hand goods at high prices. The flea market which was rundown is now littered with upmarket restaurants and items which really are junk selling at very high prices. Luckily for me junk is still available for free on the streets and long may it continue to be so. The message here is make it fashionable and reap the rewards.
It was Friday late morning when the Brunette and I were wondering around Jaffa, not in the flea market, but further south in Ajami. This part of Jaffa is far quieter than the area of the flea market and we were starting to build an appetite. There are several possible options in the Ajami area but the brunette insisted she felt like couscous. As opposed to burgers, couscous is an ethnic speciality in Israel and therefore less likely to fail and upset.
On this occasion we chose to eat at Gueta a Libyan restaurant next to the Noga Theatre.
Arriving at the restaurant most tables were empty but we were greeted warmly by the waitress. Being a Jewish North African place the menu included all the delicacies of stuffed vegetables (Mafroom), spicy fish (Hraime) and couscous with accompanying broths.
The restaurant also offers a couples/for two menu which includes salads, stuffed vegetables and couscous with three broths, which we went for as sort of a taster.
The salads consisted of pickled vegetables, pickled cabbage, Tahina, a spicy tomato concoction, olives, bread and hot sauces. These were all fine if not something unique.
The couscous arrived next in a deepish dish along with three broths, which included a vegetable, meat and beans, and a green broth with meat and beans. The couscous and broths were very tasty – as usual I preferred the meat and beans while the brunette the vegetable one.
A few minutes later we received a plate of stuffed vegetables (potato, cabbage and pepper) as well as a meatball. The vegetables were stuffed with mincemeat and were very good, the meatball less so. At the beginning of the meal the owner came over and asked if all was fine and suggested we mix all the ingredient with the couscous to get the best flavour (this we did) and also told us that we could have a refill of couscous should we desire.
To wash it down we ordered a pitcher of lemonade with mint. Initially the pitcher had no mint but the waitress turned up a minute later with the leaves before we could even remind them.
Overall the food was very tasty if unoriginal and the service was friendly and homely. Now you could argue that you don’t mess with tradition and I sort of half agree but I remember many a Friday night dinner at a female friend, who is also from Libya, with the same food, no exceptions or experimentation’s. Yes it is delicious but one can get bored of it very quickly.
If you do have a craving for North African traditional food I highly recommend Gueta.
3.5 stars out of 5
The Disgruntled Diner